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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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Why Cam Newton remains unsigned, according to his former coach Ron Rivera

Why Cam Newton remains unsigned, according to his former coach Ron Rivera

As the calendar turns to June and most NFL teams have settled on the first phase of their roster makeup, one notable name remains on the market. Cam Newton, the former Carolina Panthers quarterback and 2015 league MVP, is still unsigned as the 2020 season fast approaches.

Despite his past success and dual-threat skills, the 31-year-old has not sparked much interest, specifically as a starter, from NFL teams. Why could that be? One person who may have an understanding of the factors contributing to Newton remaining off a roster is Redskins head coach Ron Rivera.

Rivera and Newton spent nine seasons together as the quarterback-head coach duo for the Carolina Panthers, a run that came to an end following the 2019 campaign. Rivera has a fresh start in Washington, and Newton is looking for the same after being released earlier this year. Barring a major change, it most likely won't come with the Redskins.

However, the head coach still has solid insight on the situation. Based on what Rivera knows about Newton and has seen from him in the past, he believes there is one major factor that has teams hesitant to bring him in: Health.

“I think that’s probably the biggest thing, more than anything else," Rivera said of Newton's injury concerns on Fox Sports' 'Fox Football Now' with Jay Glazer. "You’ve got to know. The foot and the shoulder will be the two biggest concerns everybody has."

As Rivera alluded to, there are question marks surrounding Newton following a 2019 season that saw him only appear in two games. Specifically, consistent shoulder problems have messed with throwing motion will continue to be a concern for any team interested in bringing him on. Nagging foot injuries don't help. 

Time off and surgery have been beneficial to his recovery process, but Rivera understands that it's hard to truly judge a player until you see him in action once again. However, he has heard some rave reviews of Newton's physical shape as of late.

"I will say this, though, from the people that are around him that I know, they’ve all said the same thing to me. They’ve said, ‘Coach, he looks great. He really does,'" Rivera said.

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Rivera added that it isn't just his physical presence that is encouraging, but his mindset as well. Being released from the team he spent his whole career with and took to the Super Bowl, coupled with doubt from others around the NFL, has given Newton a new edge.

"He’s a little bit different. His whole attitude -- he’s got something to prove," Rivera said he's heard.

Rivera's words are encouraging, but only time will tell where Newton ends up and when he'll get another chance to prove himself in the NFL. There is one thing Rivera knows: whenever that opportunity does arise, Newton will make the league remember just how talented he is.

"And I will say this -- the one thing about Cam Newton with an edge for something to prove, don’t ever bet against him.”

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DeSean Jackson signed with Redskins in 2014 in part to spite Chip Kelly and the Eagles

DeSean Jackson signed with Redskins in 2014 in part to spite Chip Kelly and the Eagles

When the Redskins signed wide receiver DeSean Jackson in 2014 following his surprising release from Philadelphia, one common desire the two sides shared above all else helped get the deal done: wanting to beat the Eagles.

For Washington, Jackson's market availability meant a chance to no longer be tortured by the speedy receiver that had constantly burned them twice a year for six seasons. The pass catcher was coming off his best NFL season at the time, 82 receptions for 1332 yards and nine touchdowns, and the Redskins were not going to miss the chance to give the Eagles a taste of their own medicine.

That was evident in their recruitment of Jackson, which the once again Eagles wide receiver shared on his teammate Lane Johnson's "Outside the Lane" Instagram Live Show. From planes to special appearances, Washington pulled out all stops.

"I remember the Redskins were one of the teams that hopped in and was really trying to sign me because of all the damage I did to them earlier in my career. Dan Snyder personally sent me his private jet. I was in L.A. and he sent me his private jet, he was like, ‘Get on the plane and we’ll figure out the contract,'" Jackson told Johnson, via NBC Sports Philadelphia. "RG3 actually came to my house in Calabasas and he was like, ‘Man, please bro, just come play with me.’"

The Redskins clearly made an effort to make Jackson feel wanted, something Philadelphia didn't show toward the end of his first stint there. That was great, and helped with the decision, but one of Washington's main selling point was that their schedule would allow him to seek revenge on the team that had just slighted him.

"I just wanted to go play against y’all twice a year," Jackson said, referring to the Eagles. "I’m staying in the division because I want them to see me twice a year. … I was going to let them see what they were missing out on."

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His spite toward the franchise he entered the league with was largely due to how things came to a close in 2014. Despite his phenomenal play on the field, head coach Chip Kelly, who held final say over the roster, was not keen on keeping Jackson. Reports swirled that Philadelphia was concerned with Jackson's friends in California, something that filled him with anger and resentment.

He could understand being released due to financial or physical reasons but felt that the Eagles were cowardly in their decision to let him go.

"Honestly, bro, the past is the past, but I will say when I was released by the Eagles it was definitely a shove in my face, you know?” Jackson said. “The story that was made up and the reason behind it was hard for me to respect. I would have respected it a lot more, man, if they would have just came to me and just told me basically it’s a money issue or we’re going a different route. But no, you want to come up and say I’m a hoodlum and I’m doing all this crazy (stuff)? That (stuff) was personal to me."

Both Jackson and the Redskins got their wish, as the two did join forces in 2014 giving Washington another weapon and the wide receiver a chance at his former team. Jackson tallied two 1,000-yard seasons during his three years in the Burgundy and Gold, and Washington made the playoffs once in that span. However, the match was never as fruitful as it could have been.

The veteran is now back with the Eagles and looking to rebound in 2020 after only appearing in three games last season due to injuries. His ability to hurt the Redskins is still as potent as ever, as he went for 154 yards and two touchdowns against them in Week 1 of 2019.

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