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Need to Know: What should we expect from the Redskins' running game this year?

Need to Know: What should we expect from the Redskins' running game this year?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 20, 10 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.

Question of the day

A few days a week I’ll give an in-depth answer to a question submitted by a fan on my Twitter feed, via the Real Redskins Facebook page, or in the comments section here. On Twitter address the questions to me at @Rich_TandlerCSN with the #NTK hashtag. There will be a comment thread set up on the Facebook page and if you’re asking your question here, put “for NTK” at the start of the comment.

I’ll also take your Need to Know questions via email. Hit me up rich.tandler+csn@gmail.com with “NTK” in the subject line. Just keep them relatively brief, please. 

Today’s question comes from Twitter:

I’ve spent a lot of time this offseason looking at various aspects of the running game but Raj’s question here gives me a good opportunity to step back and look at the big picture, how I expect the various parts to fit together. So here we go:

After saying shortly before the start of the 2014 seasons that running the ball was what the Redskins did best, Jay Gruden didn’t call a whole lot of runs. The Redskins were 19th in the NFL in rushing attempts with 401. To put that in context, the Seahawks led the league 525 rushing attempts, ahead of the Cowboys (508) and Jets (507).

I think that Gruden perhaps intended to call more than 25 runs per game but between his natural inclination to pass first and a defense that was giving up points at a pace of almost a touchdown per quarter (27.4 points/game), it just didn’t happen. The defense should be improved and the presence of Bill Callahan on the sideline will nudge Gruden towards keeping the ball on the ground a bit more. If they add four or five runs per game that will get them up in the area of 450-475 rushing attempts.

Who will carry the ball? Gruden has assured us on multiple occasions that Alfred Morris is still the workhorse running back so until I see something different I’ll believe him. Morris carried 265 times last year so let’s say stays right around in that area. Rookie Matt Jones should get the 40 carries that the departed Roy Helu had last year and then some, perhaps 100 total.

The wild card is quarterback rushing attempts. We’re not going to see a return to 2012 when Robert Griffin III ran the ball 120 times. But if Griffin starts at least a dozen games or so he should get more than the 61 rushing attempts the three quarterbacks combined for in 2014. I’d say something around the 86 he had in 13 games in 2013.

So what will it add up to? Last year they averaged 4.2 yards per rushing attempt, 15th in the NFL. The Redskins averaged 105.7 yards per game, 19th in the league. How much better can they be? Adding a half a yard to their average per rush is a fairly ambitious goal but between the addition of Callahan, a new right side of the line, and more power running, it’s possible. We’ll use 4.7 yards per carry to figure things here while recognizing that 4.5 would represent a solid improvement.

Some quick math tells us that if the Redskins run the ball 475 times and average 4.7 yards a pop over 16 games they will average 140 yards on the ground per game. Last year that would have been fourth in the NFL, behind Seattle (173 per game), Dallas (147), and the Jets (142).

How about if they run 450 times and average 4.5? That would still represent a good improvement up to 126 yards per game, which would have been eighth in the NFL in 2014.

Somewhere between 125 and 140 yards per game is the upside prediction and I think their performance will trend that way. But some things must go right—the defense has to be improved and not just different to keep the team in running situations, Griffin or whoever the quarterback is needs to play well enough to keep teams from stacking the box, and the right side of the line needs to gel in a hurry both in run blocking and in pass protection. Things not going according to the preseason plan has been the norm for this franchise. We will see how it all shakes out but it does seem that the intention is to run more often and run better.

Timeline

—It’s been 204 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 55 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 10; Preseason opener @ Browns 24; final cuts 47

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Week 7 Redskins-Eagles Preview: Monday night means more than it usually does

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Week 7 Redskins-Eagles Preview: Monday night means more than it usually does

After five straight defeats, the Eagles decided enough was enough and beat the Redskins on their home field in Week 1. In a bizarre turn of scheduling, Washington will face Philadelphia for the second time this season before playing any other NFC East opponent. 

For the Redskins, that means the time for a win is now. Behind the arm of Carson Wentz, the Eagles have streaked out to a 5-1 record, not to mention 2-0 in the division. Jay Gruden's squad sits at 3-2 and 0-1 in the division. Another loss to the Eagles, even though it's still early in the year, would put a major dent in the Redskins hopes of a NFC East title. 

"It’s a big game. The NFC East, they’re in the lead. They’re 5-1 and we’re 3-2. I mean, just do the math," Gruden explained this week. "If you look at 3-3 and 6-1 and we’ve lost twice to them, that’s a big difference. 4-2 and 5-2 and we’re right there in the thick of things as far as the NFC East is concerned."

