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Can Kirk Cousins, Redskins maintain their momentum in the Meadowlands?

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Can Kirk Cousins, Redskins maintain their momentum in the Meadowlands?

The Redskins are only two games into the season, but they’ve already arrived at a potential turning point. The NFC East is a mess. The undefeated Cowboys are without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant for the foreseeable future. Sam Bradford and the Eagles are scuffling at 0-2. Eli Manning and the Giants have coughed up fourth quarter leads two weeks in a row.

So, yeah, the Redskins (1-1) could set themselves up pretty nicely with a win at MetLife Stadium.

Here are the five areas I'll be monitoring Thursday night: 

1-Contain Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr., who went off in his only game against the Redskins last year, racking up 12 receptions, 143 yards and three touchdowns in a 24-13 victory. Through two games this season, Beckham ranks seventh in the NFL in receiving yards with 190.  Bashaud Breeland said he and fellow cornerbacks Chris Culliver and DeAngelo Hall must be more physical with Beckham than in their previous meeting, particularly at the line of scrimmage. Another way to limit the damage Beckham can inflict? Harass Manning, who is off to a sluggish start (22nd in passer rating) and could be without hobbled left tackle Ereck Flowers (ankle).  

2-Another key matchup will be the Redskins’ No. 1 ranked ground attack (343 yards) vs. the Giants’ third-ranked run defense. Washington’s Bill Callahan-coached O-line has done a good job of opening holes, and Alfred Morris and Matt Jones have done a good job of finding them. In fact, the Redskins are the first team to have different running backs rush for 100 yards in the first two weeks since the 2006 Chargers (LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner). “They’ve added an outstanding runner in Jones, and they are a good 1-2 punch,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of the duo. Meanwhile, the Giants’ run defense is allowing only 68 yards per game and has not yielded a run of longer than 15 yards. Interestingly, New York's pass defense ranks dead last (702 total yards allowed).     

RELATED Redskins RB Jones shows impressive speed

3-The last time Kirk Cousins faced Giants, well, let’s just say he wants to forget about that game. He tossed a career-worst four interceptions and lost a fumble in a 45-14 defeat last September, also on a Thursday night. On Tuesday, Cousins said, “I’m a different player” and “I learned [in that game] that when you get down and you want to get back in the game, you can’t get it all back in one play.” Indeed, Cousins’ first two starts this season have certainly been of the game manager variety. Coach Jay Gruden isn’t asking Cousins, who is third in the NFL in completion percentage (75.9), to carry the Redskins to victory; he’s simply asking Cousins to put the team in position to get a ‘W’. And as long as Cousins continues to play within himself, takes what the defense is giving him and limits his turnovers, that should continue to happen.   

4-For the first time in a long time, the Redskins’ special teams units were an asset against the Rams. Punter Tress Way kept the ball out of Tavon Austin’s hands. Rookie K Dustin Hopkins made his only field goal attempt (46 yards) but, more important, recorded four touchbacks on five kickoffs. Which, obviously, is critical for a unit that’s lost two captains (Adam Hayward and Niles Paul) to season ending injuries. That must continue, obviously.

5-The Redskins’ biggest injury concern is veteran inside ILB Perry Riley, who suffered a calf muscle last Sunday and did not participate in practice on Monday or Tuesday. If Riley cannot play, he’ll be replaced by Will Compton. It could also leave the Redskins with only three inside backers, with undrafted free agent Terrance Plummer serving as the only reserve. “It’s going to be a grind for those guys,” Gruden said. While team has investigated free agent options, Gruden also indicated that OLB Trent Murphy could be used in a pinch. The other Redskins expected to be out Thursday are wide receiver DeSean Jackson (hamstring) and cornerback Justin Rogers (foot).

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Trades, misses and mistakes explain the Redskins' dead cap situation

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USA TODAY Sports

Trades, misses and mistakes explain the Redskins' dead cap situation

Cut bait. Sunk cost. Under water. 

Whatever the term might be, all industries deploy a certain phrase for wasted money. In the NFL, that term is dead cap, or the salary cap space a team must allocate for a particular player that has been cut or traded. 

In the specific case of the Redskins, the team carries more than $5.2 millon in dead cap space. Where did it come from? Who's to blame? Let's take a look.

Terrell McClain ($3.75M) - The Redskins signed McClain away from the Cowboys early in the 2017 free agency period. The move wasn't quite a disaster, but it wasn't very good. Washington gave McClain a four-year deal worth $21 million, and paid out nearly $7.5 million for the 2017 season. McClain never played well for the Redskins, started just two games and this offseason he agreed to give up a significant chunk of guaranteed money. Without that move from McClain, this cap hit would have been much worse. 

Su'a Cravens ($711k) - The money isn't as big of a loss as the talent. The Redskins selected Cravens in the second round of the 2016 Draft and he showed promise as a rookie while also dealing with injuries. In 2017, however, things fell apart as Cravens dealt with a training camp injury, discussed retiring from football and eventually found himself on the reserved/left squad list for the season. Prior to the 2018 Draft, the Redskins worked a deal to send Cravens to Denver for an additional fifth round pick as well as swapping picks. 

Kendall Fuller ($360k) - A promising young cornerback, the Redskins traded Fuller to Kansas City this offseason as part of a package to acquire QB Alex Smith. Losing Fullers stings — even head coach Jay Gruden admitted that — but Washington had to find a quarterback after the long-discussed Kirk Cousins saga veered toward, and eventually ended in, separation. 

