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Need to Know: In the early going the Redskins’ defense is looking a lot like it did last year.

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Bob Youngentob for NBC Sports Washington

Need to Know: In the early going the Redskins’ defense is looking a lot like it did last year.

Here is what you need to know on Sunday, September 30, eight days before the Washington Redskins visit the New Orleans Saints.  

Talking points

—So far, the Redskins defense is looking a lot like it did last year, with a good pass defense and a porous rushing defense. Using the DVOA metric from Football Outsiders, they are eighth in pass defense (-19.8% DVOA, negative numbers are good on defense) and 31stin rushing defense (10.8% DVOA). 

— What makes the problems with the rushing defense even more concerning is that the only premiere running back they have faced is David Johnson and he was in his first game after missing most of 2017 with an injury. Things get tougher in the next few weeks with Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, and Ezekiel Elliott on tap.

—Many fans and analysts questioned how quickly Alex Smith could get up to speed in Jay Gruden’s offense. So far, he has done well. He is in the top 10 in nearly every major passing statistical category including completion percentage (68.8 percent, ninth), interception percentage (1.0 percent, sixth), passer rating (102.2, ninth), and adjusted net yards per attempt (7.6, eighth). 

—Smith is clearly off to a better start this year than he was in 2014, his first year in Kansas City after he was traded to the Chiefs. He has a significantly better completion percentage (67 percent now compared to 63 percent in 2014) and passer rating (102.2 now, 81.5 then) compared to his first three games as a Chief. Smith has the same number of touchdown passes, four, but he has thrown just one interception this year compared to three in 2014. 

—The traditional stats are in line with the DVOA metric in this case. The Redskins are seventh in passing DVOA at 35.5 percent. The Football Outsiders numbers, however, don’t paint as good a picture of the Redskins’ rushing game as do the conventional stats. They are fourth in the league in rushing yards but a mediocre 18th(-5.7%) in rushing DVOA.

—Overall, the Redskins are a top-10 defense in terms of DVOA, ranking eighth at -8.4 percent. They also make it as a top-10 offense coming in at No. 10 at 8.4 percent. That’s a balanced team, and if the Redskins keep it up they should have a successful season. 

The agenda

Today: Bye week

Upcoming: Redskins @ Saints (October 8) 8 days; Panthers @ Redskins 14; Cowboys @ Redskins 21

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Redskins exercise team option on Adrian Peterson for 2020

Redskins exercise team option on Adrian Peterson for 2020

There was little doubt, but Adrian Peterson is officially returning to the Washington Redskins in 2020.

Washington officially exercised Peterson's team option on his contract on Wednesday, keeping the 35-year-old under contract through next season.

"Adrian Peterson is the epitome of what it means to be a pro in this league," head coach Ron Rivera said in the team's statement. "Adrian’s leadership and passion towards the game of football will set an example of what is expected of the players in this program moving forward."

The seven-time Pro Bowler has led Washington in rushing yards the last two seasons. A year ago, he was named a team captain for the Burgundy and Gold and led the team in rushing touchdowns and carries in addition to rushing yards. In 2018, he rushed for over 1,000 yards in his first season with the team.

The future Hall of Famer has continued to climb in the record books during his time in Washington. Last season, he passed Walter Payton on the all-time rushing touchdowns list and eclipsed 14,000 yards on the ground. Entering 2020, he remains 1,054 yards away from passing Lions' legend Barry Sanders for fourth all-time in rushing yards.

Peterson's return to Washington was expected, especially considering the many question marks surrounding the rest of the position group.

If the Redskins had let Peterson become a free agent, Washington's top two running backs under contract would have been third-year pro Derrius Guice and sophomore Bryce Love, both who have a laundry list of injury concerns. The team's top pass-catching back, Chris Thompson, is a free agent.

"It’s a blessing to be back and I look forward to continue leading and inspiring those around me to be great and think outside the box!" Peterson told NBC Sports Washington's Julie Donaldson. "Not only am I appreciative to the organization for having faith in me but also love how the Redskins nation has embraced, showered me with love. I’ll continue to pour my heart and soul into winning a championship! The best is yet to come!"

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Redskins free agent targets: James Bradberry

Redskins free agent targets: James Bradberry

NBC Sports Washington is taking a long look at potential free agents that could help the Redskins in 2020. 

Carolina Panthers CB James Bradberry
2016 second-round pick by Carolina
Unrestricted free agent
6-foot-1 | 212 lbs. | 26 years old

Ron Rivera has brought a lot with him from Carolina to Washington. Most notably, the Redskins new coach has hired someone with ties to the Panthers to run, among other things, his new team's offense, training staff, player negotiations/salary cap dealings and a handful of positions on both sides of the ball.

It's safe to bet that trend will continue to some extent once free agency commences, with Greg Olsen visiting the Redskins before signing with the Seahawks Tuesday. Safety Tre Boston is slated to hit the open market as well.

If Rivera wants to get really aggressive, however, and poach who should be the top available Panther, he'll pursue cornerback James Bradberry.

Bradberry doesn't carry the same name recognition that Josh Norman did four offseasons ago, but don't overlook him. He's a legit cover guy in the NFL. 

The 26-year-old has started 47 of the last 48 games — the majority of which happened with Rivera on the sidelines — and is coming off a year where he notched three picks and defended 12 passes.

Bradberry will be one of the three premium available options at his position come March, thanks to his durability, age and steady improvement as a pro. And because of those factors, he's going to command a serious contract, likely somewhere north of $10 million per season.

Now, during Super Bowl week in Miami, Bradberry told the Redskins Talk podcast that his "dream scenario" would be to return to the Panthers and continue his career there. He did admit, though, he's enticed by the idea of re-joining Rivera, a person whom Bradberry described as a "great man and a great coach."

If Bradberry can't come to an agreement with the organization that drafted him, the Redskins should make a concerted effort to land him. Cornerback is a place of need for Rivera, Jack Del Rio and Co., and it's unlikely they'll be able to reinforce it with a high draft pick considering the team is without a second-rounder and is currently poised to take Chase Young second overall.

Therefore, free agency appears to be Washington's best path for addressing the outside of their secondary, and Bradberry very well could be the best choice on that path. 

Yes, the last time the Redskins went all-in on a defensive back from the Panthers who wore No. 24, it failed. That shouldn't dissuade them this time around. Bradberry will be expensive, sure, but he also could be very, very good for quite a while.

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