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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden knows the pressure is on him in 2018

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden knows the pressure is on him in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 24, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The heat is on Jay Gruden

Jay Gruden knows that his Redskins need to win in 2018.

“This isn’t a two- or three-year process,” he said last week. “This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away.” 

Jay Gruden gave this answer to a question about Alex Smith, but his words should resonate with the whole team. He’s right. This is no longer a rebuilding team. It’s time for this team to get it together and make a playoff run. 

That puts the pressure on Gruden. 

This is his fifth year as coach of the Redskins. He is well beyond the point where he can credibly point a finger of blame at his predecessor for any problems that are lingering. Only five players who were around in 2013, Mike Shanahan’s last year in Washington. It’s Gruden’s show now. 

His tenure is now the longest for a Redskins head coach since Norv Turner made it nearly seven years, from 1994 through 13 games into the 2000 season. His 49-59-1 run with the Redskins spanned three owners in Jack Kent Cooke, John Kent Cooke, and Dan Snyder. 

It should be noted that Turner’s third and fourth years at the helm closely resembled Gruden’s past two years. Turner’s team went 9-7 in 1996 and 8-7-1 the next year, narrowly missing the playoffs both years. That looks a lot like Gruden’s 8-7-1 and 7-9 records over the past two years. 

Gruden does not want this year’s team to resemble the 1998 Redskins. Turner’s fifth team started out 0-7 before winning four of their last five to finish 6-10. 

Turner kept his job in part because of the team’s uncertain ownership situation after the elder Cooke passed away in 1997. Gruden will not have a similar set of circumstances to help him out if he needs a lifeline in January. 

Gruden wants his fifth year to turn out more like Turner’s sixth season. That team went 10-6, topped the NFC East standings and won a playoff game. 

To get there, he needs a lot of his decisions to go right. While the trade for Smith was not his call, every indication is that he was on board with it. 

Last year, it was his decision to say no, thanks to Wade Phillips, who wanted to be his defensive coordinator and promote Greg Manusky into the job. The results were mixed as the Redskins were sixth in pass defense DVOA but 29thagainst the run. It was viewed as a marginal improvement on defense but the unit still seeme to be more of a liability than an asset. 

This year, the Redskins re-signed inside linebackers Zach Brown and Mason Foster and added defensive lineman Daron Payne with their first-round pick after spending their first-round pick on DE Jonathan Allen in 2017. There will be no excuses for Manusky and, by extension, Gruden if the defense does not improve. 

Joe Barry, Manusky’s predecessor who also was hired by Gruden when Phillips was an option, was out after two years of failing to significantly improve the defense. Any reasonable analysis would have to conclude that Barry did not get an infusion of talent anywhere approaching what Manusky has received in his two seasons. Manusky is getting a second year but he probably won’t get a third if the defense is still considered to be an impediment to the team’s progress. 

And if Manusky has to go, you have to wonder if Gruden will get a chance to hire a third defensive coordinator. 

I’m not sure if there is a certain number of games that the Redskins have to win for Gruden to return in 2019. It feels like he would not survive a 6-10 season or maybe not even another 7-9 finish. On the other end of the spectrum, making the playoffs and winning a game when they get there would certainly punch his ticket for a sixth season. 

Anything in between would leave Gruden in some jeopardy and the call would come down to the vague “moving in the right direction” criteria. 

There are some holes on this team, to be sure. But every team has some and the ones that are well coached figure out how to overcome them. The pressure will be on Gruden to best utilize their strengths and minimize any damage brought about by the weaker points. 

From his statement, it’s apparent that he is well aware of that. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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I put out a tweet correcting the Super Bowl ring count to two.

Timeline  

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 32
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 60

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 77 days. 

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Need to Know: Grading the Redskins draft

Need to Know: Grading the Redskins draft

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, June 2, eight days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Tandler’s Take: Grading the Redskins’ draft

This post was originally published on April 29. 

Since we don’t know how the careers of the players picked by the Redskins yesterday will turn out we must dig in a little more to come up with a grade for the draft headed up by Doug Williams, Jay Gruden, and Bruce Allen. It is possible to grade the process so that is what is done here. Here’s my assessment, feel free to leave yours in the comments.

Strategy—A-

There was a lot to like about the second-round trade that ended up with the Redskins getting Derrius Guice and tackle Geron Christian. The deal itself was good, favoring the Redskins by the equivalent of a mid-fifth-round pick when you look at the traditional draft trade chart. They make the deal with Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers, showing that the organization won’t let ruffled feathers over the messy departure of their former offensive coordinator get in the way of making a deal to help the team. 

