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Trent Williams: 20 in 20

Trent Williams: 20 in 20

As we count down to the first game of the Redskins season, Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler are going to be looking at some of the big questions facing the team and attempting to look into their crystal balls and answer them.

Question 16: Can Trent Williams go from being a good left tackle to being a great one?

The background: Williams was Mike Shanahans first draft pick with the Redskins, the fourth overall selection in the 2010 draft. He has tremendous athletic ability for a man his size (6-5, 328) and he is a perfect fit for the zone-blocking scheme. When he is focused he can dominate the man across from him. Last year he was starting to round into form as a top left tackle and then the four-game substance abuse suspension hit. This year, he is the highest-paid player on the team with a salary of 11 million. Can he stay focused and continue to progress on the upward path he was on last year? Or will he coast on a contract that pays him 34 million over the next four years and be happy to be average?

Tandler: Williams knows that he is under the microscope. Both Mike and Kyle Shanahan have spoken repeatedly about the need for Williams to step up and be the player he is capable of being. He is tasked with guarding the blind side of the franchise, Robert Griffin III. With the array of top pass rushers the Redskins face in the division and in many of their other games, Williams has a great responsibility. The good thing is that, unlike a year ago, he is not talking about taking the game more seriously; he is doing it. Williams has been the star of training camp so far and his willingness to tough it out for a half against the Bears and Julius Peppers with a bone bruise in his foot shows a new level of commitment and maturity. As long as he stays quiet and continues to get it done, he should continue to progress towards becoming one of the best in the business.

El-Bashir: Williams hasnt been the best offensive lineman in training camp. Until he suffered a bruised bone in his left foot, the 6 foot 5, 328-pound left tackle had been the best player at Redskins Park during the first two weeks of practice. At 24, the former first round pick finally seems to get it after nearly losing everything to a four-game drug suspension last season.

Another slipup would result a year-long ban and the possible end to a promising career -- and it seems to have scared him straight. This, no doubt, is a critical season for Williams, and thus far hes approaching it as such. But the question is whether he can blossom into an elite tackle on par with Clevelands Joe Thomas or the New York Jets DBrickashaw Ferguson. Like most things when it comes to Williams, thats entirely up to whether he feels like doing it.

20 questions in 20 days
20 Aug.20Will Jammal Brown play this year?
19 Aug.21Will Chris Cooley make the team?
18 Aug. 22Can Brandon Meriweather get he job done at safety?
17 YesterdayIs Garon a No. 1 receiver?
16 TodayCan Trent Williams got from good to great?
15 TomorrowCan DeAngelo Hall be a defensive playmaker?
14 SundayCan Santana Moss regain his old form?

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5 stats that will make Redskins fans go, 'Huh?!'

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5 stats that will make Redskins fans go, 'Huh?!'

The 2017 Redskins appear to be playing at a much higher level than the 2016 Redskins, but the reality remains, through five games, the two teams have the exact same 3-2 record. 

Sure, this year's defense seems to be playing much better. The Redskins rank 12th in yards allowed-per-game and 19th in points allowed-per-game. Want to hear something weird though? The 2016 defense ranked 19th in points allowed-per-game too.

There are plenty more statistical anomalies like that, perhaps enough to give Redskins fans pause. Or maybe trends that will work back closer to the norm as the season progresses. Here are five weird ones:

  1. End zone problems continue - The New York Giants are off to an awful start at 1-5. Big Blue has a -27 point differential on the year, and the team has scored just 12 touchdowns. The Redskins have been much better than the Giants, own a 3-2 record, and a +4 point differential. Washington, however, has just 13 TDs, or one more than the lowly Giants. In the NFC, along with the Giants, only the Niners, Seahawks and Panthers have less TDs than the 'Skins. 
  2. Unexpected weapon - Through five games, the Redskins are getting excellent production out of the tight end position. It just might not be the player many expected doing the producing. Pro Bowler Jordan Reed is off to a fine start, 18 catches for 142 yards in just four games, but Vernon Davis is the tight end providing big plays. On just 11 catches, Davis has 225 receiving yards, good for a 20.5 yards-per-catch average. Last season, Davis caught 44 balls for 543 yards. He's nearly halfway to that total in just five games this season. 
  3. Easily the most valuable - Chris Thompson's productivity through five games is on a historic pace. With 515 total yards from scrimmage, he currently accounts for nearly 30 percent of the Redskins 1,871 total yards. For Kirk Cousins, Thompson is nearly as important. The quarterback has thrown for 1,334 yards so far this year. Of that yardage, more than 25 percent belongs to Thompson. Think about that: 1 out of every 4 yards Cousins throws for goes to Thompson. And the bulk of that comes on short throws, where Thompson then takes off and piles up yards after the catch. In fact, Thompson leads the NFL in yards-after-catch, per ESPN. 
  4. Snap out of it - Preston Smith showed tremendous talent as a rookie in 2015, logging eight sacks and coming on strong late in the Redskins NFC East title run. As a second-year player in 2016, the sacks didn't pile up so easy. He finished the year with 4.5, a disappointing step back for Smith. In 2017, the slump is over. Smith has at least a half sack in every game this season, and has been a force on the outside for the Redskins. 
  5. Don't count the wideouts - Much talk this offseason centered on losing DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon and replacing them with Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor. The results through five games have been underwhelming. Of the Redskins top five receiving yard leaders, only two are receivers, and Doctson isn't even over 100 yards receiving for the year. Further, Jamison Crowder, a player expected by many to have a breakout season, has 121 yards through five games. Eventually, Cousins can't keep relying on Thompson so much, and the team will need more out of the wideouts. 

