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25 Redskins questions: Can they improve the turnover ratio?

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25 Redskins questions: Can they improve the turnover ratio?

Since General Manager Scot McCloughan was hired in early January, he’s been busy retooling the Redskins’ roster via free agency and preparing for the 2015 draft. So far, he’s received mostly positive reviews. But his work is far from done. In the coming weeks, Redskins Insiders Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine 25 issues that must be addressed as the offseason kicks into high gear.

Will the Redskins improve their turnover margin?

It’s become cliché to talk about turnovers as a huge factor in determining the outcomes of NFL games but it’s that way because it’s true. Last year teams that had a turnover differential of plus-two or better in a game won went 98-22, a winning percentage of .816. You won’t find many stats that correlate to wins as strongly. The Redskins were minus-12 over the course of the season, 30th in the NFL. A simple fix to the team’s string of double-digit loss seasons would be to flip that turnover ratio the other way around. What will they have to do to accomplish that?

Tandler: The Redskins suffered on both sides of the turnover equation last year. They had just 19 takeaways; only six teams had fewer. And they gave it away 31 times, more than all but three other teams. They were pretty even in fumbles, losing 13 balls on the ground and recovering 12. So you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that interceptions are the problem. Washington intercepted just seven passes and the three quarterbacks combined to throw 18 picks. There are legitimate hopes that the defense can pick off some more passes this year. They added Chris Culliver (7 career interceptions) and Dashon Goldson (15) to the secondary, signed three free agents on the line to get more pressure on the opposing quarterback and an edge rusher could be added as a top draft pick. On the offensive side, half of the interceptions were thrown by Kirk Cousins; it is likely that he will be sent to the bench before he has a chance to throw that many in 2015. Robert Griffin III (6 INT last year) and Colt McCoy (3) also need some work in ball protection as well. But it will take more than just fixing turnovers. Going back to the start here, of the 22 games lost last year by a team with a plus-two takeaway margin, the Redskins lost two of them. They have to take advantage of their opportunities but creating more of them would be a good start.

El-Bashir: The Redskins’ best chance to turn around the turnover ratio is to force more of them. Assuming Griffin is the starter and that he stays healthy and in the lineup (huge assumptions, I know), I don’t expect throwing interceptions to be a problem. Running back Alfred Morris, meantime, has done a better job of protecting the football. Last year, in fact, Morris was not dinged for a lost fumble after coughing up a combined seven in 2012 and 2013. If those two can take care of the ball, that’s a good start. For me, though, reversing the turnover trend is going to come down to the defense intercepting more passes and forcing more fumbles. Last year, the unit produced a measly seven picks—tied for the second fewest in the NFL. As Tandler noted, Culliver, DeAngelo Hall and Goldson will need to snag their share. But the Redskins will also need some production from sources like cornerback David Amerson and safety Phillip Thomas, players who were drafted, in part, for their ball hawking skills. In 39 career games, however, they’ve combined for two interceptions (both by Amerson in 2013). If Amerson and Thomas earn significant roles on the team this year, that’s got to change. New secondary coach Perry Fewell has a history of coaching units that produce good interception numbers, so perhaps his tutelage will help. Ultimately, though, it’s going to come down to guys on defense making plays when opportunities are presented.

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5 questions facing the Redskins as the Case Keenum/Dwayne Haskins QB battle begins

5 questions facing the Redskins as the Case Keenum/Dwayne Haskins QB battle begins

The Redskins have a quarterback battle. Repeat, the Redskins have a quarterback battle. This is not a drill. It is an open competition. 

When the team gathers in Ashburn on Monday for offseason training activities, it will be the first time that veteran passer Case Keenum and first-round rookie Dwayne Haskins will be on the field at the same time. Incumbent backup QB Colt McCoy should be present as well, but not active as he works back from multiple leg surgeries this offseason. 

The team has plenty of questions for the 2019 season, and the answers will start coming as early as this week. No question is bigger than the signal caller though.

  1. QB Battle - Every major factor in the Redskins organization has been clear that Haskins will get a chance to compete for the starting job. That means every throw between Keenum, the presumed starter after the 'Skins traded for him in February, and the Ohio State rookie will be over analyzed. If McCoy was healthy, he would have a jump start in the competition because he knows head coach Jay Gruden's offense. McCoy isn't healthy though, and that means more reps and work for Keenum and Haskins. This battle will be ongoing throughout the summer, but on Monday with the media present, it will be very interesting to see what player gets more work with the first-team offense.
  2. Who's still hurt - Speaking of the first-team offense, a number of players will be working back from offseason surgery. Will Paul Richardson be out there? Trent Williams? How healthy is Jordan Reed, and what about Derrius Guice? Brandon Scherff? There are a lot  of questions, and some of them will be answered simply by seeing guys run around. Second-year wideouts Cam Sims and Trey Quinn both finished the 2018 season on the injured reserve; will they be ready to go? There are a lot of people to watch out for. 
  3. STARTING DEFENSE (LATIMER VOICE*) - Landon Collins was the prize of free agency, and Monday he will be on the field barking directions at teammates. How will he fit in with Josh Norman, and how does Quinton Dunbar look? When Dunbar went down with a leg nerve injury last season, the Washington defense fell apart. If he is all the way back would be big news for Greg Manusky's defense. There's also Reuben Foster. This will be the first time for the media to see Foster on the field in a Redskins uniform after his controversial acquisition last November. Presumably Foster will answer questions after the OTA session, stay tuned for that.
  4. Camp is over for the rookies - Beyond Haskins, the Redskins have nine other draft picks taking part in OTAs. The rookies went through their own private minicamp last week, but this will be quite different. Rookie minicamp is about letting the new players get acclimated to the new facility and team; OTAs are about real work. Will Montez Sweat take the field with the Redskins first-team defense? What about the two rookie receivers in Terry McLaurin and Kelvin Harmon? There will be hiccups for the rookies, that's inevitable, but now is the time to prove they belong. With all the injuries on the offensive line, Wes Martin has the inside track on a starting job. 
  5. Absent, but not hurt - Never forget that OTAs are voluntary for players, and usually a handful of guys don't show up. That will likely happen tomorrow and some fans might react negatively. Don't be one of them. 

