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Redskins hit the road looking to take 1st place

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Redskins hit the road looking to take 1st place

What: Redskins (3-3) vs. Giants (4-2)

Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Fox WTTG-5

Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live: Comcast SportsNet at noon and 4

Outlook: With Robert Griffin III under center, the Redskins almost always produce enough points. 

The problem six games into the 2012 season has been preventing them. And, once again, that figures to be challenge No. 1 for Washington’s defense as it squares off against an Eli Manning-led Giants’ team that’s coming off a convincing, 26-3 victory in San Francisco.

Manning struggled in a pair of losses to the Redskins a season ago, tossing a total of four interceptions and no touchdowns. 

So far this season, though, Manning has consistently ranked among the NFL’s top passers. The two-time Super Bowl winner has thrown for the third most yards (1,772), the seventh most touchdowns (11) and has been sacked fewer times than any other starter (4). 

But what should concern the Redskins most about Manning is this statistic: He’s also tied for the third most passing plays over 25 yards with 15.

Pass defense and susceptibility to big plays, of course, has been Washington’s weakness for much of season. In fact, the Redskins have allowed the most passing yards (1,970), the most passing first downs (97) and are tied for most passing touchdowns yielded (15). They're also tied for the seventh most passing yards allowed per play (7.9).

Cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson were instrumental in limiting the Vikings’ big plays in last week’s 38-26 victory. But they’ll be tested by Giants’ star wide receiver Victor Cruz, who is tied for second in touchdown receptions (6) and third in total receptions (43). Hakeem Nicks, meantime, returned from a three-game absence last week because of a knee injury and is expected to be closer to 100-percent against the Redskins after practicing on a Wednesday for the first time all season.

The Redskins’ strength on defense has been stopping the run. The Ryan Kerrigan and Stephen Bowen-led unit ranks 10th in yards allowed on the ground has only permitted three rushing touchdowns.

But they’ll be facing the NFL’s hottest running back in Ahmad Bradshaw, who has rushed for 200 and 116 yards, respectively, the past two weeks. He also scored twice.

As you can see, it’s likely the Redskins’ defense will have its hands full. But if it can produce another bend-but-don’t-break performance against the defending champions, and Griffin has another solid outing, it’s not unreasonable to expect a typical NFC East contest. Which is to say a nail-bitter that could turn way late.  

Here are three additional areas the team at www.csnwashington.com will be monitoring:

1- Griffin was the toast of the league last week following his 76-yard, victory-clinching run against the Vikings. For the season, he leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards (379) and, just as impressively, completion percentage (70.2).

But Sunday’s showdown will be unfamiliar territory for the rookie. His introduction to the NFC East will come on the road, against the defending Super Bowl champion quarterback and with first place in the division up for grabs.

Griffin, however, insisted that the increased stakes won’t alter his approach. 

“A couple of years ago, my Dad told me you jump the same way you jump at 6’8” that you do at 6’0,” he said, harkening back to his days as track and field star. “So for me, you always keep your preparation the same, whether it’s the Giants or anyone else.”

2- All indications are that the Redskins’ top wide receiver, Pierre Garçon, will miss his second straight game and fourth overall with a nagging foot injury. 

Fred Davis, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan have done a nice job picking up the slack, combining for 943 yards. At some point, though, the lack of an elite downfield and red zone threat will catch up with them. (The Redskins are tied for 26th in touchdown receptions with 6.)

Mike Shanahan said he hopes that rest, treatment and injections will get Garçon back on the field. But as the coach said this week, the injury is “very much a mystery.”  

3- Alfred Morris had his lowest production as a professional last Sunday, rushing for 47 yards (on 16 carries), or roughly half of his typical output, against Minnesota. 

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said the downturn was the result of a Vikings’ defense that’s been good against the run and the fact that Morris was used more on a quick-hitting plays. 

