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The Redskins could have an advantage with a less 'accurate' kicker

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The Redskins could have an advantage with a less 'accurate' kicker

Why would the Redskins cut an accurate field goal kicker like Kai Forbath?

It could not have been an easy call for Jay Gruden and Scot McCloughan to make. The 2015 Redskins are likely to be in a lot of close games and Forbath has come through for Gruden. Last year, three of the team’s four wins came on Forbath field goals either in the late going or in overtime.

But Forbath's field goal accuracy came at a cost. Forbath has struggled with his kickoffs during his NFL career. Last year he was 31st in the league in both percentage of kicks that went for touchbacks and average net kickoff distance.

“We were looking for a little bit of a stronger leg, especially on kickoffs,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

But is Gruden potentially trading points for touchbacks? While we don’t know how new kicker Dustin Hopkins will do since he has no regular season NFL experience, if he can kick touchbacks consistently, the Redskins could be ahead of the game if he is even a below-average field goal kicker.

First of all, let’s dispose of the notion that Forbath is one of the most accurate field goal kickers in the game. Last year he was ninth in the NFL among kickers who had enough attempts (16) to qualify. He was good on 24 of 27 attempts, 88.9 percent. That’s fine, but not great (six kickers were over 90 percent) and, really, not very significant. Here’s why.

Let’s look at the Rams’ Greg Zuerlein, who ranked 26th with a field goals success percentage of 80.0. Is Forbath a better field goal kicker? Well, if Zuerlein had the same number of attempts as Forbath last year, he would have made 22, two fewer than Forbath. Depending on when those missed field goals happened, they could have been costly.

But if you look closer, you’ll see that Zuerlein attempted seven field goals of 50 yards or longer and made five of them. Forbath had zero attempts from 50 or longer. So two of Zurlein’s misses came on kicks that Forbath didn’t even attempt, presumably because they were out of his range. In the third quarter against the Dolphins, the Redskins were up 10-7 and had a fourth down at the Miami 36. With Forbath as their kicker, they punted and got a touchback. With a kicker with a stronger leg like Zuerlein they could have tried a 54-yard field goal and would have had about a 71 percent chance of taking a 13-7 lead that would have changed the complexion of the rest of the game.

Let’s look at the factor that Gruden cited, kickoffs. Last year Forbath had a net kickoff average (gross yards minus return yards and touchbacks X 20 yards) of 40.7 yards. Zuerlein’s average was 44.6. Rounding to the nearest yard line, an average Forbath kickoff ended with the other team taking possession at the 24 while Zuerlein’s ended up at the 20. Big deal? On one individual kick, maybe not. Over the course of a season it adds up.

According to some numbers crunchers who are much smarter than I am, a team that starts a drive that starts on the 24 has a 17.6 percent chance of scoring a touchdown and a 10.9 percent chance of making a field goal. For a team starting on the 20, the TD chances are 16.4 percent and 10.1 for a field goal. The average NFL team kicked off 81 times last year. So on average, following kickoffs the team that kicks to the 24 will allow 14 touchdowns and nine field goals while the team that kicks to the 20 will allow 13 TDs and eight field goals.

You don’t have to be a genius numbers cruncher to figure out that the defense giving up 10 fewer points with a kicker like Zuerlein slightly more than compensates for the six points lose being less “accurate” in field goals than Forbath. If you add in the chance that Zuerlein gives the team to score on an attempt from over 50 yards out the advantage goes to the less “accurate” kicker with the stronger leg.

Looking at it right now, we don’t know if Hopkins will miss a makeable field goal in a clutch situation. But in the big picture, if he can hit on 80 percent of his field goals, give the Redskins a chance to score when they get inside the opponent’s 40, and have opponents starting drives at the 20 more often than not, the move could end up being a net plus for Gruden and the Redskins.

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Kirk Cousins breaks down the terribleness of FedEx Field grass

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Kirk Cousins breaks down the terribleness of FedEx Field grass

For years, the Redskins struggle with their home field as the fall turns to winter. It's been happening so long it's become an expected passing of the seasons, like the transition from Halloween jack-o-lanterns to Christmas lights dotting people's front yards. 

