Redskins

Swinney again has Clemson on verge of 11 wins

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Swinney again has Clemson on verge of 11 wins

ATLANTA (AP) Dabo Swinney again has Clemson on the verge of an 11-victory season, a milestone reached by only three teams in school history.

Reaching 11 wins might convince Swinney to call his No. 14 Tigers great. It's a title he's willing to place on No. 9 Louisiana State, which will face Clemson on Monday night in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Clemson (10-2) is coming off a 27-17 loss to in-state rival South Carolina. It finished the 2011 season at 10-4, when a lopsided 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl kept the Tigers from 11 wins.

Swinney said LSU (10-2) deserves to be called great because the Tigers won a recent national championship (2007) and played for the title last year. He's not as generous when describing his own team.

``LSU is a great team,'' Swinney said. ``We're not a great team, not yet. We think we're on our way from a program standpoint. LSU is a great football team. They're a great program and they've earned that with the consistency that they've played with. They played for a national championship less than 12 months ago and were a play or two away from being in it again this year.

``They represent where we want to go from a program standpoint to that type of national competitive consistency, so it's a great opportunity for us.''

Clemson finished 12-0 in its 1981 national championship season. It was 11-0 in 1948 and 11-1 in 1978. No other Clemson team has won more than 10 games.

``So 11 wins in Clemson history has been a pretty rare thing,'' Swinney said. ``And to be at the doorstep of that for the second year in a row is pretty special.''

Swinney knows it would mean more to reach 11 wins, especially against one of the Southeastern Conference's most prominent teams.

Clemson scored at least 37 points in 10 of its 12 games. The exceptions were its two games against SEC teams - a 26-19 opening win over Auburn at the Georgia Dome and a 27-17 loss to South Carolina in its final regular-season game.

Now with another SEC opponent there are more questions about Clemson's ability to maintain its typical high-scoring pace against a more physical SEC defense.

``I could see how a team outside the SEC could play with a chip on their shoulder because a lot of people say we're the best conference,'' said LSU safety Eric Reid. ``I know they're going to come out with that sort of intensity from the jump and we're going to have to match it.''

Swinney has tried to prepare his team for LSU, which ranks eighth in the nation in total defense, with especially tough bowl practices.

``LSU is a very physical team, have big guys up front and big backs,'' defensive end Malliciah Goodman said Friday. ``So you just have to prepare to be physical with them for four quarters. That's the thing that we've been doing like coach Swinney talked about with practices, just having that mentality of it's going to be a four-quarter physical battle. You have to prepare your mind that way and fight that way.''

Clemson ranked sixth in the nation with its average of 42.3 points in its spread offense, utilizing quarterback Tajh Boyd and the speed of running back Andre Ellington and such receivers as DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins.

Swinney said he does not agree with those who say a spread offense can't hold up in a test of physical teams.

``I mean, people get caught up in you have to get an I-formation to be physical,'' Swinney said. ``That's the furthest thing from the truth. But it's like saying that you can only run the option if you're a triple-option team or something. We have elements of everything in our offense. And we pride ourselves on being a very physical football team. We do it a little bit differently than maybe LSU.''

Defensive tackle Josh Watson said a win over LSU could help change the national perception of Clemson's program.

``This is a huge game, just for momentum in the offseason but also to take a step as a program to get into the elite teams in the nation,'' Watson said. ``We're about 10 plays from being undefeated this year and we want to step into that top tier of teams and be recognized as a top 10 team every year, in the preseason and at the end of the season. In order to be the best, you have to beat the best, and LSU is one of the best teams in the country.''

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One side of the Redskins' offensive line is struggling, and it's not the one you expected

One side of the Redskins' offensive line is struggling, and it's not the one you expected

One side of the Redskins' offensive line is made up of a 36-year-old tackle who showed up on July 31 and a guard who's played a grand total of two games at the position. The other side, meanwhile, features a third-round pick who signed a pricey extension in 2017 at tackle and a two-time Pro Bowler at guard.

The first pair, somehow, is holding up OK through two contests this year. It's the second pair that's having trouble. And no one really expected that to be the case.

