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Need to Know: Redskins' season reaches a tipping point

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Need to Know: Redskins' season reaches a tipping point

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, October 20, five days before the Washington Redskins host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tandler's Tuesday Take Two: The Redskins’ season is reaching a tipping point

For the first four weeks of the season, all seemed to be going pretty well for the Redskins. They were 2-2 and accomplishing their preseason goals of being able to run the ball and stop the run. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was not lighting the league on fire but he looked like at least a competent game manager with whom the Redskins could have at least some limited success. So little was expected of the Redskins that they were being called a pleasant, if modest, surprise team.

But then the last two games happened. The Redskins didn’t look bad overall in Atlanta but their ability to run ball well came to a grinding halt (51 yards rushing) and they couldn’t stop the run (Devonta Freeman, 153 yards rushing). And Cousins was wobbly with his accuracy most of the day and threw two interceptions, the second of which was returned for the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

That was bad, the Jets game was worse. The Redskins gained only 34 yards on the ground while New York’s Chris Ivory rolled for 146. Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick almost outgained the Redskins as a team, scrambling for 31 yards. Cousins again threw two picks, including one that set up a momentum-changing touchdown in the third quarter.

Now the Redskins are 2-4. Next up they host the Tampa Bay Bucs, a team that beat them 27-7 at FedEx last year in a game that was not even as close as the 20-point margin would indicate. The Redskins take their bye week after that. In November they have two road trips to play the unbeaten Patriots and Panthers. In between those games they play at home against the Saints, who are also scuffling at 2-4 but they have a major advantage at quarterback with Drew Brees. After the road trip they face the Giants, who are shaping up to be the class of the division.

I wrote last week that the Redskins are more a middle of the pack team than one of the bottom feeders and one injury-hampered loss to the Jets doesn’t necessarily change that. But they are coming to a stretch of the schedule where they are facing teams who are clearly better. That is why Jay Gruden declared that this game against the Bucs is a “code red”, as in one they must win.

If they don’t win this Sunday and you figure that the game in New England is a sure loss, that would put the Redskins at 2-6 at midseason and working on a four-game losing streak. A year ago they were 3-5 after eight games and on a two-game winning streak. While Scot McCloughan didn’t necessarily thing that the Redskins would contend for the playoffs this year, he, Bruce Allen, and Dan Snyder were certainly looking for some degree of improvement. Being in what looks like a sinking ship certainly wouldn’t look like improvement.

One game won or lost won’t necessarily change the ultimate fates of Gruden, Cousins, and other players and coaches. But there will be a big difference in the feel around Redskins Park between going into the bye with a win and going in with three straight losses and a near-certain fourth looming their first week back.

A convincing win would be better but perhaps we shouldn’t look for more than baby steps from this team, especially given that they are still likely to have some injured front-line players out against the Bucs.

In any case, Gruden certainly seems to be rallying the troops harder in this one than he has in any of his previous 22 games as a head coach. “Code red” is not a card you want to play often because eventually you lose credibility. But it’s out there this week and we will see how the Redskins respond.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Player meetings, no media availability

Days until: Bucs @ Redskins 5; Redskins @ Patriots 19; Saints @ Redskins 25

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Five takeaways from the Redskins' necessary win over the Giants

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Five takeaways from the Redskins' necessary win over the Giants

Here are my five takeaways from the Redskins’ ugly 20-10 win vs. the Giants.

A Win is a Win:
If you are worried about style points you are doing it wrong. This was a banged up team on a short week playing for its life. Perhaps a better start would have made for a more comfortable win but they got done what they needed to do.

Jamison Crowder is on a Roll
:
He gained a career-high 141 yards on seven receptions. The yardage broke his career high of 123 that he set in Week 8. The third-year receiver got off to very slow start, not posting over 52 yards in any game.

But he has broken out of his slump in a big way and Kirk Cousins is very glad to see it.

Perine is Ready:
The rookie was elevated into the starting role after Rob Kelley went onto injured reserve two weeks ago. His importance elevated when Chris Thompson went out for the year with a broken leg.