Well, on Thanksgiving night, the turf at FedEx Field again showed how bad it can be. On a second half interception returned for a New York Giants touchdown, replay showed that Kirk Cousins' foot got stuck on the dirt, and it played a role in his sailing a ball to the sideline. The bad turf was not the only reason for the interception, but it was definitely a reason. 

Beyond the pick, the field was just ugly. Twitter blew up making fun of the Redskins home grass, and the national broadcast showed just how unsightly the long brown patch between the hash marks looked. 

On Friday, the normally diplomatic Cousins opened up about the grass.

"It probably doesn't look like a professional NFL field should," the quarterback said on 106.7 the Fan (full audio here). "If you think the field is rough now on Thanksgiving, we've got two more home games in mid-to-late December. That's probably going to be a bigger challenge."

Asked about the field's impact on the interception on Thursday night, Cousins ignored it. But plenty of other players have suggested the field is a known problem in the second half, and something they just must deal with. 

"I don't know why it is that way or what causes it," Cousins said. "I've kind of learned to accept it and understand it's part of the deal. Playing here on the field has never been that great in the second half of the season for whatever the reason."

[h/t @BenStandig for the Cousins quotes]

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When Samaje Perine got going, so did the Redskins' offense

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Bob Youngentob for NBC Sports Washington

When Samaje Perine got going, so did the Redskins' offense

At halftime of the Redskins’ Thanksgiving night game against the Giants, Samaje Perine had three yards rushing and his team had three points. Washington had racked up all of 113 yards.

Coincidence? Not entirely. Although the Redskins are primarily a passing team they need to run the ball to pass effectively.

“We had to get the running game going,” said Jay Gruden after the game.

In the second half, Perine and the offense did get it going. Perine ran for 97 yards and Redskins put up 210 yards and 17 points. It’s safe to say that it wasn’t a coincidence.

The Redskins didn’t make any halftime adjustments to get the ground game in gear.

“We just had to stay the course,” said Perine. “We knew they were going to come out fired up, they just came off a big win. We just had to stay the course and then things started going our way.”

MORE REDSKINS: MUST-SEE PHOTOS OF THE WIN

Perine was more steady than spectacular. His longest run was 16 yards. He came out of the locker room and ran for six and 10 yards on his first two carries. Later in the third quarter the Redskins were backed up at their own 10. Perine ran four straight plays for 39 yards and the Redskins were near midfield.

Although they didn’t score on that drive they did change field position. That was part of the Redskins’ strategy playing with an injury-depleted offense.

“If you had to punt in a game like this and play field position, it’s not the end of the world because our defense was playing so good,” said Gruden.

Not only did the running game flip the field, it flipped the time of possession. In the first half, the Giants had the ball for 17:40 compared to 12:20 for the Redskins.

“We had to get on the field and control some of the clock,” said tackle Morgan Moses. “We had to give our defense a rest. Samaje put his foot in the ground and got extra yards when needed and we were able to move the chains.”

Moses wasn’t the only one enjoying seeing Perine pile up some yards.

“As a defensive player, you want to see that,” said safety D.J. Swearinger. “We say, keep running it. Keep running him. Let him keep getting those carries, put a dent in the defense. It was a good sight to see.”

RELATED: FIVE KEY MOMENTS IN RESKINS VS GIANTS

Swearinger got to watch a lot of Perine. The Redskins piled up 22:17 in possession in the second half, while Swearinger and his defensive mates had to defend for just 7:43.

Last night was the second time in four days that Perine has rushed for 100 yards or more; he had 117 in New Orleans on Sunday. No Redskin has rushed for 100 yards in consecutive games since Alfred Morris did it in November of 2013.

He will have a chance to extend that streak to three on Thursday against the Cowboys, who are ranked 17th in rushing defense. That would put him in some elite company in Redskins history, including Larry Brown (twice) and Stephen Davis.  A steak of three straight 100-yard games was last done by Morris in 2012.

It may be a little early to look forward, but the Redskins record is five straight 100-yard games, held by Clinton Portis (twice) and Ladell Betts.  

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.