MORE: TEN TIMES PHILADELPHIA FANS WERE THE WORST

The coach knows the stakes. Redskins fans certainly do, too. All the coverage starts at 7:30 on NBC Sports Washington with Redskins Kickoff, and here are three storylines to watch for the game:

  1. Blount force - In the Week 1 loss to Philadelphia, the Redskins defense did a fine job of stopping the Eagles rush attack. Zach Brown and the 'Skins held Philly to just 58 yards rushing. In that game, LeGarrette Blount rushed 14 times for only 46 yards, averaging less than 3.5 yards-per-carry. Well, Blount and the Eagles run game looks mighty different now. In their last four games, Blount is averaging more than 6 yards-per-carry and posted more than 330 yards. Known for his strength between the tackles, Blount will present a problem for the Burgundy and Gold playing their first game without rookie star defensive lineman Jonathan Allen. The challenge will be real, and D-coordinator Greg Manusky knows it: "He does a great job of making people miss at the hole, in the hole. So we have got to make sure we get in his face and be able to get him down. He is a big-body guy." 
  2. No wiggle room - For the most part, the Redskins defense did a solid job against Carson Wentz in the first matchup against the Eagles. Unfortunately, with a mobile QB like the 6-foot-5, 240 lb. Wentz, a few broken plays can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of the game. Think back to early in Week 1, the Redskins forced Wentz from the pocket and as he scrambled, he kept his eyes downfield and connected with WR Nelson Agholor for a long touchdown. On that play, two different 'Skins defenders nearly brought Wentz down in the backfield. But they didn't. And the 'Skins secondary did a good job in coverage for more than eight seconds. In that ninth second, however, Wentz struck. He's been doing it each game since, as he's emerged as an NFL MVP candidate with more than 1,300 pass yards to go with 13 TDs against just 3 INTs through six games. His ability to escape trouble must be incredibly frustrating for defenders, and Eagles head coach Doug Pederson explained his passer's skill, saying, "He is strong in the pocket and usually the first guy, an arm-tackle guy, can’t bring him down. He usually sheds that block and can escape."
  3. 8 or more - Throughout the 2016 season, the Redskins frustrated their fans by getting out to slow starts. In 2017, the opposite has been true. In four straight games, Kirk Cousins and the 'Skins offense have scored a first quarter touchdown and taken early leads. In the second half, however, the offense has stagnated. While the Redskins average about 23 points-per-game, the team is only scoring about 8 points-per-game in the second half. Against a Philly team capable of scoring every time they touch the ball, Washington will likely have to score more in the second half to get a victory.

News & Notes

  • This will mark the Redskins 70th game on Monday Night Football, and their ninth MNF matchup against Philadelphia.
  • Kirk Cousins enters the game 3rd in NFL history in completion percentage (65.9) among players with at least 1,500 career attempts.
  • With 100 yards receiving, Chris Thompson could break a tie with Dick James, Craig McEwen and Larry Brown (two each) for the most career 100-yard receiving games by a Redskins running back in records dating back to 1960.
  • A win would snap a four game losing streak on Monday Night Football for the Redskins and give the Redskins their first Monday win since a 20-17 overtime win at Dallas on Oct. 27, 2014.
  • The Redskins rank first in the NFL and the NFC in fewest penalty yards (204).

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Can Brandon Scherff do something that no Redskins O-lineman has done since 1991?

Can Brandon Scherff do something that no Redskins O-lineman has done since 1991?

Those who doubted the wisdom of the Redskins drafting a guard with the fifth overall pick in 2015 (yes, I was one of them) should be preparing to eat their words.

On draft day and during the two and a half years since then, there has been plenty of talk that the Redskins would regret taking Brandon Scherff, who played tackle in college but seemed destined to play guard in the NFL, so early. Not that anyone thought that Scherff would be a bad NFL player but given that they left DL Leonard Williams and edge rusher Vic Beasley on the board, he needed to develop into an All-Pro caliber guard to justify such a high pick.

Well, don’t look now but Scherff is making his way towards becoming one of the best guards in the game. Not just Pro Bowl good; he checked that box last year. Scherff could become the first Redskins position player to be named a first-team All-Pro since Darrell Green and Jim Lachey earned the honors in 1991.

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Asked about Scherff’s play this year, Jay Gruden was effusive in his praise.

He’s reacting. He’s anticipating. He’s pulling. He’s pass-blocking. He’s run-blocking. He’s double teaming. He’s doing everything you want him to do out in screens, out in space. He’s the best guard out in space by far in this league. It’s fun to watch him.

You can listen to Gruden’s full comments on Scherff in the video above.

Gruden is not exactly an unbiased observer. But other, more neutral analysts also have been heaping praise on Scherff.

An article on Pro Football Focus said that Scherff had an “elite” game against the 49ers, not allowing any pass rush pressures and dominating as a run blocker.

RELATED: IN A MUDDLED NFC WHY NOT THE REDSKINS?

Two other analysts clipped some plays from the 49ers game to illustrate just how well he was playing.

This one from Brian Baldinger of the NFL Network shows one play, the 49-yard screen pass to Chris Thompson on which Scherff threw a key block.

I’m not sure what the scouting credentials Brandon Thorn has but he did put together a nice collection of clips of Scherff making quality blocks both in space and in the interior vs. the 49ers.

Will Scherff earn All-Pro honors? That could depend on how well the team does. While the All-Pro teams are supposed to be individual honors, it’s tough for an offensive lineman to get many votes if he’s not on a winning team, especially one like Scherff who would be trying to break into the club for the first time.

But the Redskins are not really worried about All-Pro votes. If he keeps playing the way he’s playing and he gets no such consideration it will be fine with them.

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