* If you don't get that reference, go watch The Program. 

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How did the Redskins end up as the favorites to be featured on Hard Knocks?

How did the Redskins end up as the favorites to be featured on Hard Knocks?

There's a solid formula to land on the HBO series Hard Knocks, and a rookie quarterback can play a big role. Last year, HBO picked the Cleveland Browns, and much of that was to showcase No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield. Three years ago, HBO did the same thing with the Rams and Jared Goff. 

This year, the No. 1 overall pick landed on a team that can't be shown on Hard Knocks, as Kyler Murray will play for new coach Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona. Teams with coaching changes are ineligible for the show, as are teams that made the playoffs the previous season. 

Well, the Redskins didn't make the playoffs last year and didn't make a coaching change. What other QBs were taken in the first round?

The New York Giants took Daniel Jones with the sixth pick, and the Redskins took Dwayne Haskins at 15. 

Hmmm.

For years, the idea of the Redskins on Hard Knocks seemed far fetched. Team president Bruce Allen is not particularly fond of the media or inside access for television cameras. Allen comes by that honestly, his father Hall of Fame coach George Allen liked to practice in complete secrecy. Like father, like son. And as much as HBO and the NFL can force a team to do Hard Knocks, if the team doesn't want to be a part of it, the access can be very limited. 

So, has that changed? Maybe. 

Oddsmakers have established the Redskins as the betting favorite to land on the show, with the Oakland Raiders and the Giants just behind them. Both the 'Skins and Giants have rookie QBs, but the reception around each rookie has been quite different. While generally, Washington fans are very excited about Haskins, the New York crowd seems non-pleased with Jones. 

The NFL rarely does things that upset the Giants, and in an offseason of turmoil for Big Blue, it's hard to see the team wanting the increased scrutiny of the documentary show. Between trading Odell Beckham, drafting Jones at six, and a series of odd quotes about Eli Manning's future, New York GM Dave Gettleman has become a national punch line. It seems highly unlikely Giants ownership wants their GM on national television, especially in an unguarded format like Hard Knocks, and usually, when Giants ownership wants something, they get their way. How many cold weather cities have hosted an outdoor Super Bowl again?

There's also the Raiders. 

Jon Gruden would be a star because he already is a star. The team traded for Antonio Brown, who is also a star. The Raiders would make great television.

But wouldn't they rather go on Hard Knocks next season when the team moves to Las Vegas? How glitzy is that? There won't be a coaching change — Gruden is armed with a 10-year contract — and the team should be better as their three first-round draft picks will have a year of experience. The Raiders on Hard Knocks in 2020 seems like a slam dunk. 

The Lions and 49ers are also options, but less appealing. Detroit is a perennial also-ran, and San Francisco lacks sizzle. 

So back to the Redskins. 

The team would be appealing for HBO. Washington has a huge fan base across the country, and the television network is already familiar with the team's Richmond training camp setup. In 2015, HBO chronicled the Houston Texans' training camp, and that included a trip to Richmond for joint practices. Everybody remembers that trip. 

But if the Redskins didn't want Hard Knocks before, why is this time different? Oddsmakers think things have changed, and digging in, maybe they're right.

By all accounts, the 'Skins had an excellent 2019 NFL Draft. They added their quarterback of the future in Haskins, and aggressively traded back into the first round to grab Montez Sweat, a potential beast of a pass rusher. The team also signed Landon Collins this offseason to an $84 million contract, and have pieces in place for a Top 10 defense. Offensively, Adrian Peterson is going into the Hall of Fame and second-year RB Derrius Guice should return from a knee injury to push for carries. 

Maybe, just maybe, the Redskins are willing to let HBO inside their walls because they want to brag a little bit. 

In the weeks after the draft, Allen did appearances on ESPN's First Take along with a host of national radio interviews. Stephen A. Smith interviewing Bruce Allen was wildly unexpected, and it corresponds to a noticeable increase in accessibility with the Redskins front office boss. Allen has conducted more media availabilities this offseason than he had in the previous two years combined. 

For all the talk of dysfunction that gets thrown around at Redskins Park, the reality is quite different. At least on the football side. The team did fire a number of high ranking business executives late last year after employing them for less than a season. That was an ugly scene.

On the field, however, things have been fairly steady for years. The team is aggressively mediocre in the Jay Gruden era, which is more stable than the franchise has been for the last 25 years. And Gruden would be hysterical on Hard Knocks, along with Rob Ryan and Jim Tomsula. 

Maybe going on Hard Knocks will change the perception around the team that owner Dan Snyder calls all the shots. Maybe going on Hard Knocks will get fans excited for the Haskins era, and get those fans to buy tickets. FedEx Field was noticeably empty last year. Maybe none of it happens too. 

Despite being the betting favorite, it is far from certain the Redskins land on Hard Knocks later this summer. But there are reasons to believe maybe this could be the year. 

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