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Why the Redskins sat Montae Nicholson and whether it's time HaHa Clinton-Dix loses some workload

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Why the Redskins sat Montae Nicholson and whether it's time HaHa Clinton-Dix loses some workload

The Redskins defense clicked earlier this season when the team seemed playoff-bound. This same group with scant personnel changes then started getting clocked starting with a Week 9 loss against the Falcons.

Everyone began wondering why. 

The most notable switch, HaHa Clinton-Dix replacing Montae Nicholson at safety, received additional scrutiny in the loss against the Giants on Sunday. 

Through seven games, Washington won five of seven games and allowed 322 yards per game. The Redskins have since lost five of six including four in a row while surrendering an average of 426 yards. The primary struggles exist on the ground, though the Redskins allowed seven touchdown passes over the last three games.

The start of the current six-game stretch coincided with the addition of Clinton-Dix. Washington traded a 2019 fourth-round pick to Green Bay on Oct. 30 for the one-time Pro Bowl safety. Clinton-Dix, 25, played 100 percent of the defensive snaps over the last five games. Despite the heavy workload, an adjustment period remains.

"I think he's finding his way, really,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said this week of Clinton-Dix.

His arrival sent Nicholson to the bench. Last May Gruden praised the 2017 fourth-round selection turned starter during his rookie season. “Montae I think is really an important piece,” Gruden said at the NFL Combine. “Very similar to the way Jordan Reed is on [offense], Montae is on defense.”

After playing all but 440 of 445 defensive snaps during the initial seven games this season, the second-year safety played on 26 snaps after Clinton-Dix’s arrival. He hasn’t taken the field defensively for the last three games.

NBC Sports Washington sought an explanation for the safety swap from NFL analytics website Pro Football Focus.

“HaHa has actually been a reliable tackler when he actually makes contact,” PFF analyst Trey Cunningham said via email. “He's saved several [touchdowns] with tackles where others were beat. Of course, the most notable gaffes for him have come when he's taken bad angles as the last line of defense and not even been able to attempt a tackle."

Cunningham cited both Amari Cooper's long catch-and-runs touchdowns in the Cowboys Week 12 win over the Redskins and Giants running back Saquon Barkley's 78 yard TD run last week as examples. Clinton-Dix was blocked during two touchdowns against Atlanta and knocked down on Darren Sproles’ touchdown run in Week 13 against the Eagles, according to Cunningham. 

Tackling concerns and "average" speed were considered issues during Clinton-Dix's time with the Packers, though PFF rated him among the top safeties in coverage at the time of the trade.

Yet Cunningham noted Clinton-Dix provided pop with a forced fumble against Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins. He also reasons why the Redskins may have felt compelled to seek safety help in the first place.

“Aside from health concerns with Montae Nicholson, his biggest flaw when he was starting was missed tackles - nine in the first four games including an astonishing five in the (win over the) Packers,” Cunningham said. “His primary coverage numbers weren't great either. Allowed 13 of 17 targets to be complete for 192 yards and a TD.”

Nicholson’s struggles continued after Clinton-Dix’s arrival. Cunningham recalled the safety taking a bad angle as the last line of defense on Falcons’ receiver Calvin Ridley's long catch-and-run touchdown in Week 9 among his errors.

While Clinton-Dix hasn’t wowed, perhaps the Redskins appreciate him limiting the mistakes.

“I would personally say Clinton-Dix has been an upgrade on Nicholson,” Cunningham said, “but that upgrade didn't come with any game-changing plays.”

Gruden hinted this week at a possible Nicholson return especially as the regular season winds down. Clinton-Dix enters free agency in 2019.

"Yeah, we have to look at Montae again,” Gruden said. “I think nobody gave up on Montae, we traded for a good player, a Pro-Bowl type player in HaHa and we wanted to give him every opportunity to come in and play. It wasn’t that we were down on Montae at all, we just needed depth at that position, got him in here and we liked what we saw, so we put him out there early.

“But, Montae does have a chance to play in the next three weeks quite a bit if we choose to that route because he is a good player with great speed."

The Redskins have perhaps three more weeks to determine how good Nicholson is or enter the offseason wondering if a new safety plan must emerge.

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Redskins won't see Antonio Brown in Week 5: Controversial star released by Patriots

Redskins won't see Antonio Brown in Week 5: Controversial star released by Patriots

The Antonio Brown Era in New England is over.

Brown, one of the most prolific wide receivers to ever play in the NFL, was released by the Patriots Friday afternoon, just 11 days after signing with the team.

Shortly after his release from the Raiders, which preceded his signing in New England, reports surfaced of sexual assault allegations being levied at Brown. The receiver was facing charges of rape from a former trainer, and it was initially unclear how much the Patriots knew about prior to his signing.

Brown did end up playing in Week 2, his first opportunity with the Patriots, in Miami. He caught four passes for 56 yards and a touchdown, in addition to rushing the ball once for a five-yard gain.

Late Thursday night, additional reports surfaced of intimidating texts sent by Brown to a woman involved in a separate assault case. Less than a day later, the receiver tweeted a farewell to his now former team.

Minutes later, the Patriots announced they had parted ways with Brown. 

The team released the following statement: “The New England Patriots are releasing Antonio Brown. We appreciate the hard work of many people over the past 11 days, but we feel that it is best to move in a different direction at this time.”

The investigation into sexual assault allegations against Brown remains ongoing at this time.

The Redskins will host the Patriots in Week 5 of the 2019 NFL season.

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Jonathan Allen says '100 percent' chance he plays Monday night but questions remain for Redskins

Jonathan Allen says '100 percent' chance he plays Monday night but questions remain for Redskins

Jonathan Allen declared himself "100 percent" in for the Redskins Monday night game against the Bears. That's great news, except Allen might not have the final say in the matter.

The Redskins defensive captain and third-year defensive tackle sprained his knee Week 1 in Philadelphia and wanted to return in that game. He didn't, and subsequently, missed Week 2 against Dallas too. Washington head coach Jay Gruden explained that the team has to protect Allen, a fierce competitor, against himself. He doesn't want to miss any action, even if resting his injured knee might be the most prudent course. 

Asked what would happen if the medical staff tried to prevent him from playing in Monday's contest, Allen did not really respond but rather shake his head. 

Elsewhere on the team, there doesn't seem to be as much good news on the injury front.

The news on cornerback Quinton Dunbar doesn't seem encouraging.

"I don’t know about Dunbar. He was struggling a bit today," Gruden said after practice. The cornerback injured his knee against Philly and missed the Cowboys game. It would take some serious progress for Dunbar to play Monday night. 

The news seems even more concerning with tight end Jordan Reed. He hasn't played since sustaining a concussion in the third preseason game, and this week he practiced on Wednesday but didn't make it out on the field Thursday or Friday. At this point, the Redskins seem wise to move forward without Reed in the game plan as he works his way back from the concussion protocol. 

Further down the line, cornerback Fabian Moreau looks like he is tracking to return to the field against Chicago while questions keep popping up around safety Montae Nicholson. Gruden said Nicholson's absence was mainly for rest.