Matt Jones ($150k) - One of the worst Redskins draft picks in the last five years, Washington reached for Jones in the third-round in 2015. As a rookie, Jones looked like a solid contributor, but in the 2016 season he developed a bad fumbling habit and found his way to the bench. From there, things got worse, as Jones ended the season on the inactive list after a squabble about playing special teams. In 2017, Jones was cut. He signed with the Colts, where he played in just five games and was cut earlier this year. This offseason, Jones signed with the Eagles.

Arie Kouandjio ($130K) - This is a weird one. Kouandjio was selected by the Redskins in 2015, and cut by the team in 2017. The dead money comes from that rookie deal. When Washington brought Kouandjio back late in the 2017 season off the Ravens' practice squad, the dead money from the rookie deal remained. Now, Kouandjio is injured and a candidate to start the 2018 season on the PUP list or maybe even the IR. 

Robert Davis ($103k) - Drafted as a sixth-rounder in 2017, Davis did not make the team leaving training camp. Even though he got signed to the practice squad, the dead money tolls from the rookie deal. 

Nate Sudfeld ($69k) - A late-round developmental prospect from the 2016 draft, Sudfeld made the team as a rookie but couldn't survive cuts in 2017. Quickly signed by the Eagles, Sudfeld ended up as the backup quarterback in Philadelphia's improbable Super Bowl run earlier this year. Dead money on the Redskins cap, but a Super Bowl ring in Philly. Strange. 

Tyler Catalina and Kevin Bowen account for about $12,000 in dead cap space as well. 

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Redskins schedule preview: Weeks 8 and 14 vs. Giants

Redskins schedule preview: Weeks 8 and 14 vs. Giants

We’re previewing every game of the 2018 season with a look forward and a look back. Up today, it’s the two games against the Giants. 

Week 8 October 28, MetLife Stadium

Week 14 December 9, FedEx Field

2017 Giants: 3-13, fourth in NFC East 

Projected 2018 wins per Westgate SuperBook: 6.5

Early line: Week 8 Redskins +3.5, Week 14 Redskins -1.5

Key additions: RB Saquon Barkley, LT Nate Solder, RB Jonathan Stewart, LB Alec Ogletree

Key losses: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, G Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg

Notable: Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. returns after missing 12 games with a fractured ankle last year.

Biggest questions: 

  • Will Eli Manning reward the organization for bypassing the quarterback position with the No. 2 pick in the draft? Or will he continue his downhill slide?
  • Will Barkley have sufficient impact to justify his status as the No. 2 overall pick?
  • The last three years, the Giants defense has gone from being ranked 31stto 10thand back to 31st. Where is their true level?

Series history

Giants lead all-time series 92-65-3; after the Giants won five in a row from 2013-2015 the Redskins have taken three of the last five. 

Series notables

The first time: September 16, 1937, Griffith Stadium—This was the beginning of two eras: The Redskins first game in Washington and the start of Sammy Baugh’s NFL career. The game, however, belonged to Riley Smith as the Washington back scored all of his team’s points with a pair of field goals, his dazzling, 60-yard interception return in the fourth quarter and the extra point following that game-clinching touchdown in the home team’s 13-3 win. 

The last time: December 31, 2017, Met Life Stadium—It was 16 degrees at kickoff, the Redskins had only four offensive players from their Week 1 starters in the lineup and all the Redskins had to play for was a non-losing season. These were just some of the reasons for Washington to be disinterested and it seems like they dragged down the Redskins. The apathy increased when a guy named Orleans Darkwa bolted 75 yards for a touchdown just 1:17 into the game. The Redskins never competed in the 18-10 loss.

The best time: November 27, 1966, D.C. Stadium—The Redskins scored on offense, on defense, on special teams, on the ground, and through the air in racking up the highest single-game scoring total ever in a regular season NFL game with 72 points. In a losing effort, the Giants scored 41, making the combined total of 113 points, another league record. 

Backup running back A. D. Whitfield had a career day, scoring three touchdowns, one on a five-yard pass from Sonny Jurgensen, the other two on runs of one and 63 yards. All of those points came in the first half as the Redskins went into intermission with a 34-14 lead.

Charley Taylor jumped into the scoring extravaganza with a pair of third-quarter TD receptions from Jurgensen, one of 34 yards, the other covering 72. Brig Owens was the point scorer on the defensive side things, getting touchdowns on returns of a fumble and an interception.

In all, they scored a touchdown almost every way you can: four running, three passing and one each on a punt, fumble, and interception return. They also got nine extra points and a field goal. 

More than 12,000 NFL games have been played since this one and, despite rule changes designed to favor the offense and increase scoring, both the Redskins’ 72 points and the combined 113 still stand as NFL records. Only once has a team put up as many as 70 points and the combined score has the next-highest total beaten by a touchdown.

The worst time: January 1, 2017, FedEx Field—The Redskins have had many costly losses to the Giants over the years but the sting from this one is still fresh. The home team would get a wild-card playoff spot with a win while New York, with its playoff seeding clinched, had nothing to play for. But it was the Redskins who had nothing. They were able to fight back from a 10-0 halftime deficit to tie it up in the fourth quarter. But after a Giants field goal, Kirk Cousins threw an unforgivable interception that sealed New York’s 19-10 win and the Redskins went home. 

Redskins schedule series

More 2018 Redskins

- 53-man roster: Player one-liners, offense
- Tandler’s Take: Best- and worst-case scenarios for 2018
- The draft: Redskins should get 4 additional picks in 2019 draft
- Schedule series: Gotta beat the Cowboys

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 @TandlerNBCS.