On Sunday, Morris will face a Giants front that’s led by defensive ends Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre Paul and is widely considered among the NFL’s best. The unit has held four of its six opponents to a team total of 84 or fewer yards on the ground.

Morris is also contending with the reality that he’s no longer an unknown. Opponents now have six games of film to study.

That said, Kyle Shanahan is not concerned.

“He’s going to get his yards and people are going to have to commit to him,” Shanahan said. “ And when they do, it opens up other people.”

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In the span of six minutes, the Redskins' season went from hope to despair in New Orleans

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USA TODAY Sports

In the span of six minutes, the Redskins' season went from hope to despair in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS—The Redskins’ game against the Saints, and perhaps their whole season went from hope to despair in the span of just six minutes.

When Kirk Cousins threw a touchdown pass to tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, the Redskins were up by 15 points with 5:58 to play. Some Saints fans departed the Mercedes Benz Superdome, figuring that their team’s seven-game losing streak was about to end.

But Drew Brees and the Saints weren’t going anywhere. The Redskins defense was loose, to say the least, as the Hall of Fame quarterback completed seven of seven passes for 82 yards and a touchdown. The drive took just 3:05 and it seemed that the Saints barely broke a sweat.

RELATED: 5 TAKEAWAYS FROM THE PAINFUL LOSS IN NEW ORLEANS

“We gave up too quick a score on the initial one,” said Jay Gruden.

But the Redskins were still in control of the game. After two Samaje Perine runs, the Saints were out of timeouts and Washington had third and one with 2:38 to go. The lined up and then called a timeout.

“We actually lined up with a tight end on the wrong side so we had to get that fixed up,” said Gruden.

It’s week 11 and the tight end can’t line up on the right side of the formation on a critical play. Perhaps they should be beyond these issues by now?

Even with the tight end properly aligned, the play had no chance as Perine tried to go off the right side and he was hit for a one-yard loss. The clock wound down to the two-minute warning and Tress Way boomed a 54-yard punt that was fair caught at the Saints 13. The Redskins had to defend 87 yards of turf for 1:53. They couldn’t do it.

Brees again took on the role of the hot knife and the Redskins still were the butter. Four for four passing, each throw gaining 17 yards or more. The touchdown pass to Alvin Kamara and the two-point conversion tied the game at 31-31.

When asked what happened, linebacker and former Saint Junior Galette said that while he respects Brees and the Saints, this one was on the defense.

“In two minute, he’s one of the best I’ve seen but still we’ve got to bow down and tighten our defense up,” he said.

“They’re a really good team but I honestly feel that we beat ourselves today,” said Galette. “It’s a really good team, one of the better teams we’ve played all year but if you watch that game you know we beat ourselves.”

Safety D.J. Swearinger echoed Galette’s viewpoint.

RELATED: THIS REDSKINS' LOSS LITERALLY DEFIED THE ODDS

“They came back and beat us fair and square,” he said. “But at the end of the day we didn’t do our job. We beat ourselves for sure. We for sure beat ourselves.”

In case there was any doubt about it, Swearinger then said that they beat themselves twice more in the next sentences.

The good part of the Saints drive was that it consumed just 48 seconds, leaving the Redskins with 1:05 to try to get a winning field goal. Cousins threw three passes to Jamison Crowder and all of a sudden the Redskins were on the New Orleans 34, close enough to at least attempt a game winning field goal.

But then it fell apart. With 31 seconds left, Cousins took a snap from behind center and immediately threw the ball out of bounds on the right side with no receiver nearby. The officials conferred and dropped a flag for intentional grounding.

The flag never should have been thrown because the rule says that the quarterback must be in imminent danger of getting sacked. Cousins was not. But the way the play went down it certainly gave referee Walt Coleman the opportunity to make a mistake and you never want to do that.

