Redskins

Browns still haven't mastered art of finish

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Browns still haven't mastered art of finish

BEREA, Ohio (AP) Browns coach Pat Shurmur sounds like a broken record when he talks about his team's broken record.

More times than he'd care to mention, Shurmur has spent his Monday news conferences explaining why his young team couldn't win a close game.

It's been a painful, recurring theme this season for the Browns, who blew a 13-point halftime lead on Sunday in Dallas and lost 23-20 in overtime to the Cowboys, who exploited Cleveland's injury-riddled secondary in the second half and capitalized on penalties - some of them questionable.

``We just have to find a way to finish,'' Shurmur said. ``We have a whole locker room full of winners. This whole organization is full of winners. We just have to put it all together and do it.''

The Browns (2-8) are perfecting the close loss. According to STATS LLC, Cleveland has lost an NFL-leading 18 games by seven points or less since 2010. This season, the Browns have lost five such games and their inability to finish what they've started has intensified the pressure on Shurmur, who dropped to 6-20 in two seasons and may need a flurry of wins to save his job.

On Sunday, the Browns were 67 seconds away from snapping an 11-game road losing streak when it all unraveled.

The Cowboys, aided by two penalties for 50 yards against a Cleveland defense missing top cornerback Joe Haden, drove for a game-tying field goal with two seconds left before winning in OT.

It was right there for the Browns. And once again, they came up short. The losses are growing in number along with the frustration level for players accustomed to winning.

``It's real difficult, because it's a difference when you're losing by 20 points or 30 points,'' rookie cornerback Trevin Wade said. ``But just losing at the end by one score in well over multiple games is really hard and stressful. We're just right under the hump and we just need to find a way to get over.''

Shurmur is sure that day will come. He was on a Philadelphia coaching staff that went through a similar experience with losing tight games. He learned there are no shortcuts, and that the only way things will get better is by working and winning.

``You just play. You just keep working on the fundamentals and you develop some mental toughness and then you go and do it,'' he said. ``That's what it is. There are no formulas for it. That's what you do. You put together a locker room of guys that are willing to fight and willing to work and then you do what you can to play the next opponent and then you go do it.''

For most of the young Browns, losing is as new as anything else they've experienced in their first year as pros. They came from solid college programs, where winning was routine.

``I've never been on a team that doesn't win,'' said rookie linebacker James-Michael Johnson, who played at Nevada. ``In college, we were all on good teams. In high school, I was on good teams. But I feel like this team and the teams that I've been on there's not that big of a difference. It's not like we're getting blown out and embarrassed.

``Every game we're in until the end.''

The Browns didn't help themselves with costly penalties. Dallas picked up 10 first downs on penalties, seven of them called against Cleveland's defensive backs.

A few of the infractions against the Browns were border-line calls, including an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a hard hit by safety T.J. Ward on the game-tying drive, but Shurmur refused to blame the officiating for another gut-wrenching loss.

``I'm not going to go there,'' Shurmur said when asked if the officials had too much of an impact on the outcome. ``The Browns played the Cowboys and it was officiated. That's it.''

While Shurmur wouldn't touch the officiating issue, Wade said the inordinate number of yellow flags thrown against the Browns was alarming.

``I was really surprised,'' he said. ``It seemed like every third down or so there was a flag that gave Dallas a first down. It was real shocking and just crazy.''

Shurmur won't allow his players to use any excuses for their current state. He's focused on making them better, and anything that steals their attention from improvement or preparing to play the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) next Sunday is counterproductive.

If and when the Browns start winning consistently, maybe they'll get the benefit of the doubt on calls. Until then, their only choice is to work on putting together a complete, 60-minute game.

The losing may be taking its toll on Browns fans, but Shurmur believes his players haven't been broken.

``Unfortunately, dealing with adversity and developing mental toughness is part of this thing as you're building,'' he said. ``We know there are going to be some tough days. That's unfortunate, but that's where it's at. That's why you just stay with a nice tight focus on the next game.''

Johnson is one of the many rookies taking his lumps this season.

He thinks it won't be long before the Browns are giving some back.

``It's frustrating,'' he said. ``You want to win, but at the same time, I know what we have here and who we have coaching that we can win. I know that. I can tell just by being around these people.

``We're going to win one day.''

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NOTES: CB Joe Haden's absence Sunday with an oblique injury hurt the Browns, who are 0-5 in games he's missed this season. Haden was injured during practice last week and was a game-time decision that Shurmur said ``went right to the wire.'' Shurmur said the Browns would try to get Haden ``ready to go'' against the Steelers, who could be down to third-stringer Charlie Batch at quarterback. ... CB Dimitri Patterson said he'll test his injured ankle this week in practice and could return to the lineup after missing five games with torn ankle ligaments. ... Shurmur felt rookie QB Brandon Weeden (20 of 35, 210 yards, 2 TDs) ``was pretty efficient'' against the Cowboys. Shurmur said Weeden made mistakes and there are ``plenty of things he can do better.''

