Redskins

Charles starring for Chiefs after tragedy

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Charles starring for Chiefs after tragedy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Jamaal Charles took the handoff on the first play of the game, skipped to his right and found a crease. He slipped through the hole, made a subtle cutback and then raced to the end zone.

On that 80-yard touchdown run against Cleveland, Charles looked as good as ever.

What he's gone through made it even more impressive.

This is a running back coming off a torn ACL last season, and who is going against defenses every week that know the Chiefs are dependent almost solely on him. He's a guy operating behind a patchwork offensive line for a team that's lost 11 of its first 13 games.

He's also a guy running with a heavy heart.

Charles was friends with Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, and helped introduce Belcher to wife Whitney's cousin, Kasandra Perkins. Two weeks ago Saturday, Belcher fatally shot Perkins in a home not far from Arrowhead Stadium, then drove to the team's practice facility and committed suicide as general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel watched.

Charles hasn't spoken publicly since the incident, and may not for the remainder of the season, but he's been able to perform at an All-Pro level despite everything that has transpired.

``I think it speaks to the character of him as a man, how he's able to have an optimistic perspective despite all the things he's been through right now,'' Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn said. ``It really speaks to who he is as man.''

As a player, Charles leads the AFC with 1,220 yards rushing. His 91-yard touchdown run against the Saints is the longest in the league this season, and his four carries of 40-plus yards are tied for second-most in the NFL behind the Vikings' Adrian Peterson.

``We've leaned on him all year, as you look at it,'' Crennel said. ``He's been the consistent staple in our offense, because he gains yards and he's the guy who has the potential to run for a touchdown. We kind of lean on him.''

Especially the last few weeks.

Charles ran for 107 yards in a loss to the Broncos, the week before the murder-suicide that rocked the franchise. The day after it, when there were questions of whether the Chiefs would even play the Panthers, Charles ran for 127 yards in an emotional 27-21 victory.

Highlighted by his long TD run last week, Charles piled up 165 yards in a 30-7 loss to the Browns, providing a silver lining for a game - and a season - shrouded in darkness. Charles figures to have a big role in the game plan this week, too, and probably for the rest of the season. The Chiefs' only reliable wide receiver, Dwayne Bowe, has injured ribs that could keep him off the field for the final three games.

That means the Chiefs could become even more one-dimensional headed to Oakland this weekend.

``Everybody knows we can run the ball,'' Crennel said. ``The thing we have to look at is they're going to load up the box to stop the run, and we've made some plays as a result of teams doing that against us. And Bowe has been a part of that. That's why I say other receivers have to step up, so we can throw the ball or do something different to back them off the running game.''

Oakland was one of the few teams to have success in stopping Charles this season, though part of that was because the Raiders never really had to worry about him.

When the teams played at Arrowhead in late October, Chiefs offensive coordinator Brian Daboll only gave Charles five carries in the entire game, netting a whopping four yards.

He carried only 12 times for 39 yards the following week against San Diego.

It was at that point in the season that Crennel, who had been running the defense in addition to his head coaching duties, turned that side of the ball over to Gary Gibbs. Crennel said at the time that he wanted to have a bigger role in overseeing the offense, but he might just as well have been saying that he wanted to ensure Charles was getting touches.

Charles only averaged about 16 carries over the first eight games of the season. He's toted the ball nearly 22 times per game over the past five.

Crennel said he's not worried about Charles' durability, either, despite the devastating knee injury he sustained last season in Detroit. The former Pro Bowl running back has proven that he can carry a heavy load, stand up after taking a hit and prepare to do it all over again.

``Jamaal is a tough guy, even though he looks like the wind could blow him over sometimes,'' Crennel said. ``He's pretty tough, and he's been here every day in practice, working hard, trying to get better and trying to help this team. You have to give him some kudos for being able to do that week-in and week-out. You take a pounding at the running back position.''

The physical toll this season has taken has been enormous. So has the emotional toll.

Through it all, Charles has remained one of the few bright spots for a Chiefs franchise in turmoil, one of the rare reasons to cheer in a season that long ago spiraled out of control.

``He's a tremendous player, and for whatever reasons, obviously teams in the hunt, or have a little better record, get a little more recognition,'' Quinn said, ``but that kid is obviously blessed.''

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 20, two days before the Washington Redskins start OTAs.  

Best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Last week I took a stab at figuring out what the best-case and worst-case scenarios were for the key players on offense and defense. While individual stats are fun to track, it’s what the team does that really matters. What range of outcomes is realistic for the 2018 Redskins? While anything is possible, here are my thoughts on the best they are likely to be able to do and the worst. 

In both cases, I am assuming that the Redskins have reasonably good fortune when it comes to injuries and that the good and bad bounces of the ball equal out over the course of the season. 

Worst case: 6-10, last in NFC East

This is based mostly on Alex Smith having a tough time adjusting to Jay Gruden’s offense, his new teammates, and the NFC. Thinking he could struggle is not just negative thinking, there is history to back it up. 

Smith was traded from the 49ers to the Chiefs in 2013. In his first nine games, he completed just 59.7 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and four interceptions He had an adjusted net yards per attempt of 5.23. Had he finished the season there he would have ranked 28th in the NFL. His passer rating was 81.4, which would have ranked 25th. It’s safe to say he was off to a very slow start. 

But the Chiefs went 8-1 in those nine games. It is doubtful that the Redskins could survive such a slow start. In the past three seasons, with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, they were 4-17 in games where Cousins’ passer rating was under 90. If you drop the ceiling to 81, the record drops to 0-14. 

