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Need to Know: Did Jay Gruden call passes too often when the Redskins were leading?

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Need to Know: Did Jay Gruden call passes too often when the Redskins were leading?

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, July 11, 15 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

A look at how the Redskins played when they had the lead

—Last year, the Redskins ran 367 offensive plays when they were leading and 402 when trailing. That seems to be a proper breakdown for a 7-9 team. There were three games they never led (DAL, @LAC, @NYG) plus in their home game against the Eagles they held a lead for just 1:17 late in the first half. In addition to those games, there were two others that they trailed the entire second half (MIN, @PHI). There were five games that they never trailed (@LAR, OAK, SF, NYG, AZ).  

—Of those 367 plays they ran when they were leading, 192 were passes and 175 were runs. While that plays into the notion that Gruden is pass happy, the truth is that the pass was more effective than the run in 2017. They averaged 6.5 net yards per pass attempt (accounting for sacks) and 3.6 per run. When a running play is frequently going to have you in second and seven or longer, the smart move is to throw the ball more and run just enough to keep the other team honest. 

—The key is to get a good enough running game so you don’t have to make a living that way. The other three teams in the NFC East all ran more than they passed when leading. Of the six teams that made the NFC playoffs, five ran with the lead more often than they passed. The exception was the Falcons. Even the Rams, coached by the same Sean McVay who threw the ball a lot there, ran it with the lead 52 percent of the plays. 

—The point here is that last year I don’t think that Gruden passed the ball too often with the lead. The running game they had was not good enough to be relied on. You can’t base your game strategy on the talent you wish you have, you have to base it on what you actually have.

—The problem wasn’t play calling, the problem was that due to injuries and a general lack of high-impact runners – especially after Chris Thompson went on injured reserve – the running game was not up to NFL standards. Perhaps that will change if Derrius Guice lives up to expectations and if Thompson stays healthy for 16 games. In any case, it makes no sense to keep running into a wall just so that you can say you did it. 

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 

Len Hauss, five-time Pro Bowler who was the Redskins’ starting center from 1964-1977, was born on this date in 1942. 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 15
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 29
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 52

The Redskins last played a game 192 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 60 days. 

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With the game put in their hands, the Redskins defense got the job done again

With the game put in their hands, the Redskins defense got the job done again

The Redskins got going quickly on offense against the Packers on Sunday. They scored in four plays the first time they had the ball. After a three and out they drove to another touchdown. In the second quarter they embarked on the longest touchdown drive they have had since 1999, a 98-yard march. By the time halftime came they had scored 28 points. 

That’s great but that four touchdowns are not always enough to beat an Aaron Rodgers-led Packers team. In 2016, the last season that Rodgers played all 16 games, Green Bay averaged 27 points per game. Basically, no lead is safe. 

But Jay Gruden played it very safe with the offensive play calling in the second half. Alex Smith, who was on fire in the first half, attempted only five passes in the last 30 minutes. They had 57 yards rushing in the second half, 32 of which came on the Redskins final possession when they drove for a field goal, their only points of the final two quarters. 

It was a similar performance to their season opener against the Cardinals when they were up 21-0 at halftime and then posted just a field goal in the second quarter. 

While the lack of offense in the second half of the Redskins’ two wins has been a talking point among fans and in the media, the key point is that both games turned out in the Redskins’ favor. They now have a defense that Gruden can trust to hold a lead. 

In Arizona, the Redskins defense gave up a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, but the lead was never in danger. On Sunday, a fourth-down stop and a takeaway kept the Packers game from ever getting to be a one-score game. 

In the second halves of their three games, including the Week 2 loss to the Colts, the Redskins have given up an average of 147 yards and seven points. It’s a small sample size but so far, they are doing a good job of shutting the door. 

Another thing the Redskins have been doing well defensively is preventing big plays. The longest play against them was the 64-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter against the Packers. Other than that, they have given up just four plays that gained over 20 yards and none longer than 27 yards. 

They are second in total defense. They are giving up a miniscule 4.3 adjusted net yards per pass attempt, a full two yards less than the league average. If you prefer to use the more traditional passer rating stat, opponents have compiled a 77.0, well below the league aggregate rating of 91.2. Again, it’s early but this is a good start. 

The Washington defense will need to keep it going the next two weeks. First up after the bye is Drew Brees of the Saints, who is healthy and completing over 80 percent of his passes. New Orleans also has running back Alvin Kamara, one of the best two-way threats in the game. After that is Cam Newton of the Panthers, who the Redskins never have beaten, and his dual-threat running back Christian McCaffrey. 

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NFC East Update: Eagles, Redskins separate from Cowboys, Giants

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NFC East Update: Eagles, Redskins separate from Cowboys, Giants

The season remains young, but a clear declination appears to be forming in the NFC East. The Redskins and Eagles boast capable offenses, and the Giants and Cowboys do not. 

With the Redskins getting the first bye of the division this week, records going forward will not reflect the same number of games played. In a way, that means this could be the most fair comparison for some time of the four NFC East squads. Let's get to it:

Philadelphia Eagles (2-1)

The big news on Broad Street wasn't that the Eagles got a Week 3 win, but rather the successful return of QB Carson Wentz. He played fine in the 20-16 win over the Colts, not great, but having the gifted young passer back on the field for the first time since a 2017 knee injury provides a big boost for the Eagles.

Philly also piled up more than 150 rush yards in their Week 3 win while holding the Colts running backs to less than 40 yards on the ground. That's the Eagles formula to stack up wins.

Up next: Sept. 30th @ Tennessee

Washington Redskins (2-1)

Talk about a big rebound. The Redskins dominated the first half of play against Green Bay and finished with a double digit win over the Packers. In their two wins, the Redskins have looked like one of the best squads in the NFL. Unfortunately, the ugly loss to Indianapolis sits in the middle.

Still, with the Redskins on a bye for Week 4, fans should be quite encouraged with the state of their team. Adrian Peterson looks to have plenty left in the tank and questions about Alex Smith's ability to find his wideouts seem overblown. Defensively, a young, ferocious group of linemen appear to be the best the team has had in a long time. The offensive line is banged up, and the bye will be quite useful for that group. Of the NFC East teams, the Redskins have the best point differential at +20, which happens with two double digit wins.

Up next: Oct. 8th @ New Orleans

Dallas Cowboys (1-2)

Through three weeks, the Cowboys offense is terrible. Dallas ranks 30th in points-per-game and 31st in yard-per-game. There are only 32 teams. The pass game is killing the Cowboys, as Dak Prescott is averaging less than 150 pass yards per game. That's real bad, but it's not all his fault.

Dallas cut Dez Bryant in the offseason and did nothing to address his absence. The defense is active and physical up front, but in the NFL, teams need to score points. Right now, it's unclear if Dallas will be able to at a reasonable level. 

Up next: Sept. 30th vs Detroit

New York Giants (1-2)

The only team with a division loss, the Giants logged a surprise good win in Week 3 in Houston. Not quite as bad as Dallas on offense, the Giants merely rank in the bottom third of the league in total yards and points-per-game.

Despite the emergence of rookie Saquon Barkley, the Giants are averaging just 87 yards-per-game on the ground. The biggest problem for Big Blue remains the offensive line, and don't expect it to get much better this year. 

Up next: Sept. 30th vs New Orleans

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