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, May 23, 65 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

What to look for at OTAs

Redskins OTAs started yesterday. The no-contact drills are the first time during the offseason program that the offense and defense are permitted to line up against each other. The-no pads aspect of it does take off a lot of the edge but the reality is that this will be the closest thing to football we will see until training camp starts in late July. 

Here are some things that I will be looking for during today’s practice.

Who’s in? Jay Gruden told us earlier that we should not expect to see some injured key players not participating as they continue to recover from 2017 injuries. Specifically, OT Trent Williams (knee), OT Morgan Moses (ankles), and TE Jordan Reed (hamstring/toe) will only be spectators if they are at Redskins Park at all. Other players who may sit out or participate only in light drills are RB Chris Thompson (leg), and ILB Mason Foster (shoulder). The Redskins have been relatively healthy the past few offseasons so we will see how they deal with the aftermath of the injury scourge that his the team last year. 

Seven-on-seven—Sure, it’s fun to watch the full team drills with 11 on each side. But since blocking and tackling is limited by the rules about contact there isn’t much to be gleaned from watching an off-tackle run. But when they eliminate the guards, tackles, and interior defensive linemen it’s all passing and then we can watch how well Alex Smith and his receivers are connecting. One thing I’ll keep in mind is that Smith decided not to get the receivers together for a “passing camp” before the offseason activities started. He said that he wanted to get to know the playbook first. Because of that they can be forgiven if they are not quite as sharp as they might be. Also, how natural does Derrius Guice look coming out of the backfield to catch passes? His primary job will be to carry the ball but if he is a legitimate pass-catching threat the whole offense will be harder to defend

Rookies vs. pros—In rookie camp two weeks ago we saw Trey Quinn putting defensive backs on the ground with some moves and Troy Apke showing great makeup speed on some long passes. But those tryout defensive backs and quarterbacks are no longer around. How will Quinn look against veteran Orlando Scandrick or second-year corner Josh Holsey? Will Smith’s ball placement negate Apke’s speed? In the one-on-one pass blocking drills, which emphasize technique over power, can Daron Payne get past Brandon Scherff?

The big guys—With Williams and Moses out, who will line up along the offensive line? Does Payne line up at nose tackle or is he used more as an end with Tim Settle in the middle? Is Ziggy Hood in the middle or will he work outside? How is Phil Taylor looking after a quad injury ended his season in training camp? As noted, the rules make it hard to tell much about linemen before Richmond but we try to glean what we can. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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My reaction to this tweet from the NFL illustrating the changes to the kickoff rules:

Timeline  

Today’s schedule:Redskins OTA practice 11:30; Jay Gruden and Alex Smith press conferences, players available coming off the field, after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 20
—Training camp starts (7/26) 65
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 79

The Redskins last played a game 143 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 109 days. 

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New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

Alex Smith in, Kirk Cousins out.

That's certainly the headline, but there are plenty of other questions for the Redskins, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

For the last two seasons, most of the questions going into OTAs for Washington came from the defensive side of the ball. After consecutive drafts with a first-round defensive lineman selection, the defense should be much improved. 

On offense, however, there are a lot of new parts. 

  1. The headliner - No position in sports is as important as NFL quarterback. This will be Alex Smith's first action in a Redskins uniform with media present. The 34-year-old veteran is coming off the best season of his career, and if he can continue that level of accuracy and play-making, the Redskins could be poised for an explosive year.
  2. The speedster - Washington's wideouts lacked separation in 2017. It was apparent through much of the year, and likely played a roll in some of Kirk Cousins' reluctance to make tough throws. Free agent addition Paul Richardson is supposed to help, immediately. He has elite deep speed and the 'Skins brass hopes he can bring a similar element to the offense that DeSean Jackson provided a few years back. Time to prove it Paul. 
  3. The injuries - There are big reasons for concern, namely two very large men in Jordan Reed and Trent Williams. Reed will not participate in OTAs, and has been dealing with a foot/toe injury for the better part of a year. Williams, who seems highly unlikely to attend OTAs, underwent knee surgery in January. Beyond Smith, Reed and Williams are probably the two most important offensive players on the Redskins. OTAs aren't important, Reed and Williams participating, or even attending, OTAs is not important. Both men being healthy and ready to go in September is quite important. 
  4. The Rookie - Has Derrius Guice become the most popular player on the Redskins? Maybe. The dynamic rookie running back, with an interesting draft weekend slide, has the charisma and ability to be a star. The "off-field concerns" that hurt his draft status seem like myths at this point, but there was some injury concern his junior season at LSU (see video above). Guice has an opportunity to be a huge part of the Redskins offense, and all eyes will be watching the rookie. 
  5. The leap? - In 2017, Josh Doctson showed flashes of the player that warranted a first-round pick in 2016. Will 2018 be the year he proves it, week after week, game after game? Getting off to a good start with Smith should help, and even more important would be an injury-free offseason. 

There are questions for the defense too, particularly at cornerback after Josh Norman, but this year, the offense has more new parts. 

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