Kansas City managed to start 9-0 in 2013 because of a running game that produced at least 100 yards rushing every game and a defense that got at least one takeaway every game and got three or more turnovers in a game five times. 

Could the Redskins duplicate that and survive a slow start by Smith? It’s possible, but this is the worst-case scenario. And there is no guarantee that the Redskins will significantly improve a running attack that was 27thin the league last year or a rushing defense that was dead last. 

Offensively, the hope is that Derrius Guice will improve the running game. But rookies are, well rookies. And being a high draft pick is no guarantee of success. In the past three drafts, 20 running backers were drafted in the first three rounds. Of those players, four rushed for 750 yards or more as rookies. Maybe Guice will be one of the productive players but the odds are not in his favor. This isn’t saying he will be a bust; however, he may not have instant impact. 

One other note about the rushing game. It’s important to remember that both tackles are coming off of surgery, the right guard was injured last year, the center has all of six starts under his belt, and left guard remains up in the air. Maybe everything will hum when the season starts but that seems like a tall order. 

Improvement in the stopping the run also relies at least in part on rookies. Daron Payne will have an adjustment period as will Tim Settle. The inside linebacker spot should be stronger but it’s hard to say that it will be a strength. The rushing defense probably won’t be last again, but it may not climb out of the twenties in the rankings. 

The Redskins haven’t been awful at getting takeaways, but they have not done it at a consistently game-changing level. They have three or more takeaways in a game five times in their last 30 games. I don’t see any reason to think that this will change dramatically. 

To put the 6-10 worst-case scenario onto the schedule, the Redskins could go 2-4 in the division with splits against the Cowboys and Giants and getting swept by the Eagles. Against the NFC South, which had three teams with 10 wins or more last year, they might be 1-3. That leaves a split with the AFC South (two of the final eight teams in the playoffs last year) and of their two other NFC games for a 6-10 record. 

Best-case scenario: 10-6, Wild card, win a playoff game

This scenario doesn’t require a whole lot of explanation beyond flipping the elements of the worst case into more positive outcomes. 

Smith could pick up where he left off last year when he completed 67.5 percent of his passes and was third in the league with 7.2 adjusted net yards per attempt. Maybe the yards per attempt will drop some as he tries to find a consistent deep target.

A healthy Jordan Reed would help Smith out tremendously. If Reed can participate in most of training camp, the two could hit the ground running. Smith’s ability to connect with Josh Doctson on some 50-50 balls also will be important. 

As for the running game, Guice could break out early behind a line that gels quickly. It’s not out of the question for him to gain 1,000 yards (that’s just about 65 yards per game), maybe a little more. A healthy Chris Thompson could kick in over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. 

Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis could pick up right where they left off last year before Allen was lost for the season with a foot injury and Ioannidis missed two games with a broken hand and was hampered by the injury for a few weeks after that. That would let Payne and Settle, well, settle into the pro game. 

The Redskins also would need at least to maintain the solid pass defense they had last year. And they would benefit from fewer turnovers on offense (27 last year, 26thin the NFL) and by adding a few takeaways to the 23 they got in 2017.

So how could they pull this off? The would need to go 4-2 in the division, with a sweep of the Giants and splits against Philly and Dallas. They then would need 2-2 records against the NFC South and AFC South. That part of it is probably the toughest task. To get to 10 they would need to beat the Cardinals on the road in the season opener and then have a good day against Aaron Rodgers and get a win over the Packers. It’s not an easy road but if enough pieces fall into place it’s not out of the question. 

A 10-6 record should be good enough for a wild-card spot. If they get through their fairly tough schedule with double-digit wins, they should be good enough to go on the road and take out the three or four seed. 

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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Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 23
—Training camp starts (7/26) 68
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 82

The Redskins last played a game 139 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 113 days. 

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Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

There was no tougher critic on Matt Niskanen’s Game 5 performance on Saturday than Niskanen himself.

Niskanen and his defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, were on the ice for all three of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s three goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 loss. That was striking given the Orlov-Niskanen duo is typically Washington’s best defensive pair.

That was not the case on Saturday and Niskanen took full responsibility afterward.

“First three goals are all my fault,” Niskanen said. “I had a tough first 20:30 so I've got to be better next game.”

Pretty much no one played the first goal right.

The goal came just 19 seconds into the game. Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like he could have gotten the puck, but instead played the body of Cedric Paquette. Niskanen stepped up at the blue line, but the Lightning got the puck past him creating a short rush that beat Braden Holtby who was way too far back in the crease.

Yes, Niskanen got caught a bit high, but he was just as at fault as Orlov, Kuznetsov and Holtby.

The second goal happened because Steven Stamkos tripped Orlov to create a turnover and it wasn’t called.

Niskanen got in between Ondrej Palat and the puck, but Palat beat both him and Holtby on the shot. Not sure I would put this one on Niskanen.

The third goal…well, that one was a bad play by Niskanen.

When you go one-on-one with a player, a defenseman cannot allow that player to turn the corner. That’s especially true when that player is defenseman Anton Stralman who is not exactly gifted with blazing speed. This was just a complete misplay.

Regardless of how many goals were strictly on Niskanen, that’s not the point. This was a message not so much to the media but to the team. That message was this: This one’s on me, I will be better next game.

Leaders always take responsibility. Niskanen is taking the blame here and saying he will be better in the hopes the team around him will be better as well.

They will need to be to win Game 6.

“A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again, bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game and then we'll go from there.

“But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6 and we'll be ready to go.”

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