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Behind enemy lines: What the Patriots expect from the Redskins

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Behind enemy lines: What the Patriots expect from the Redskins

With the Redskins traveling to New England to take on the undefeated Patriots, we caught up with CSN New England Patriots reporter Phil Perry. Below is a Q&A on what Jay Gruden and Washington should expect from Tom Brady and company.

1) What's the Patriots weakness? Banged up offensive line? How can the Redskins try to exploit it?

The Patriots offensive line has seen better days health-wise. It's actually been incredibly banged up going all the way back to training camp. On Sunday, there's a chance you see just one player who started on the line for the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX: Sebastian Vollmer. But he's not even at a position he's all that accustomed to. When starting left tackle Nate Solder went down against the Cowboys in Week 5, swing tackle Marcus Cannon took his spot. Cannon played 11 snaps against the Colts before getting hurt himself. That forced Vollmer to go from right tackle to left, where he's been very good considering the circumstances. But the resulting domino effect has second-year man Cameron Fleming at right tackle. He was on the practice squad a few weeks ago. He's held up well enough over the course of the last two weeks, but he could have a significant challenge on his hands if he's matched up with Ryan Kerrigan on the defensive left. That's one matchup I've got my eye on this weekend. The Patriots interior is hurting, too. Both rookie fourth-round picks -- Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason -- are dealing with knee injuries. Jackson's already been ruled out, and Mason hasn't played in two weeks. Veteran Ryan Wendell filled in for Jackson last week, but now he's doubtful with a knee injury of his own. Reinforcements may arrive in the form of Bryan Stork this week, but last year's starting center has been on short-term injured reserve for the first eight weeks. He's eligible to come back for the first time this week. The question is, if he's activated, where will he play? Undrafted rookie David Andrews has played every snap at center thus far this season and has been more than serviceable. Given all the injuries at guard, Stork could wind up there. The only problem? He hasn't played anything but center since his sophomore year at Florida State. If the Redskins want to disrupt Tom Brady, they'll have to do it by bringing pressure without blitzing. I'm not sure they'll be able to do that, but thanks to the wave of injuries on the Patriots line, they've picked a pretty good time to try.

MORE REDSKINS: WHO NEEDS TO BALL OUT VS NEW ENGLAND 

2) The Redskins skill players should be their healthiest of the season, with Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson on the field. Will Kirk Cousins and the Redskins be able to move the ball against the Pats secondary?

If you look at the numbers, the Patriots are firmly in the middle of the NFL pack when it comes to passing defense. They rank 16th in the league in yards allowed per game (249), and they're 12th in the league in yards allowed per attempt (7.1). That may give Gruden and Cousins cause to be optimistic, but this matchup seems to fit exactly what the Patriots like to do in the secondary. Start with Jackson. Against those types of deep threats, Bill Belichick typically wants to make sure he defends against the big play at all costs. That might mean playing with Devin McCourty (or the team's next-best free safety Duron Harmon) over the top with Logan Ryan defending underneath. Oftentimes the obvious double-team seems to be enough to discourage quarterbacks from even trying to beat it. (The Patriots famously frustrated Indy's TY Hilton twice last year with slot guy Kyle Arrington underneath and McCourty over the top.) On the other side of the field, the Patriots have had enough confidence in their No. 1 corner, Malcolm Butler, to run around with an opposing team's No. 2 wideout without much safety help. It's been an up-and-down year for the Super Bowl hero -- he's allowing a quarterback rating of 110.4 when targeted, according to Pro Football Focus -- but he's a very good athlete with impressive catch-up speed, and the coaching staff feels like he has shutdown traits. Seems to me like Pierre Garcon will be his assignment this week. Reed is kind of a different breed of tight end compared to the ones the Patriots have faced this year so I'm interested to see what the Patriots do with him. They've usually had strong safety Patrick Chung shadow guys at that position since he's good in short-area coverage and a strong tackler. We could see McCourty match Reed as well. His skill set may make him a good counter for the physical characteristics that make Reed look like a receiver at times. If McCourty finds himself in the box against Reed, expect Harmon to be the over-the-top defender on Jackson. 