In Washington's Week 1 loss against Philadelphia, Morgan Moses — the one with the hefty contract — committed two penalties, a holding and a false start. Another holding call was declined.

In the team's Week 2 loss to Dallas, meanwhile, Brandon Scherff — the one with the Pro Bowls — was whistled for holding twice.

Beyond the penalties, though, Moses and Scherff haven't helped out the running backs. At all.

So far, according to the NFL's logs, the Burgundy and Gold have had 11 runs to the left for 46 yards, which comes out to an average of 4.18 yards per carry. There have been 14 carries to the right, on the other hand, for just 27 yards, which comes out to an average of 1.92 yards per carry.

To be fair, it's not like Donald Penn and Ereck Flowers are totally tearing it up at left tackle and left guard. But those stats show they've been surprisingly effective as run blockers and, overall, they're giving the Redskins all they could've hoped for. Moses and Scherff simply aren't.

Now, on the list of problems Jay Gruden's squad is facing, the defense's discouraging start is at the top, while injuries and poor adjustments follow. They need to seriously evaluate how they're trying to stop opposing offenses and what they are (or aren't) doing at halftime.

But Moses and Scherff's slumps are high up on that list of problems as well, because they were supposed to be two reliable veterans and pave the way when they were asked to.

Instead, they're holding the offense back, sometimes literally, sometimes because of sloppy play. The right side of the O-line is currently on the wrong side of things, which wasn't supposed to be the story up front.

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Talent, scheme or coaching, something needs to change for Redskins defense

Talent, scheme or coaching, something needs to change for Redskins defense

After two games, the Redskins defense clearly does not appear ready for some of the expectations that arrived before the season. That's obvious. What isn't is why. 

In consecutive losses, Washington's defense has given up more than 30 points-per-game and more than 400 yards-per-game. With just two sacks, the defensive front hasn't generated much pressure at all. The sack numbers are low, but opposing quarterbacks aren't taking many hits or pressures either. Heck, on Sunday against Dallas, Dak Prescott completed every pass he threw during the second half. 

Before the year started, the Redskins defense looked poised for a breakout. The team had strong young talent up front with Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Matt Ioannidis. The edge rushers were a pair of first-round picks in veteran Ryan Kerrigan and rookie Montez Sweat. Landon Collins was supposed to provide Pro Bowl play at safety. 

It just hasn't worked. 

The biggest Redskins struggles have come on third down. The defense just can't get on the field. In a Week 1 loss, the Eagles converted 11 of 17 third downs and went on long drives throughout the second half. Against the Cowboys in a Week 2 loss, Dallas never punted in the second half.

Against Philly, the Redskins gave up 4 yards-per-carry, which is usually a losing formula. Against Dallas, the Redskins gave up more than 6-yards-per-carry, which is definitely a losing formula. 

There are plenty of stats to show how bad the Redskins defense has been. These are just a sample. The bigger issue, however, is why it's happening.

And there aren't easy answers.

Injuries are a part of the equation. Losing Allen hurts a lot, as does losing cornerbacks Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau for the Dallas game. But still, injuries aren't a full explanation. 

Scheme is part of the problem. The Redskins tend to play conservative defense, without much blitzing or disguised looks. And if the defensive front isn't getting home, it's big trouble for the secondary when the quarterback has plenty of time. 

Coaching is a problem too. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is in charge of the conservative scheme. He could change that, and maybe should change that, but so far he has not. In his post-game comments, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said his staff isn't "reaching" the defensive players yet. That doesn't sound like a vote of confidence. 

Players also need to play better. Sweat, Ioannidis and Kerrigan aren't generating much pass rush, and that's a major problem. Josh Norman needs to be better too. 

There are no easy fixes here. There's no silver bullet, no singular answer. 

Gruden said there would be no coaching changes because it's so early in the season. That doesn't mean the questions won't keep coming. 

"There are no excuses to be had. We have to look at ourselves, and we have to play better," the coach said of his defense after the 31-21 loss to Dallas.

"We’re minus a couple pieces in the secondary, that has an issue. But really, we should be better than this."

Through two games, the Redskins defense should be much better than it has been. Gruden knows it. Fans do too. 

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