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Redskins' top offseason priority: Fix the running game

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Redskins' top offseason priority: Fix the running game

There is plenty of talk about personnel needs for the Redskins a little more than a week after their season ended. But looking at the 2015 Redskins in terms of results, their top need on the offensive side is to fix a rushing game that sputtered for most of the season.

Before the season started all anyone around the team would talk about was that the Redskins were going to be a tough team that could run the football any time against anyone. The part about toughness is subjective but the numbers reveal that the ability to run the ball was not there.

The team averaged 97.9 yards per game on the ground, a mediocre 20th in the NFL. They gained 3.7 yards per carry, 29th in the league.

And that was after a pretty good start. In their first four games the team rushed for 558 yards on 126 carries, an average of 4.4 yards per carry.

They then went into a skid where they averaged three yards or fewer per carry in eight of nine games. Sometimes they abandoned the run (12 carries against the Panthers) and sometimes they kept on pounding (37 attempts, 2.8 yards per vs. the Giants).

The rushing game problems are difficult to pinpoint. It is safe to say that the primary ball carriers, Alfred Morris (202 carries, 751 yards, 3.7 avg., 1 TD) and Matt Jones (144/490/3.4/3) was ineffetive most of the year. Morris, the team’s leading rusher for the last three seasons, often struggled to locate holes and for some reason he lost his ability to make the first potential tackler miss. Jones showed that he has a lot to learn in terms of patience and avoiding collisions rather than seeking them out.

There was a lot of change on the offensive line, some of it planned, some of it forced by injury. Morgan Moses and Brandon Scherff were installed on the right side of the line during training camp. Spencer Long took over for an injured Shawn Lauvao in Week 4 and Josh LeRibeus, who had never played center in a regular season game, took over in the middle in Week 6 after Kory Lichtensteiger went on injured reserve. For the vast majority of the season, 80 percent of the offensive line was new from 2014.

Even though offensive line coach Bill Callahan spent endless extra hours working with the line after practice, there wasn’t much cohesiveness as a unit. Individually they blocked pretty well most of the time, with the exception of both centers. But there were too many breakdowns, with different blockers being responsible on different plays.

So what is the solution? It’s easy to say that they should find upgrades along the line and at running back. There does seem to be a need a center, where LeRibeus is a free agent and Lichtensteiger is over 30 and perhaps too small for the scheme that the Redskins want to run. But do they give Long, a third-round pick in 2014, an opportunity to grown in the position? Or hope that Lauvao, who just had another major surgery and is getting around on a scooter, can come back. Do they look at Moses’ physical tools and keep working with him or do they look to upgrade there?

It appears that Alfred Morris will be headed elsewhere, perhaps to a team that is more dedicated to a zone scheme. Maybe Jones can develop into a top back and maybe he can’t. They will need to go to the draft or free agency to get another back; the question is, do they go for a top back (Lamar Miller as a free agent or Ezekiel Elliott/Derrick Henry in the draft) or try to strike gold by finding a dynamic back in the middle or latter stages of the draft?

The coaches are starting the process of evaluating their current roster. The organization, including Scot McCloughan, will need to figure out if they can get a running game going by developing the players they have or if they need to replace some. The success of their 2016 season could depend on finding the right solutions.  

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Need to Know: Five Redskins who must step up in 2018

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Need to Know: Five Redskins who must step up in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 25, 17 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

Five Redskins who will have to step up in 2018

Originally published 12/26/17

WR Josh Doctson—This list is in no particular order but if it was, Doctson would be right here at the top. The watchword for Doctson is consistency. He makes some incredible catches and then there are throws that he drops or doesn’t quite seem to make enough of an effort to catch. There is promise there. The first-round pick has shown his ability and his teammates say he has a chance to be elite. But the potential must translate into production on the field, week in and week out.  

RB Samaje Perine—There is plenty of chatter about the Redskins’ need to sign or draft a top running back. But a look at this team’s recent history tells us that they are unlikely to invest major assets in the position. That means that Perine, a fourth-round pick in 2017, will have to become a more consistent runner. It’s not all his fault that he hasn’t done much since he had back-to-back 100-yard games in Weeks 11-12; tough defense, offensive line issues, and game score situations have slowed his production. But he needs to be consistently productive in 2018 no matter who he lines up against.

CB Josh Norman—Unless he gets a pick against the Giants, he will go through the year without any interceptions. Sure, they don’t throw his way all that often and INT’s don’t give you the complete picture of his play. But a CB taking up $20 million in cap room needs to get a couple of picks almost by sheer accident. Norman battled some injury problems and if he wants to justify the final two years and $23 million of salary remaining on his contract, his age 30 2018 season needs to be more impactful.

OLB Preston Smith—The third-year player started strong, with at least half a sack in the first five games. And he’s finishing strong, with three sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble in the last two games. But in between, he had a total of just half a sack in eight games. This follows the pattern he displayed his first two years in the league of being dominant in some games and invisible in others. If he can develop some consistency in his 2018 contract year, he could cash in huge in free agency the following year.

Head coach Jay Gruden—Normally I only include players on lists like this one but if Gruden doesn’t do something to get the Redskins out of their near-.500 rut then nothing else will matter. He needs to change up something, whether it’s pushing the players hard in training camp or perhaps fine tuning his friendly approach to the players. Sure, better luck regarding injuries and a schedule that right now appears to be a bit less challenging will help. But Gruden needs to look at what he can change, too.

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.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 4
—NFL Draft (4/26) 60
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 196

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Need to Know: The five highest-paid 2018 Redskins

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Usa Today Sports Images

Need to Know: The five highest-paid 2018 Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, February 24, 18 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

The five highest-paid Redskins in 2018

Originally published 1/12/18

This is how the five highest-paid Redskins per their 2018 salary cap numbers stack up as of now. The list could change, of course during free agency and if a particular quarterback returns. Cap numbers via Over the Cap.

CB Josh Norman, $17 million—The Redskins do have a window which would allow them to move on from Norman. His $13.5 million salary for this year doesn’t become guaranteed until the fifth day of the league year so it would be “only” a $9 million cap charge to move on from Norman, who turned 30 in December. Don’t look for that to happen but the possibility is there.

OT Trent Williams, $13.86 million—He is one of the best left tackles in the business. Those of you out there who have advocated moving him to left guard should look at this cap number, which is way out of line for what a team can afford to pay a guard. At his pay, he needs to be playing on the edge.

OLB Ryan Kerrigan, $12.45 million—He has delivered double-digit sacks in each of the two seasons that his contract extension has been in effect. That’s good value in a league that values the ability to get to the quarterback.

TE Jordan Reed, $10.14 million—The Redskins knew that he might have a year like last year when he played in only six games when they agreed to Reed’s five-year, $50 million extension. They can live with one such season. If he has another one in 2018 they may rethink things.

G Brandon Scherff, $6.75 million—The fact that a rookie contract is No. 5 on this list is a good sign that, as of now, the Redskins’ cap is not top heavy like it was last year. The top three cap hits from Norman, Williams, and Kirk Cousins totaled $59 million, which was about 35 percent of the cap. This year the total cap numbers of the top three come to $43.3 million, 24.3 percent of the estimated $178 million salary cap.

Next five: OT Morgan Moses ($5.4 million), TE Vernon Davis ($5.33 million), DL Stacy McGee ($4.8 million), DL Terrell McClain ($4.75 million), S D.J. Swearinger ($4.33 million)

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.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 5
—NFL Draft (4/26) 61
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 197