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In a muddled NFC, why not the Redskins?

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Bob Youngentob for NBC Sports Washington

In a muddled NFC, why not the Redskins?

That sound you hear could be a door opening for the 2017 Redskins.  

Aaron Rodgers is injured. The Cowboys were struggling with Zeke Elliott in the lineup and he may not play until after Thanksgiving. Seattle’s defense has been strong but their success could be limited by a weak offensive line. The Falcons are still haunted by blowing a huge lead in the Super Bowl.

The Eagles, who are the only one-loss team in the NFL, currently have the best record in the NFC and they are playing well. The Redskins get a shot at them Monday night. A win would put them in excellent shape.

The Redskins are one of eight NFC teams that have two losses. Of the others, the Packers could well be heading south without Rodgers behind center. The Redskins have beaten the Rams and they will get their shot at the Seahawks, Vikings, and Saints in the coming weeks. The other teams with two losses are the Falcons and Panthers. And the Redskins will get a chance to make the Eagles a two-loss team on Monday.

It is early in the season but not too early for the Redskins to take a look around and think about not only getting into the playoffs but doing some damage when they get there.

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They are a well-balanced and effective team on offense. This stat will shock many—The Redskins have just about as many rushing attempts as pass attempts. The play selection is 158 passes and 149 runs, a pass-run ratio of 51 percent to 49. Washington is sixth in the NFL in total offense and 11th in offensive DVOA.

Their defense is not dominant but it has improved. They have been fighting injuries; just when it looks like they may get Josh Norman back from a broken rib, Jonathan Allen goes out with a Lisfranc injury. They are 12th in total defense in terms of yards but they are fourth in defensive DVOA.

That doesn’t look like it adds up to a Super Bowl team but, as noted, it’s still early. The Redskins still have time to improve. Here is some low-hanging fruit they could grab over the next month.

Get another receiver or two involved in the offense—It’s kind of cool that running back Chris Thompson is leading the team in receiving yards with 340 and that 33-year-old tight end Vernon Davis is second with 225. But the Redskins’ offense could be much more productive if another pass-catcher can string together some big games. Between Terrelle Pryor, Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, and Jordan Reed, one or two could be on the verge of breaking out.

Get Rob Kelley healthy and rolling—The Redskins are continuing to run the ball despite the production not being where it needs to be. Kelley is averaging 4.5 yards per carry while replacement Samaje Perine is averaging just 3.0. If they can get the extra yard and a half per carry they get from Kelley for the rest of the season their offense will be very tough to stop.

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Make some plays on special teams—Jamison Crowder is 24th among the 26 qualifying punt returners with an average of 5.0 yards. His longest return was 12 yards, the shortest longest return among qualifiers (if you can follow along with that). Tress Way is 25th in net punting average. He had a chance to make life very difficult on a rookie QB on Sunday but his punt with a minute left landed five yards deep in the end zone. Dustin Hopkins, who will be out Sunday, has missed both of his field goals from beyond 50 yards and he missed a PAT against the 49ers. Add it all up and their special teams DVOA is 24th in the league. They need to make something happen.

Shut down something—The Redskins are in the middle of the pack in both opponent net yards passing attempt with 5.9 and in opponent yards per rushing attempt at 4.0. Most good defenses take away one aspect of the offense and make the other team beat them with a predictable attack. I think that the Redskins can improve their passing defense when they get Josh Norman back.

Certainly, there are some other “ifs” involved for the Redskins to become legitimate NFC title game contenders. They start on Monday in Philadelphia. If they can go in and get a win, they would be no worse than tied in the loss column for the best record in the NFC. If they lose, they fall 2.5 games behind the Eagles with Philly holding the head-to-head sweep.

It's too early to start sorting out tiebreakins scenarios but it's clear that the opportunity is there for the Redskins’ taking, we’ll see if they can step up and grab it.

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.