And the result, getting Guice, who would have been a solid value at the Redskins original second-round pick, and Christian, who could develop into a solid backup tackle and perhaps more, made the deal a very, very good one. 

Of course, that’s looking at the deal right now. If there is fire behind the smoke of all of the talk about Guice that emerged in the past few days and he ends up with problems that affect his on-field production it could be a different story.

I think that the topic of drafting Payne with Derwin James and Tremaine Edmunds still on the board has been covered adequately here. I think that the defense may have been better in the long run if they had taken James and then had fourth-round pick Tim Settle of Virginia Tech play nose tackle instead of drafting Payne. But the Redskins did what they believed they had to do to correct the rushing defense, the single biggest deficiency on the team. It’s hard to blame them much for that. 

They moved up in the sixth round, elevating eight spots in exchange for dropping 25 spots in the seventh, and took on some injury risk Shaun Dion Hamilton. The Alabama linebacker suffered a torn ACL in 2016 and last year he broke a kneecap. The injuries cost him a few rounds of draft position and if he stays healthy he could provide a good reward for fairly little risk. Hamilton was sharing playing time with high draft picks Reggie Ragland and Rueben Foster before the injury problems hit. 

Talent/value/needs—A-

They had three major needs coming into the draft—on the defensive line, at running back, and at left guard. They took care of the first two situations with their first two picks. Payne wasn’t a bad value while Guice was an excellent value. 

The guard position went unaddressed. My guess is that they wanted to find one to develop in the fifth round but when they saw Settle still there they couldn’t pass up the value. As of right now, the starter is Arie Kouandjio, who was inconsistent after injuries forced him into a starting role for the last six games of the season. We will see if they try to sign a veteran free agent option to compete with Kouandjio. 

With their third- and fourth-round picks they added some impressive athleticism, something the team still lacks. Christin is a former basketball player who can move. Troy Apke was called “freakishly athletic” by Mike Mayock. That is an asset that the team needs. 

After taking Payne, I think that the Redskins didn’t think that they would draft Settle, in whom they had shown some interest pre-draft. But, as noted, when he was still on the board in the fifth round, they couldn’t leave him there. The Redskins now have a potentially strong, young core on their defensive line. 

Looking at all eight picks, I can’t say that any were great reaches. It’s possible that they could have had Christian and Apke a round or two later but that isn’t a serious issue. Some will say that Payne was a reach. I’d say he may have been a slight reach at No. 13; perhaps his value was more towards the late teens. The presence of James and Edmunds on the board magnifies that. They may not have maximized the pick in theory but, again, it’s hard to find fault with them going D-line with a slight reach. 

Overall—A

They addressed three serious areas of weakness on the team. The rushing defense got better with Payne and Settle. The rushing offense will improve with Guice. And special teams will be better with the addition of Apke, sixth-round pick ILB Shaun Dion Hamilton, and, if he makes the roster, seventh-round pick Greg Stroman. 

There appeared to be a few different strategies at work. As noted, they got more athletic with Christian and Apke. They are a more physical football team with Payne, Guice, and Settle. And for the second year in a row, the majority of the picks went to defense. Last year it was six out of ten on that side of the ball and this year it was five of eight.

The overriding theme was that they drafted like a team that doesn’t believe it is far from being in playoff contention. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t think they’re a couple of pieces away from a Super Bowl. But the organization does believe that they had a pretty good team last year and the season got derailed by injuries. You can argue whether that’s true but that’s how they acted. 

The A grade reflects a job well done by Allen, Williams, Gruden, Kyle Smith, and the rest of the team’s personnel department. With the exception of the possible opportunity cost of draft Payne, it’s hard to find serious fault in how the draft played out. 

Now that this part is done, it’s up to the coaching staff to get the most out of these players. We don’t know how they will turn out. After a successful draft process, it’s on to determining the true grade and results. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 20, two days before the Washington Redskins start OTAs.  

Best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Last week I took a stab at figuring out what the best-case and worst-case scenarios were for the key players on offense and defense. While individual stats are fun to track, it’s what the team does that really matters. What range of outcomes is realistic for the 2018 Redskins? While anything is possible, here are my thoughts on the best they are likely to be able to do and the worst. 

In both cases, I am assuming that the Redskins have reasonably good fortune when it comes to injuries and that the good and bad bounces of the ball equal out over the course of the season. 