3) With the Redskins at 3-4 and a double digit underdog, do the Patriots players really view this game as a threat? 

What Patriots players have said this week is what they say every week. Their focus is singular. This week's opponent has good players. Those players are capable of making big plays. Every week. Same thing. Every week. But you know what? I think they believe it, even when they say it before a game that seems like it will be as lopsided as this one. It starts with their coach. In their world, inside the walls of Gillette Stadium, the message gets drilled into their heads that if they don't do their jobs, bad things will happen. Their preparations got started this week a little bit early after playing last Thursday, and once they got going, you can bet they were swimming in Kirk Cousins highlights and Dashon Goldson's greatest hits. Belichick has done a very good job over the years of not allowing his team to fall into traps. He keeps them focused and on edge, and from what I've seen this week, he's done it again. So to answer your question: Yes, they see this game as a threat. At the moment. Give it a quarter or two, and their opinions may be changed. 

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Week 7 NFC East Update: As Giants derail rest of division rebounds

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Week 7 NFC East Update: As Giants derail rest of division rebounds

In Week 5, every NFC East team suffered an embarrassing defeat. In Week 6, every NFC East team rebounded, except for the New York Giants.

The Redskins rebounded from their ugly Week 5 loss in New Orleans with a home win over a strong Carolina team. Dallas logged the division's best win, stomping Jacksonville 40-7, while the Eagles took no mercy on the Giants, beating them 34-13.

Now, three teams sit at the top with three wins, while the Giants lag quite far behind in the basement. Here's the update:

Washington Redskins (3-2)

Only by virtue of an early bye week do the Redskins rank slightly ahead of the Eagles and Cowboys, thanks to a .600 winning percentage. This week will change that, as the Redskins play their first NFC East division game when they host the Cowboys on Sunday afternoon. Defensively, Washington should match up well with Dallas, a run-first team that is challenged in the vertical pass game. But the Redskins have plenty to deal with internally, including major injuries at WR as well as a four-game losing streak to their rival. The Redskins haven't beaten the Cowboys at home since 2012. 

Up next: Oct. 21st vs Dallas (4:25 p.m.)

Dallas Cowboys (3-3)

Coming off their most impressive win of the season, Dallas will march into Washington on Sunday full of confidence and defensive swagger. The Cowboys defense held the Jaguars to only 204 total yards last Sunday and posted three sacks with two turnovers. The strength of the Dallas defense comes up front, with a menacing defensive line that confuses their offensive counterparts with significant movement and stunts at the snap of the ball. Now, all of that said, the Cowboys posted their standout defensive numbers against Blake Bortles and a bad Jaguars offense that was playing without injured running back Leonard Fournette. The Cowboys defense is good, but maybe not quite as good as they looked against Jacksonville. It's also a good time to point out that on the 2018 season, Dallas is 3-0 at home, and 0-3 on the road.

Up next: Oct. 21st @ Washington (4:25 p.m.)

Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)

Don't look now but the defending Super Bowl champs might be getting their act together. The Eagles scored more than 30 points for the first time this year in a demolition of the Giants last Thursday night, and snapped a two-game losing streak. Carson Wentz threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns, his best performance since coming back from knee surgery. Defensively, the Eagles sacked Eli Manning four times, but rookie sensation RB Saquon Barkley was able to gash Philly on the ground. The Panthers will present a very strong run game this Sunday and if Philly is all the way back, they need their stout run defense from 2017 to reappear. 

Up next: Oct. 21st vs Carolina

New York Giants (1-5)

Woof. Not much to celebrate in the Big Apple. It's become very obvious that Eli Manning is no longer a starting caliber QB, but the Giants have no other real options. And for all the complaints about Eli and the Giants offensive line, the defense hasn't been very good either. New York has a -45 point differential on the year. The Giants need to rebuild their offense around Saquon Barkley, who has looked outstanding, and hope Eli can hit Odell Beckham on play action. Barkley must get more carries for the Giants; that's the only way to salvage an already broken season.

Up next: Oct. 22nd @ Atlanta (8:15 p.m.)

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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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