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What to watch for: Redskins turn to short passing game instead of runs

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What to watch for: Redskins turn to short passing game instead of runs

The Redskins ran the ball 37 times against the Dolphins, the most they had run the ball during a competitive game during the Jay Gruden era (they did run 42 times during the blowout of the Jaguars in Week 2 last year). But only 11 of those rushing attempts came in the second half with the game within one score the entire time. That drew some fire from fans saying that Gruden abandoned the running game, which was working very well, with Alfred Morris rolling for 4.8 yards per run.

But CBS put up an interesting graphic during the fourth quarter charting Kirk Cousins’ 10 passing attempts starting with the four-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Reed just after the two-minute warning. Here it is:

Note the emphasis on the short passing game. If the defense is expecting you to run the ball, the normal way to counter this in a West Coast offense is to go to the short passing game. After Morris’ first carry of the second half went for minus-2 yards, Gruden tried the short passing game some. Short passes to fullback Darrel Young and wide receiver Jamison Crowder gained nothing and the Redskins punted.

The next possession it was short left to receiver Pierre Garçon for six and then Cousins hit Reed for the 25. An attempted screen to tight end Derek Carrier lost a yard, then a series of penalties pushed the Redskins out of field goal range.

The Redskins ran three times on their next possession, which was marred by penalties. The ensuing punt was the one that Jarvis Landry took to the house and the Redskins trailed the rest of the way.

They ran once in their first possession after the punt return and also tried a lateral to Andre Roberts, who misplayed the ball. That resulted in a fumble charged to Cousins that fortunately went out of bounds.

In their final series, the Redskins ran three of the nine plays with Morris gaining seven and 13 yards on the first two carries. But when he was caught for a loss of one on first down from the Miami 23 with three minutes left, the running game was pretty much out of the picture.

I have said that the Redskins probably should have run the ball more often in the second half. But note that some passes can have the same effect as runs and they are used as a change of pace. That’s what Gruden did here and it likely will be part of the game plan all year long.

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The Cardinals could be the cure to the Redskins' pass rushing issues

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USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals could be the cure to the Redskins' pass rushing issues

The Redskins have not had a very good year when it comes to sacking the opposing quarterback. They have 31 sacks for the season, 17th in the NFL.

They had a then-NFL best 32-game streak with at least one sack came to an end in Week 10 against the Vikings.

Ryan Kerrigan is doing well with 9.0 sacks to his credit. Preston Smith has five but only a half since Week 6. Matt Ioannidis and Jonathan Allen were forming a solid interior pass rush tandem early in the year but Allen went on injured reserve with a Lisfranc injury and Ioannidis suffered a broken hand that limited his playing time and effectiveness.

MORE REDSKINS: IS GALETTE ON HIS WAY OUT?

But the cure to the Redskins’ pass-rushing ills just may be coming to town on Sunday in the form of the Arizona Cardinals and quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

The Cardinals have given up 44 sacks on the season; that’s 31st in the NFL.

Things have gotten worse in the last couple of weeks, with Gabbert going down a combined 15 times against the Rams and Titans.

If you think that the Cardinals may have hit rock bottom, consider that two starters, left tackle Jared Veldheer and right guard Earl Watford, won’t be playing due to injuries.

Will Holden, a rookie fifth-round pick, will start at left tackle and Evan Boehm, who lost his job to Watford earlier this season, will be the right guard.

Of course, the Redskins have to go out and make it happen. The entire Cowboys offense was slumping until they met the Redskins a couple of weeks ago. They can’t be a haven for a struggling unit once again.

In any case, it is an opportunity that is in front of the Redskins. It’s up to them to take advantage of it.

RELATED: REED LIKELY TO STAY IN 2018

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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Need to Know: State of the Redskins, Week 15—Looking for motivation

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USA Today Sports Images

Need to Know: State of the Redskins, Week 15—Looking for motivation

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, December 14, three days before the Washington Redskins play the Cardinals at FedEx Field.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Practice 1 p.m.; Jay Gruden and Greg Manusky news conferences and open locker room after practice, approx. 3 p.m.

Days until:

—Broncos @ Redskins Christmas Eve (12/24) 10
—Redskins @ Giants (12/17) 17
—NFL Draft (4/26/18) 133

State of the Redskins

Top storylines

Jobs on the line? It’s been the conventional wisdom that the jobs of Jay Gruden and his staff are safe, barring a complete collapse at the end of the year. Well, after two ugly losses we are 40 percent of the way to a complete collapse. The Redskins don’t even have to look good down the stretch, they just need to win two of the final three and be competitive in the other. Gruden might be able to survive a couple more games like the Cowboys and Chargers debacles but if that happens I wouldn’t want to be him on January 1, the day after the season ends.

Shutdowns started—Jordan Reed going on injured reserve could be the first of a few moves to end the seasons of players who won’t be healthy in time to play in more than one or two games. It lets the player dive into rehab and it lets the team sign and get a look at a player who can stay on the roster through the offseason and compete for a roster spot in 2018. There could be more coming up until Week 17.

Playing out the string—Last week, when the Redskins were technically alive for the playoffs they apparently couldn’t muster enough motivation to prepare properly. It will be interesting to see how they react this week with their playoff odds reduced to zero.

Last three games

Sunday vs. Cardinals (6-7)—The Cardinals have fallen even further than the Redskins. Two years ago, they were on their way to a first-round bye and an appearance in the NFC title game. This season they are 6-7 after suffering from a raft of injuries, including losing their starting QB and All-Pro running back David Johnson. Can two teams with nothing to play for put on an entertaining show?

Christmas Eve vs. Broncos (4-9)—And in comes another team that has fallen even further and harder. The Broncos were lifting the Super Bowl Trophy two years ago. Now, the defense that spearheaded that run is still solid but without a reliable quarterback, they are having issues. At this point, your guess at if it will be Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemian, or Brock Osweiler starting at quarterback is as good as mine.

New Year’s Eve @ Giants (2-11)—Will this game be bye-bye to Eli? Changes are coming to New York and Manning, sometimes a Redskins nemesis and sometimes a player who gift-wrapped wins for Washington, could be on the way out. The Redskins could be playing to avoid the kind of upheaval that has already begun in the Big Apple.

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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