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What the Redskins' offense must improve to ensure it's effective versus non-Dolphins defenses

What the Redskins' offense must improve to ensure it's effective versus non-Dolphins defenses

The Redskins' win against the Dolphins comes with a large, aqua and orange, possibly 0-16 sized asterisk.

Yes, Washington was able to notch its first victory this year, and doing that after firing a head coach and making yet another quarterback change is worthy of praise. It's also important for every guy in that locker room, especially with the chatter that was already emerging last week regarding the team possibly losing every game this year.

But still, the entire roster has to be better if it hopes to take down other, non-Dolphins opponents, especially the offense. There are a couple of areas where the unit clearly must improve to have a chance in their final 10 contests. Luckily, they aren't difficult to spot.

The first is their level of aggression.

Adrian Peterson thrived in Bill Callahan's run-focused approach, posting more rushing yards at Hard Rock Stadium than he had in total coming into Week 6. Like the first sentence of this story says, don't get too carried away (pun not originally intended but will leave it in there) because Miami is the worst run defense in the sport, but it was encouraging to see Peterson come alive and break some long ones.

What wasn't encouraging, on the other hand, were a few sequences where Callahan seemed far too content to play it safe.

The most egregious came at the end of the first half, where the Redskins got possession at their own 25-yard line with 1:07 left to play and a timeout to use. A second down Case Keenum scramble advanced the ball to the 34, but instead of hurrying up to get more snaps in or stopping the clock, the group took its time before picking up the first down 40 seconds later.

An incomplete pass and a give-up draw followed, so the Redskins went into the half with a 7-3 lead. They didn't use their timeout, they didn't push for a field goal attempt and they didn't even try a Hail Mary.

Callahan owned up to the sequence at his postgame presser, explaining he was OK with where the score was at. That mindset won't work from Week 7 on, however. Instead of accepting whatever future score advantages the Redskins have, they need to look to widen it in situations like that.

They're 1-5. Why be so conservative?

Of course, it's easier to be aggressive if your QB is locked in. Washington didn't exactly have that luxury in Florida.

Case Keenum was largely somewhat fine to fine in his return to the lineup, and thanks to a few shots to Terry McLaurin and that effort from Peterson, his return ended with a win. Afterward, Callahan named him the starter for the upcoming 49ers contest, but he has to do more if he's going to hold off Dwayne Haskins (writer's note: Haskins should be on the field by now).

That said, it may also help him if he was asked to do a little more, which ties into the first point. He averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt, which is a number similar to that of bottom-third offenses in the league. 58 of his 166 yards came on the two scores to McLaurin, meaning his other 11 completions and 23 tries went for just 108.

At some point, and likely some point soon, Callahan's beloved running game will be limited and the Redskins' signal-caller will have to make some throws and be the one responsible for moving the ball. It'll either be Keenum or, if he is mediocre again, it may then be Haskins. Whoever it is, though, he has to air it out more effectively.


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Brian Mitchell nominated for NFL Top 100, but more importantly, needs to be in Hall of Fame

Brian Mitchell nominated for NFL Top 100, but more importantly, needs to be in Hall of Fame

[Editor's note: As the author of this piece I want it to stand alone, with the merits of Brian Mitchell's numbers and the words of NFL coaches to clearly make the case that he belongs in the Hall of Fame. It's obvious, frankly. But it would be silly and irresponsible to not point out my relationship with B-Mitch. We work together and have for years. He's a good friend. I know his wife and children. He knows my wife and children. When my four-year old daughter sees the two of us on television, she usually asks, 'Is Daddy fighting with Mr. B. Mitch again?' I would stand up for Mitchell in any arena, but in this, I'm doing nobody's bidding. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. It's plain as day.] 

The NFL nominated Redskins legend Brian Mitchell for one of the kick returner spots on their Top 100 list, and while that's an incredible honor, it only underscores the absurdity that Mitchell's not already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

He ranks No. 2 all-time for all-purpose yards in the NFL, behind only Jerry Rice, and holds the NFL records for most total return yardage in the regular season, and more importantly, in the playoffs. He played for 14 seasons, an impressive feat on its own, and ranks 2nd in NFL history with 13 combined kick and punt return touchdowns. 

The truth here isn't surprise that Mitchell was nominated for the Top 100 list, it's outrage that Mitchell doesn't already have a bronze bust in the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. 

B-Mitch has had brushes with Canton before, a nominee and finalist for the Hall of Fame, but has never generated the requisite votes to wear a gold jacket.

Mitchell won a Super Bowl and spent the bulk of his career with the Redskins, but he also played with the Eagles and Giants. Of his 23,330 all-purpose yards, nearly 17,000 of them came wearing the Burgundy and Gold. Some think that might be a detriment to his case, as former Redskins wide receiver Art Monk narrowly got into Canton and other prominent former Washington players like Joe Jacoby and Gary Clark can't break through to the Hall. Special teams players have a tough road into the Hall of Fame regardless of bias, real or perceived, and that's never been more evident than Mitchell's case. 

Perhaps that will change soon.

Peter King, arguably the most important media voice in the NFL and a long-standing Hall of Fame voter, recently tweeted that that he "feels strongly" Mitchell deserves to have his case heard for a gold jacket. For many years, King protested the Hall of Fame candidacy of Monk, and for many years, Monk did not make the Hall of Fame. Somewhere along the way, King changed his mind, and in 2008, Monk got his gold jacket. 

Why now?

2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the NFL, and to celebrate the league is naming their Top 100 players of all-time.

More than 20 players have already made the list, culled from a list of dozens of prospects per position. Many household names like Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White made the roster already with plenty more to come. All are in the Hall of Fame, and almost all of the finalists named so far are in the Hall of Fame too. 

