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Need to Know: Tandler’s Take—Dramatic improvement to Redskins rushing defense

Need to Know: Tandler’s Take—Dramatic improvement to Redskins rushing defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, October 16, five days before the Washington Redskins host the Dallas Cowboys.

Talking Points

A better 3-2

For the third straight year, the Redskins are 3-2 after five games. As you know, they did not make the playoffs after either of the last two seasons. But they are in better shape in the standings now than they were in 2016 or 2017. Last year they were in second place in the division, a game and a half behind the 5-1 Eagles. They were worse off two years ago as they were in third place behind the 3-1 Eagles and the Cowboys, who were 4-1. 

It’s still very early, but it’s better to be in first place nearly a third of the way into the season than it is to be in second or third place and being in a position where you have to chase one or two teams. 

Take it away

The Redskins had three takeaways against the Panthers—the fumble recovery on the punt, Josh Norman’s interception, and the fumble forced by Norman and recovered by Mason Foster. They did not give the ball away. The last time they got at least three takeaways without giving the ball up was on Christmas Eve, 2016 in Chicago. Perhaps not coincidentally, that is the last game in which Norman had an interception until Sunday. 

After being either even or in the positive in takeaway ratio in four of their five games this year, the Redskins are now tied for fourth in the NFL with a plus-four turnover margin. If they can stay on the even or plus side from week to week they will have a very good chance at being successful. 

Rushing D much improved

After finishing 32nd in the NFL in rushing yards allowed in 2017, the Redskins are currently sixth, giving up an average of 90.2 yards per game. The improvement has come even though they have faced premiere running backs David Johnson, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, and Christian McCaffrey. They have allowed no more than 104 yards on the ground in any of their five games. Last year's opponents ran for 127 yards or more 10 times. Their defense will be tested on Sunday against the Cowboys, who average 147 rushing yards per game on the ground, second in the NFL. 

Looking in the mirror

When the Redskins take a look at the Cowboys they might feel like they are watching themselves. Both teams run the ball well, although Ezekiel Elliott is more consistent than Adrian Peterson. Alex Smith has better passing stats than Dak Prescott but both teams are in the bottom third of the league in passing yards. The defenses on both teams are strong. Washington is sixth in yardage allowed per game and the Cowboys are fifth. 

And both teams have started off the season alternating wins and losses. Dallas started with a loss to the Panthers then beat the Giants, lost to the Seahawks, won over the Lions, suffered an OT loss to the Texans and then thumped the Jaguars. It will be an interesting match up on Sunday.

The agenda

Today: Off day, no media availability

Upcoming: Cowboys @ Redskins 5; Redskins @ Giants 12; Redskins @ Eagles 48

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Need to Know: Redskins stock up-stock down vs. Panthers

Need to Know: Redskins stock up-stock down vs. Panthers

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, October 15, six days before the Washington Redskins host the Dallas Cowboys.

Talking points

Here are the players who saw their stock go up against the Panthers on Sunday and others who saw their stocks drop. 

Stock up—A few days ago, CB Josh Norman was a penny stock. He had mixed up assignments in the blowout loss to the Saints and take a ton of criticism after the game, much of it warranted. During the Panthers game, he was a blue chip. Norman got his first interception in 20 games and he forced a fumble. There is still a lot of season to be played but for now, at least it’s good to be Josh Norman.

Stock down—They won the game and that’s the quarterback’s main job. But for the second straight game, Alex Smith did not play up to his $18.4 million cap number. He passed for 163 yards. At times you really wondered where he was throwing the ball and/or to whom he was throwing it. They were able to win thanks to Adrian Peterson’s rushing and three takeaways. To Smith’s credit, he protected the ball well and it should be noted he was without favorite targets, Chris Thompson and Jamison Crowder. Regardless, it was not a sharp performance by Smith. 

Stock upPeterson came into the game with an injured ankle, knee, and shoulder. Not only did he fight through the pain, he thrived. Six days after he rushed for just six yards against the Saints and sat out most of the second half, he picked up 97 yards on 17 carries, an average of 5.7 yards per carry. Peterson did rip off a 19-yard run but mostly it was three yards here, six yards there. It was what the Redskins were expecting when the signed him. 

