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So far, so good for Redskins' ground-based strategy

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So far, so good for Redskins' ground-based strategy

When Scot McCloughan came to Washington in January, he drew up the plan for 2015. He knew that quarterback Robert Griffin III was likely to struggle at times and that the other two options at QB, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy had their limitations as well. His plan was to bolster the Redskins’ ability to move the ball on the ground and to stop the run on defense. That would make the Redskins less dependent on whatever flawed quarterback was behind center to stay competitive in games.

While Griffin, the designated starter, has been struggling, the ground-based strategy has been working through two preseason games.

With the usual caveats here that during the preseason many stats are compiled with and against backup players and many who will be cut before they have a chance to be backups, the Redskins are averaging 166 yards rushing per game. They ran for 153 yards in the preseason opener and followed that up with 179 on the ground against the Lions.

Four running backs have been splitting up most of the time. Alfred Morris, who will be the primary runner when the season starts on September 13, has 11 carries for 52 yards. He should probably leave his helmet at home for the last two preseason games; there is no reason for him to play as he clearly is ready for the regular season.

The leading rusher during the preseason is Matt Jones (13 carries/82 yards), followed by Trey Williams (17/67) and Chris Thompson (10/65). Jay Gruden was pleased with the performance of all three young backs after Thursday’s game against the Lions.

“Matt Jones continues to hit the hole the way we want him to – hard,” said Gruden. “He gets through the second level, he’s a problem. Trey makes some excellent runs. And of course, Chris Thompson continues to do what he’s been doing throughout camp. Very exciting to see those backs step up and make some plays.”

Not only is the production of the runners exciting, it’s necessary.

“You know when you’re not protecting your quarterback that great and your passing game is not working so good, it’s nice to rely on a good strong running game,” said Gruden. “That’s what sparked us – the running game got us a couple big hits there. Got us some good positive field position – we did some good things.”

Not only are the Redskins moving the ball on the ground, they are stopping the run on defense. Opponents have a total of 91 yards rushing in two games and have averaged just 2.8 yards per play.

They added some size and strength up front with free agents Terrance Knighton and Stephen Paea. They join Jason Hatcher on the front line. Hatcher likes the new players’ mindsets as much as their physical strength.

“The guys up from, the want-to, the attitude,” Hatcher said after the game on Thursday. “You’ve got to stop the run to rush the quarterback. We’ve got great guys. I’m not the best run stopper but I do take pride when I’m in there.”

Hatcher also likes the new one-gap scheme that coordinator Joe Barry has installed.

“We’re just really attacking the line of scrimmage, knocking people back and disrupting in the backfield,” said Hatcher. “That takes a big toll on the offensive line, guys getting off the ball instead of last year we were just kind of shuffling sideways. It’s a great scheme, I’m really enjoying it.”

Again, it’s only preseason. We won’t know how well the Redskins’ running game and rush defense will stand up over 60 minutes with front-line players in the game until at least a few weeks into the regular season. But looking at what we know right now, it’s so far, so good. 

MORE REDSKINS: WHAT'S UP WITH RG3?

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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