For special teams, the NFL has allotted six spots; two for kickers, two for punters and two for returners. There are four nominees for each position. Of the four kickers, three are already in the Hall of Fame. Two of the four punters have bronze busts in Canton. None of the returners have a spot though.

Mitchell is nominated along with Devin Hester, Mel Gray and Billy "White Shoes" Johnson. Mitchell has better career numbers than Gray and Johnson, and not by a close margin, though Hester bested Mitchell in touchdown returns. 

Hester should be a certain Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible for voting in 2021. He's the best return of all-time. That's not the point. 

The point is that Mitchell, with his numbers, should already be in the Hall of Fame. And by including him as a finalist for the league's Top 100 list of all-time, the NFL is pointing out the obvious. 

'He altered situational football'

In some ways, it makes sense that special teamers, and returners in particular, don't have any spots in the Hall of Fame. For decades, being a returner was not a specialized position, and plenty of running backs and wide receivers handled punt and kick returns. 

Ben Kotwica has coached special teams in the NFL since 2013, first for the Jets, then for the Redskins, and currently for the Falcons. Kotwica explained that for most of modern football, punters and kickers just booted the ball as far they could. It was elite returners, players like Mitchell, that forced punters and kickers to change their approach. 

"It's guys like that who altered the way the ball gets delivered in the punt and kick game," Kotwica said. 

Kotwica said that as Mitchell flourished in the 1990s, questions about when to punt, and who to punt to, became more important. That dramatically influenced the increase in directional kicking in both in the punt and kick game that is so prevalent now. 

"The question became, 'Do we want to punt to this guy?'' Kotwica said. "He altered situational football."

'A household name'

B-Mitch is a common name in and around Washington, D.C. He hosts a radio show, does plenty of TV work and rarely holds back on his opinions. But people listen to Mitchell now because of the name he created on the football field. 

"He’s a household name," Redskins special teams coach Nate Kaczor said.

Kaczor is in his first year coaching the Redskins special teams, but prior to Washington, held the same title in Tampa and Tennessee. That doesn't matter for his assessment of Mitchell, however, as he transcended just the D.C. market.

"The age of social media and exposure, it wasn’t the same back then. In order to become a household name then, you had to be so good," Kaczor said of Mitchell. "He was a legitimate household name as a player and that was hard to do."

What next?

Friday night the NFL will reveal what special teamers make the Top 100 list. Looking at the numbers, Hester should certainly make the list followed by Mitchell. The numbers very clearly support those two candidates, and Hester seems like a complete lock. 

If Mitchell makes the Top 100, then it would seem a formality for him to soon be voted into the Hall of Fame. But for many years now, it would seem a formality that his resume would already have landed in Canton. 

There are no sure things. Well, except Mitchell's spot in the NFL record books. That wasn't voted on, that was earned.


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Redskins insist they're seeing the same Preston Smith, but the numbers say otherwise

Redskins insist they're seeing the same Preston Smith, but the numbers say otherwise

When Bill Callahan was asked on Thursday if he's noticed any major differences between Preston Smith the Redskin and Preston Smith the Packer, the interim coach responded that Smith looks "pretty similar" these days.

His stats, however, suggest otherwise. 

The 27-year-old already has 10.5 sacks through Green Bay's 12 games. His career high in four campaigns with Washington was eight. So he's surpassed his best sack production already and still has a quarter of the way to go, and is also on pace to easily set new bests in tackles, solo tackles, tackles for loss and QB hits.

That leap in production has caused many to wonder if Smith was properly used or coached while he was with the Burgundy and Gold. Callahan didn't necessarily dismiss that idea entirely, though he also made sure to note that perhaps Smith has developed on his own.

"Everybody matures, gets older, stronger, has new experiences, new position coaches, system and with that I think players evolve," Callahan said. "You just don't know what can make a spark in a player's career, whether it's a position coach, a coordinator, a system, new place, whatever it may be."

It's certainly possible Smith has "matured" personally. However, it's not like there's such thing in the NFL as "the fifth-year leap." While guys certainly learn and make tweaks to their game every offseason, the massively improved play from Smith indicates he's on a defense now that uses him in a much more effective way. 

Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur wouldn't comment on why Smith has thrived more with the Packers than he did with the Redskins, opting instead to simply point out that Smith's impact has been "tremendous." Callahan, meanwhile, explained that Smith is rushing from both sides more, and he also seems to have more "freedom to take the inside rush if it's there."

This Sunday, Dwayne Haskins and his offense will get to see Smith in person at Lambeau Field. Unfortunately, 2019 hasn't been fun for the Redskins when it comes to facing well-known ex-Redskins.

In Week 1, DeSean Jackson completely changed the flow of the opener for the Eagles and scored twice. In Week 3, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix picked off two passes and returned one for six as a Bear. And in Week 11, Jamison Crowder caught eight passes and found the end zone when the Jets visited FedEx Field.

Now, the point of this isn't to claim that the organization blew it by not re-signing Smith in March. He was paid quite a bit of cash by the Packers, and after four years of solid but not superb results, Washington was content not to match the contract Smith eventually got. They felt like he had reached his ceiling in D.C. and they were fine with moving on.

So, when the Redskins watch Smith in Week 14, they shouldn't feel remorse for that. But they should look at him and then look at themselves, wondering if they're employing the right people and running the right systems to get the most out of their players. 

The franchise can claim all they want that Smith is "pretty similar" to what he was as a Redskin. The reality is that he's better. A lot better. He's surely evolved some, yet the more prominent thing here is that the Redskins often refuse to.