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Are the Redskins running the ball too much on first down?

Are the Redskins running the ball too much on first down?

After one loss, the play calling of Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is already under fire. After years of being criticized for abandoning the running game, some are saying that he is now running too often, at least on first down. 

The decision of what to do on first-and-10 is one of the basic quandaries of play calling. Running the ball is likely to get you ahead of the sticks but if the play gets stuffed you are facing second-and-8 or 9. Defenses often are geared to stop the run on first down so that affects the success rate. 

Passing on first down can be a more attractive option. Even a quick pass with a few yards after the catch can get you into second and short in a hurry. But passes are incomplete about a third of the time and that leaves the offense looking at second-and-10. The occasional sack or holding penalty can quickly kill a drive. 

This season, Gruden has leaned heavily towards taking the lower risk, lower reward route of running the ball on first down. The Redskins 39 first-down runs are the most in the NFL, one more than the Texans and considerably more than the NFL average of 27 first-down runs. (The numbers here are from Pro Football Reference and are complete through Sunday’s games.) 

Those are the raw numbers. When you break it down into first-down rush percentage, the Redskins are fifth in the league at 58.2 percent. Still, that leans heavily towards the run in a league that passes on first down (51.7%) more often than it runs (48.3%).

In looking at just 2018 we are dealing with a small sample size. The two Redskins games were very different. In their first game, they never trailed, and runs were called on 69 percent of first down plays (25 of 36). Against the Colts where they never led and ran on 45 percent of first downs (14 of 31). 

Looking at a larger set of data covering games from the start of the 2017 season through Sunday’s game, Gruden called runs on 58.5 percent of first-down plays. That was the fifth-highest percentage in the league. The league average seems to shift to more running as the year wears on as over the last full season plus two games teams ran on first down 52.4 percent of the time. 

Looking at the big picture, you might wonder why Gruden ran it so often on first down last year with such a poor (27thin NFL) rushing game. They averaged 3.16 yards per first down run. That was the worst average in the league.

We will track this occasionally as the year goes on. This year, again a small sample size, they are averaging a respectable 4.3 yards on first-down rushing attempts, 10th in the NFL. Let’s see if the strategy shifts, if the defense adjusts and keys to stop the run on first down, and/or if they are having trouble consistently moving the ball. 

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Dwayne Haskins has always admired Aaron Rodgers, now he gets to face him

Dwayne Haskins has always admired Aaron Rodgers, now he gets to face him

Sunday's game against the Packers will mark the fifth career start for Dwayne Haskins in the NFL. Yet, this one will be very different from the first four.

So far, Haskins has faced off against Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Jeff Driskel and Kyle Allen. In that group are a pair of second-year passers and a pair of backups who were on the field because of injuries. 

When Haskins makes the trip to Green Bay, he will find himself matched up with a marquee QB in Aaron Rodgers. In Haskins' brief tenure as a pro, he has often talked about how he hopes to one day be associated with the most talented signal callers ever, like Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Rodgers is in that group, too.

"He's one of my favorite quarterbacks," Haskins said on Wednesday. "I just like the way he's able to distribute the ball over the field... He's a very dynamic quarterback."

While Haskins is just beginning his journey in the NFL, Rodgers is putting together yet another sterling season. He's thrown 22 touchdowns to just two interceptions and is on pace to record his fourth straight campaign with a quarterback rating above 97. Since 2008, in fact, the worst rating Rodgers has posted is 92.7.

By comparison, the Redskins rookie currently sports a rating of 58.5. 

Rodgers' presence won't just affect the Burgundy and Gold's defense in Week 14. His ability to catch fire also puts pressure on his opponent's offense, because if he's in a groove it'seven more necessary to try and keep up. 

Haskins, though, explained that he doesn't want to think that way.

"You've got to score points against anybody," he said. "We had to score points to beat McCaffrey and the Panthers. Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback, he's going to keep his team in every game he plays. So, we've got to go in there scoring points, we know that. There's no press to outduel him or try to throw more than him. I'm just trying to move the chains and make plays when they need to be made."

That's a solid approach for Haskins, but odds are he will have to lead a more effective passing game if the Redskins are to win in Green Bay. Yes, his mediocre play has been hidden in the past two wins thanks to contributions from the special teams and running backs, but at some point a breakout is needed — both for him personally and the overall team.

In addition to battling a future Hall of Famer, Haskins also gets to soon do battle with Green Bay's renowned weather. Fortunately for him, that foe won't be at its most powerful — it doesn't look like it'll be cold enough to snow — and, unlike Rodgers, the 22-year-old knows how to handle low temperatures.

"Try and stay as warm as possible," he said. "Hand warmers, turtlenecks, soup, chicken broth, all that stuff."

So, he's already got the answers for the weather. And in a few days, everyone will get to see if he also has them for Rodgers.

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Here is a list of 25 old things that Lambeau Field is older than

Here is a list of 25 old things that Lambeau Field is older than

The Redskins will play at Lambeau Field this Sunday, a stadium that interim coach Bill Callahan respects and an environment rookie QB Dwayne Haskins can't wait to experience. 

Few places in sports, if any, are as revered as Lambeau Field. It has hosted some of the NFL's most iconic players and moments. It's a place every fan should try to visit. It's a legitimate American landmark. 

It's also super old.

The building, originally known as City Stadium, has existed since September 1957. That means it's more than 62 years old.

So — and this is for no real reason, so if you're looking for a real reason, sorry — here's a list of 25 old things that aren't as old as Lambeau Field:

1) Sprite

2) Nike

3) US ZIP codes

4) The movie Ben-Hur (which is apparently as long as The Irishman, but hopefully not as boring)

5) The Dallas Cowboys

6) Dwayne Haskins + Alex Smith (those two together are 57, so depending on the movie theater, they could combine to get a senior discount)

7) Simon Cowell (Lambeau Field is older but less grumpy)

8) Weather satellites (the first one was named TIROS-1 in case you were wondering, which you definitely weren't)

9) Barbie dolls

10) Big Macs (unrelated: Big Macs are delicious)

11) The Twilight Zone (sorry, Black Mirror is better)

12) Kmart stores

13) Michael Jordan

14) The Flintstones

15) George Clooney (yes, he's younger than Lambeau Field and also better at organizing complex casino heists)

16) Lava lamps (if you're buying a lava lamp in 2019, please seek help)

17) Hula hoops (if you're buying a hula hoop in 2019, please also seek help)

18) The Grammy Awards

19) Buffalo wings (imagine a world without Buffalo wings. NO. NEVER MIND. DON'T)

20) Hawaii's statehood

21) Computer mouses (regular mouses, meanwhile, are in fact older than Lambeau Field)

22) Etch a Sketch

23) Pull tabs on soda cans

24) Valium

25) Bump and run coverage 

In conclusion, Lambeau Field is old. 

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