The explanations for the throw offered by the coach and quarterback were somewhat confusing and didn’t really line up. But for the record, here is the gist of what each of them said:

Gruden: “I was trying to get his [Cousins’] attention and hand signal a bubble screen out there. If we get it out there and get it out of bounds, we get another play called. Unfortunately, Jamison didn’t get it.”

Cousins: “I looked over to the sideline out of the corner of my eye and I just saw the coaches saying, ‘throw it’. They wanted potentially an audible, get to an actual pass play. I thought they were saying throw it to Jamison, in the general area of Jamison, there was an eligible in the area and there’s no penalty.”

There is little point into going into the minutia of what they said. There seems to have been some confusion in the loud Superdome and perhaps Gruden will clarify it in his Monday press conference.

Again, it should not have been grounding but you can’t give them a chance to make that mistake.

And the Redskins still had 18 seconds (after a 10-second runoff that perhaps should not have happened) to try to get back the 10 yards and maybe a few more to get a shot at a field goal. But he was sacked (the Saints’ first sack of the day) and he fumbled. Morgan Moses recovered but the clock ran out.

Although they had a 10-minute overtime, it felt like it was over and it soon was. The Redskins went three and out. Brees didn’t even have to drop back to pass as runs of 20 and 31 yards set up the field goal that applied the final gut punch.

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.

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Stop talking about Jay Gruden's job. Just stop

Stop talking about Jay Gruden's job. Just stop

NEW ORLEANS - Jay Gruden and the Redskins choked away a terrific opportunity for a much needed win on Sunday. They collapsed. Disappeared. Crumbled. Crumpled. Caved in. 

Whatever word you choose, the result was terrible. Washington held a 31-16 lead with less than five minutes remaining. That score should absolutely result in a Redskins victory. Only it didn't.

Gruden deserves plenty of blame for the loss, as does the Redskins defense that gave up back to back late touchdowns to allow Drew Brees and the Saints to come all the way back. The offense also couldn't get a yard, one yard, when they needed it, for the second time in two weeks. There's lots of blame to go around, and deservedly. 

But, stop talking about Gruden's future with the Redskins. 

Just stop. 

MORE: KIRK COUSINS GIVES HIS SIDE OF THE INTENTIONAL GROUNDING

He's not going anywhere. The loss in New Orleans drops the Redskins record to 4-6, and very likely, eliminates Washington from the playoff picture. With a favorable schedule remaining, it's possible the Redskins could win out, but that would be a tall order. A finish around 8-8 seems most likely.

So, the naysayers will shout, why does Gruden get to stay? Let's count the reasons:

  • For starters, the Redskins just signed Gruden to a two-year contract extension in the offseason. That means he's under contract through 2020. Gruden makes roughly $5 million a year, and to get rid of him would cost the organization eight figures. Not gonna happen.
  • Beyond the money and the contract, Gruden has been good. The Redskins were awful when he arrived, going 3-13 in 2013. Awful. And the team has had steady improvement under Gruden. They won the NFC East in 2015, narrowly missed a playoff spot in 2016, and this year, when healthy, competed with the best teams in the NFL.
  • This year's Redskins team is wildly beat up. The defense lost three starters before the first snap of the year, and the offense just lost their best player when Chris Thompson broke his leg against the Saints. 
  • Gruden is also getting better, and more competent. The coach overhauled his defensive staff this offseason, and the team has responded. He has a growing role in scouting and personnel, and largely, the results are working.  

It's easy to be upset after a colossal sinkhole of a game like what happened in New Orleans. Gruden needs to be better. He knows it.

"It's terrible," Gruden said after the game, correctly. "We laid it all out on the line. We came out to a hostile environment against a team that has won seven in a row. You don't get anything for close."

Remember, however, that Jay Gruden has brought the Redskins from terrible to good. Crazed fans that want him gone need to remind themselves of that.

RELATED: HOW EXACTLY DID THAT LOSS HAPPEN? LISTEN TO A NEW REDSKINS TALK PODCAST BELOW