Stock down—With Thompson out, Kapri Bibbs had his big chance to show what he can do. He didn’t do much. Bibbs, who was promoted from the practice squad earlier this season, picked up 11 yards rushing on two carries and he caught one pass for six yards. There were some high hopes for Bibbs among Redskins fans. For today, he didn’t live up to them. 

Stock up—I know that Daron Payne didn’t make a ton of plays and his streak of games with at least one sack ended at two. But he was part of a defensive front that held Christian McCaffrey, who came into the game averaging 82.3 rushing yards per game (fourth in the NFL) and 5.2 yards per attempt, to 20 yards on eight attempts, a 2.5 per carry average. And he made a remarkable play, which is becoming routine for him, when he made the tackle on a tight end who had taken a screen pass well outside of the numbers. He’s a special talent and his stock will continue to rise. 

The agenda

Today: Open locker room 11:30; Jay Gruden press conference 3:00 

Upcoming: Cowboys @ Redskins 6; Redskins @ Giants 13; Redskins @ Eagles 49

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Need to Know: Final pregame thoughts on Redskins vs. Panthers

Need to Know: Final pregame thoughts on Redskins vs. Panthers

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, October 14, seven days before the Washington Redskins host the Dallas Cowboys.

Talking points

Here are my final thoughts on today’s game between the Redskins and Panthers. 

Update: Crowder and Thompson reportedly out

Overnight, Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that both Chris Thompson (ribs) and Jamison Crowder (ankle) will miss today’s game. Thompson being out will mean that Kapri Bibbs will be the third-down back and Samaje Perine will back up Adrian Peterson. Bibbs can handle the runs and passes on third down just fine but keep an eye on him in pass protection. 

Crowder’s absence will give Maurice Harris his second consecutive start. He filled in for Josh Doctson on Monday night against the Saints and he caught three passes for 47 yards. 

Get pressure on Cam

According to the crew at ESPN NFL Matchup, the Panthers keep Cam Newton well protected. He has been pressured on only 19.6 percent of his dropbacks, the lowest percentage in the NFL. It should be noted that four games is a small sample size and that only one of their opponents so far is in the top 20 in the NFL in sack percentage. 

Of course, the Redskins aren’t near the top of the league in sack percentage either, ranking 18th at 6.1. They may not increase that much against the Panthers since Newton is hard to bring down. He has been sacked seven times this year. Getting him off of his mark and forcing incompletions and turnovers (he has thrown three interceptions) could be just as effective as sacks in slowing down the Carolina offense.

Impact comebacks for Panthers?

Much is being made of Panthers LB Thomas Davis and TE Greg Olson playing for the first time this season. Davis is back after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Olson is returning from a broken foot. Both players were with the Panthers in training camp so it’s not like they are coming in completely cold. But I wonder how much impact the 35-year-old linebacker and 33-year-old tight end will have after their layoffs. It’s not as though the Redskins can ignore either player but if one or both players takes a majority of the snaps it could be an advantage. 

An opportunity for the offense?

Over the past few years, the Panthers’ calling card has been a top-10 defense. They don’t have one of those so far this year. Since giving up eight points to the offensively-challenged Cowboys in Week 1 they have given up 31, 21, and 31 points. Football Outsiders has them ranked 26thin defensive DVOA after they were seventh last year. Looking at the more conventional stats, they allow 7.5 net yards per pass attempt (27th) and 4.6 yards per rushing attempt (25th). 

Will the Redskins continue the pattern?

Going back to Week 16 of last year, the Redskins have not just alternated wins and losses, but they have gone from looking like a quality team one week to a train wreck the next. After last week’s calamity, they are due for a good performance. 

But just being due doesn’t guarantee anything. The Redskins need to straighten out their communication issues in the secondary (since apparently, they didn’t nail that down in the first week of OTAs like they should have). Alex Smith needs to get back to being the quarterback he was against the Packers when he threw for 11 yards per pass attempt. Preston Smith needs to show up. Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson need to be healthy enough to put together some semblance of a running game. 

I’ve been bullish on the Redskins in my prediction this season. I have picked them to win three of their four games (I had them losing to the Packers). I’ll give them one more week to prove that my positive outlook on the 2018 Redskins is justified. 

Redskins 24, Panthers 20

The agenda

Today: Panthers @ Redskins 

Upcoming: Cowboys @ Redskins 7; Redskins @ Giants 14; Redskins @ Eagles 50

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