Worst case: 6-10, last in NFC East

This is based mostly on Alex Smith having a tough time adjusting to Jay Gruden’s offense, his new teammates, and the NFC. Thinking he could struggle is not just negative thinking, there is history to back it up. 

Smith was traded from the 49ers to the Chiefs in 2013. In his first nine games, he completed just 59.7 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and four interceptions He had an adjusted net yards per attempt of 5.23. Had he finished the season there he would have ranked 28th in the NFL. His passer rating was 81.4, which would have ranked 25th. It’s safe to say he was off to a very slow start. 

But the Chiefs went 8-1 in those nine games. It is doubtful that the Redskins could survive such a slow start. In the past three seasons, with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, they were 4-17 in games where Cousins’ passer rating was under 90. If you drop the ceiling to 81, the record drops to 0-14. 

Kansas City managed to start 9-0 in 2013 because of a running game that produced at least 100 yards rushing every game and a defense that got at least one takeaway every game and got three or more turnovers in a game five times. 

Could the Redskins duplicate that and survive a slow start by Smith? It’s possible, but this is the worst-case scenario. And there is no guarantee that the Redskins will significantly improve a running attack that was 27thin the league last year or a rushing defense that was dead last. 

Offensively, the hope is that Derrius Guice will improve the running game. But rookies are, well rookies. And being a high draft pick is no guarantee of success. In the past three drafts, 20 running backers were drafted in the first three rounds. Of those players, four rushed for 750 yards or more as rookies. Maybe Guice will be one of the productive players but the odds are not in his favor. This isn’t saying he will be a bust; however, he may not have instant impact. 

One other note about the rushing game. It’s important to remember that both tackles are coming off of surgery, the right guard was injured last year, the center has all of six starts under his belt, and left guard remains up in the air. Maybe everything will hum when the season starts but that seems like a tall order. 

Improvement in the stopping the run also relies at least in part on rookies. Daron Payne will have an adjustment period as will Tim Settle. The inside linebacker spot should be stronger but it’s hard to say that it will be a strength. The rushing defense probably won’t be last again, but it may not climb out of the twenties in the rankings. 

The Redskins haven’t been awful at getting takeaways, but they have not done it at a consistently game-changing level. They have three or more takeaways in a game five times in their last 30 games. I don’t see any reason to think that this will change dramatically. 

To put the 6-10 worst-case scenario onto the schedule, the Redskins could go 2-4 in the division with splits against the Cowboys and Giants and getting swept by the Eagles. Against the NFC South, which had three teams with 10 wins or more last year, they might be 1-3. That leaves a split with the AFC South (two of the final eight teams in the playoffs last year) and of their two other NFC games for a 6-10 record. 

Best-case scenario: 10-6, Wild card, win a playoff game

This scenario doesn’t require a whole lot of explanation beyond flipping the elements of the worst case into more positive outcomes. 

Smith could pick up where he left off last year when he completed 67.5 percent of his passes and was third in the league with 7.2 adjusted net yards per attempt. Maybe the yards per attempt will drop some as he tries to find a consistent deep target.

A healthy Jordan Reed would help Smith out tremendously. If Reed can participate in most of training camp, the two could hit the ground running. Smith’s ability to connect with Josh Doctson on some 50-50 balls also will be important. 

As for the running game, Guice could break out early behind a line that gels quickly. It’s not out of the question for him to gain 1,000 yards (that’s just about 65 yards per game), maybe a little more. A healthy Chris Thompson could kick in over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. 

Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis could pick up right where they left off last year before Allen was lost for the season with a foot injury and Ioannidis missed two games with a broken hand and was hampered by the injury for a few weeks after that. That would let Payne and Settle, well, settle into the pro game. 

The Redskins also would need at least to maintain the solid pass defense they had last year. And they would benefit from fewer turnovers on offense (27 last year, 26thin the NFL) and by adding a few takeaways to the 23 they got in 2017.

So how could they pull this off? The would need to go 4-2 in the division, with a sweep of the Giants and splits against Philly and Dallas. They then would need 2-2 records against the NFC South and AFC South. That part of it is probably the toughest task. To get to 10 they would need to beat the Cardinals on the road in the season opener and then have a good day against Aaron Rodgers and get a win over the Packers. It’s not an easy road but if enough pieces fall into place it’s not out of the question. 

A 10-6 record should be good enough for a wild-card spot. If they get through their fairly tough schedule with double-digit wins, they should be good enough to go on the road and take out the three or four seed. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 23
—Training camp starts (7/26) 68
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 82

The Redskins last played a game 139 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 113 days. 

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