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Is a better red zone running game the solution to the Redskins’ scoring woes?

Is a better red zone running game the solution to the Redskins’ scoring woes?

The Redskins moved up and down the field a lot in 2016 but too many of their drives did not end in touchdowns.

When I posted about this last week, the number that struck me was that the Atlanta Falcons gained 199 more yards than the Redskins, but scored 157 more points than Washington.

Since we’re talking about offense, it should be noted that the Falcons did rack up five return touchdowns while the Redskins had just one. Still, Matt Ryan and company scored 58 offensive touchdowns and Kirk Cousins led the Redskins to just 42.

The Redskins’ offensive touchdown output was better than the NFL average of 38.4 but not by much.

RELATED: The Redskins week that was--Cousins' contract, under the radar players

The team’s well-documented red zone issues were certainly part of the problem. They got into the end zone on 28 of their 61 trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. That comes to 45.9 percent, 26th in the league.

The Redskins believe that they addressed the problem in the offseason, signing the 6-4 Terrelle Pryor and 6-3 Brian Quick to the team with holdovers Josh Doctson (6-2) and Maurice Harris (6-3) to give Cousins bigger targets in the crowded red zone environment.

There are some who think that the Redskins need to improve their running game to punch the ball into the end zone from inside the 20. But the numbers say that the Redskins ran the ball effectively in the red zone.

They ran 62 times for an average of 2.8 yards per attempt in the red zone last year. The attempts match the NFL average and the league gained 2.5 yards per carry.

It’s difficult for the “pound the rock” advocate to complain about the Redskins’ play selection, either. They ran on 61.3 percent of their first down red-zone plays compared to the league average of 52.7 percent.

MORE REDSKINS: Will the train stay on the tracks at Redskins Park? 

Perhaps the Redskins would like to get a little more out of starting running back Rob Kelley in the red zone. He had 32 of the team’s 62 red zone rushing attempts and he averaged 2.4 yards per attempt. Of those attempts, 11, nearly a third, went for one yard, no gain, or a loss.

Kelley will work on learning how to run in the tight spaces inside the 20. Perhaps fourth-round pick Samaje Perine can help there, too.

But the real weakness in the red zone was the passing game. On plays that started outside of the red zone, Cousins had a passer rating of 96.3, much better than the overall NFL rating of 83.2.

Inside the 20, however, the numbers flip. Cousins’ passer rating dropped to 84.6 in close while the NFL averaged went up to 94.7.

It should be noted that Cousins had a passer rating of 113.5 in the red zone in 2015 with essentially the same group of receivers he had last year so he can produce there.

I’ll also point out that the Redskins played eight games the top 12 teams in terms of red zone defense so perhaps there should be a return to the norm this season.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Outside linebackers

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USA Today Sports Images

Redskins 2018 position outlook: Outside linebackers

Redskins Training camp opens next week, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope.

Between now and the start of camp, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

Additions: Pernell McPhee (free agent)
Departures: Junior Galette (free agent)

Starters: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith
Other roster locks: Ryan Anderson, McPhee
On the bubble: Pete Robertson

How the outside linebackers compare

To the rest of the NFL: By any measure, the Redskins had a top-10 pass rush last year. They were tied for seventh with 42 sacks and they got a sack on 7.3 percent of pass attempts, also seventh in the league. Looking forward to this year, Pro Football Focus has them ranked as the sixth-best pass rushing team for 2018. Ryan Kerrigan is showing no signs of slowing down as he approaches age 30 and Preston Smith is about to hit his prime. After the departure of Galette, the depth is questionable, and we’ll deal with that next. Even without Galette, it’s still one of the best units in the NFL. 

To the 2017 Redskins: Some downplay the decision to let Galette walk in free agency, saying he had just three sacks. But his value went beyond that. He had 9 QB hits and 25 hurries, both second-most on the team, in just 258 pass rush snaps. Someone will have to step up and replace that pressure. The spotlight will be on Anderson, who had no sacks after being a second-round pick. He will need to step up for this year’s Redskins pass rush to be as good as last year’s. 

2018 outside linebacker outlook

Biggest upside: Since the 2015 season, only one NFL player has at least 20 sacks, four forced fumbles, and three interceptions and it’s Preston Smith. His consistency is an issue but even when he is going for a few weeks between sacks he is getting pressure on the quarterback. Still, there is more ability there. Smith could set himself up for a big payday by breaking through with a double-digit sack season while continuing to make big plays in his contract year.

Most to prove: To be fair, Anderson did not get a whole lot of chances to rush the passer last year, playing just 81 pass rush snaps. Still, there are reasons to be concerned about how much he can produce after a zero-sack, one-hit, three-hurries 2017 debut season. Anderson was not expected to make a splash as a rookie, but more was anticipated. He was drafted where he was in part because of his work ethic. The Redskins hope he will work his way into a significant second-year leap. 

Rookie watch: There are no rookie outside linebackers on the roster. 

Bottom line: The main concern about the Redskins’ defense this year revolves around the cornerback spot following the departures of Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland. The best way to manage problematic cornerbacks is by getting a strong pass rush. The Redskins need to Smith to have a true breakout season and for Anderson or McPhee to be a strong contributor off the bench. Along with the improved defensive line, the pass rush could transform the defensive line into a quality unit in 2018. 

2018 Redskins Position Outlook Series

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10 Questions in 10 days: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

10 Questions in 10 days: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

The Redskins had to improve the defensive line this offseason. The defense ranked dead last against the run in 2017, and without improvement up front defensively, the playoffs would again be out of reach in 2018. 

And for the second straight season, Washington tried. 

The team selected Daron Payne out of Alabama with their first-round pick and Tim Settle out of Virginia Tech in the fifth round. The front office also waived under-performing Terrell McClain in the offseason and moved on from veteran A.J. Francis.

Perhaps most important, the team should have 2017 first-rounder Jonathan Allen completely healthy this fall. He and Matt Ioannidis looked like a strong front in 2017 before a foot injury shut down Allen for the year in Week 5. Add in Anthony Lanier, who flashed big-time sack potential, and the Redskins have a strong, young nucleus.  

But how does it all work?

In the base 3-4 scheme, Payne might have the strength to play nose tackle. Settle definitely has the size for the nose. Both are rookies, however, and will need to learn a lot, and fast, to start Week 1. Veteran Stacy McGee, coming off groin surgery, might be able to hold off the rookies if he is fully healthy. When a nose is on the field, expect Allen and Ioannidis to line up at the defensive tackle spots. If he's not playing nose, Payne will rotate in at tackle as well. Another veteran, Ziggy Hood, will provide depth at tackle, if he makes the team. 

In the nickel package, which the team deploys more than half of their snaps, expect to see a healthy rotation of Allen, Payne, Ioannidis and Lanier. Keeping those players fresh should allow interior pocket pressure, and that could be great news for Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith

With Payne and Allen the headliners, and Ioannidis and Lanier valuable, and Settle capable at the nose, the Redskins have five D-line roster spots about locked down. 

Last year, the team kept six defensive linemen coming out of camp. If McGee is healthy, that spot will be his. If he's not, Hood likely hangs on. It's also possible the team keeps seven D-linemen, particularly as they monitor McGee's groin injury. 

The good news is last year, due to injuries and the talent on the roster, a number of players were forced into spots they didn't truly belong. Hood doesn't have the true size to play nose, but he was forced into the position. Lanier is best served as an interior pass rusher, but was forced to be a run stuffer. 

With more investments on the line, and better luck in the training room, the 2018 Redskins D-line should have more people playing where they belong. And that could go a long way. 

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