Fortunately for the Redskins, his play has elevated since becoming the starter. He rushed for 117 yards against the Saints on Sunday. Thursday, four days later, he couldn’t get anything going in the first half, gaining only three yards on seven carries. But he got rolling in the second half and finished with 100 yards on 24 carries.

The Redskins may well have lost this game if Perine, the only back who was on the roster as of three weeks ago, had not gotten himself on track.

MUST-SEE: BEST IMAGES FROM REDSKINS' THANKSGIVING VICTORY

Defense Got Help: 
Eli Manning passed for 113 yards. Only six times in his career, which spans 211 games, has he thrown for fewer yards. There are three entities mainly responsible for Eli’s woes. The Redskins defense did a good job of putting pressure on him and for the most part the back seven played well in coverage. But Eli himself contributed to his own production problems.

On many occasions he had time to throw and a receiver open but he either sailed the ball well over the receiver’s head or threw it in the ground. Finally, when Manning did have time and delivered the ball on the money, his receivers frequently were unable to find the handle; there were several costly drops.

RELATED: BIGGEST UP'S AND DOWN'S FROM REDSKINS-GIANTS

There is Hope:
It’s too early in the weekend to go into much detail about the Redskins chances of making the playoffs but the losses earlier in the day by the Lions and Cowboys certainly helped.

It’s still a tough path to navigate.

But they did what they needed to do today in winning one of six games that looked winnable earlier this week. All they can do is try to get a winning streak together and they did all they could do in that regard on Thanksgiving.

Now it’s on to Dallas to see if they can take the next step.

MORE: THIS ONE THROW SHOWS HOW COUSINS IS EVOLVING

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Want to see how Kirk Cousins is evolving as a quarterback? Then watch this throw

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USA TODAY Sports

Want to see how Kirk Cousins is evolving as a quarterback? Then watch this throw

LANDOVER — At times during the Redskins' 20-10 Thanksgiving night victory over the Giants, Kirk Cousins and Washington's offense performed at a level somewhere between sloppy nausea-inducing.

There was that awful sequence where the offense botched a fourth-and-1 more than they normally do.

There was also No. 8's slightly off-target throw to a running back he barely knows that ended up as six points for New York. And there were plenty less notable, but still gross, plays before and after those.

But Cousins' first touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder was far from gross. It was beautiful. It was creative.

And it showed how the 29-year-old is still developing as a quarterback:

MUST-SEE: BEST IMAGES FROM REDSKINS' THANKSGIVING VICTORY

"The touchdown he had to Crowder was one of his best touchdown passes that I've seen since I've been here," Jay Gruden said about it afterward.

He's right.

By now, you know the boxes that Cousins checks off as a passer. He has the requisite arm strength. He's usually able to move an offense, even one like the Redskins' 2017 version that includes a ton of spare parts, up and down the field. He has the work ethic and leadership skills. 

But a common knock against him is that he can't extend a play and find a receiver when things aren't there during his initial dropback. And that weakness becomes a glaring one in the red zone.

Yet on Thanksgiving night, there Cousins was, avoiding an edge rusher, stepping up, rolling right and then nailing Crowder right on the numbers for a crucial TD. Like his head coach, Cousins was proud of how that score unfolded.

"I felt some pressure so I just tried to escape up and to the right and kept my eyes down field," he said. "I think just the longer I play, I'll get a better feel for how to move and escape."

MORE: ALL OF THE UPS AND DOWNS OF THE THANKSGIVING WIN

Cousins' final stats don't stack up to some of his past performances, such as his Week 11 effort in New Orleans where he shined or his pretty perfect evening vs. the Raiders in Week 3. Regardless, this one was encouraging in its own way, because it provided another grlimpse at how the signal caller is becoming more comfortable when things around him become uncomfortable.

Like most of his fellow starters in the league, Cousins has flaws. But the more he plays, the more those flaws diminish. Gruden sees it, he sees it, and you should see it, too.