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EL-BASHIR: For Redskins, 2nd half schedule allows for some playoffs hope


EL-BASHIR: For Redskins, 2nd half schedule allows for some playoffs hope

“Everything we want is still in our grasp,” Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said afterSunday’s 27-10 loss to the Patriots.

“It’s just one game,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry reassured players as they trudged off the field in Foxboro.

And they’re right. Getting blown out by Tom Brady and the defending champions, as unsightly as it was at times, didn’t end the competitive portion of the Redskins’ season, nor did it count for more than one ‘L’ on their record.

It did, however, narrow the Redskins' margin for error. They’re now 3-5 at the midway point of the season, with Drew Brees and the Saints (4-5) coming to Landover on Sunday.

“If we don’t play better, then nothing is in our grasp,” Gruden said Monday afternoon, asked about his message to the team this week. “We’ve got to make sure that we turn up the heat a little bit, challenge these guys, try to get more out of them as coaches. Hopefully, we play better because we are right in the thick of things, as far as the division is concerned.”


If you’re ready for a few paragraphs of unbridled optimism, here’s a heaping dose of it.

Assuming 8-8 or 9-7 will be good enough to take the decidedly mediocre NFC East then, yeah, a playoff berth is certainly within the Redskins’ grasp.

In fact, the second half of their schedule seems quite favorable when compared to their division rivals’ remaining slates.

Of the Redskins’ eight remaining games, only two of them are against opponents with winning records (at Carolina and vs. the New York Giants). The combined records of their opponents are 31-34. 

The Giants (5-4), meantime, face four teams with winning records down the stretch, including three division leaders (vs. New England, vs. Carolina and at Minnesota). The combined records of their opponents are 37-19.

The Eagles (4-4), on the other hand, face three teams with winning records, including two division leaders (at New England and vs. Arizona). The combined records of their opponents are 33-32.

(For the purposes of this discussion, I’m leaving out the 2-6 Cowboys. They’re done.)

Now for a dose of reality. 

For the Redskins to have any hope, they’ve got to engineer a midseason turnaround in a number of critical areas. Among them:

  1. They’ve got to fix the ground attack. Much has been made about the running game’s struggles over the past month, but there has been little change in the bottom line. Overall, the Redskins have averaged only 43 yards per game over the past four contests. That’s not just bad, it’s historically bad.  
  2. They’ve also got to stop the run better, too. Like a lot better. Including the 161 yards gained by LaGarrette Blount and the Patriots, the Redskins have allowed a whopping 187 yards on average the past four games. Their record is 1-3 in those contests. That’s no coincidence.
  3. They also need more production overall from the Kirk Cousins-led offense. Through eight games, they’re averaging just 19.8 points per game. Only Cleveland, St. Louis, Detroit and San Francisco are averaging fewer—all of whom are .500 or worse.   
  4. And, finally, they’ve got to find a way to eke out a win (or two) on the road—a feat they’ve mustered just once in the Gruden Era. They face road tests at the Panthers, Bears, Eagles and Cowboys down the stretch.

That’s it. Just those four not-so-insignificant things.

Sound like a long shot? It probably is. Almost as long as the Redskins’ odds of actually making the playoffs. But there’s a chance. And right now that’s what Gruden and his players are clinging to.

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'It's a house divided': The Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is affecting these 'Skins' families

'It's a house divided': The Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is affecting these 'Skins' families

Zach Brown is a fearless player. Turns out, Zach Brown's dad is pretty fearless, too.

That first statement is one you can confirm by watching the Redskins linebacker play each time he takes the field, often times hurt.

The second statement, on the other hand, was confirmed earlier this week in an interview between Brown and JP Finlay about the Washington-Dallas rivalry.

"It got under our skin, knowing we got swept by them [last year]," the defender told Finlay after a weekday practice. "You just hate to go back home and hear them talk so much trash."

The leader of the brave "them" who actually taunt a 250-pound LB following a loss? Oh, just Brown's father, who's a diehard Cowboys supporter.

"My dad was giving it to me," he said while looking back on the 2017 season. "I said, 'Don't worry about it. Next year's gonna be a different movement.'"

"I'm gonna talk trash at the end of this season," Brown added. "It's a house divided."

Adrian Peterson knows what Brown's talking about. The Texas native even went as far as to break down exactly how his own house is divided.

According to him, 75-percent of his family are all about the Cowboys, 10-percent are looking for him to put up good numbers in a 'Boys victory and the final 15-percent have converted to the burgundy and gold.

Rookie corner Greg Stroman can relate as well. The Virginia kid who'll be making his debut in the series he's very familiar with said his grandma and her relatives fall on both sides of the matchup.

Stroman does have one advantage over Brown and Peterson, though. Unlike the two veterans, he was able to get his entire family's rooting interests in order for Sunday, at least.

"They all bought in now," he said.

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Redskins-Cowboys Week 7 preview: A storyline, a stat and a player to watch

Redskins-Cowboys Week 7 preview: A storyline, a stat and a player to watch

This Sunday, for the 117th time, the Redskins and Cowboys will meet. 

Dallas will bring its 3-3 record into FedEx Field and face off with a 3-2 Washington squad. The winner of the contest will guarantee themselves a share of the NFC East lead heading into Week 8.

Here's a storyline, stat and player to watch for the next installment of this rivalry. Once you're done reading those, you can officially start preparing yourself for some sketchy fourth down decisions by Jason Garrett. 

Biggest storyline

Since his tidy but effective game vs. the Packers, Alex Smith turned in a disconcerting performance in New Orleans and a lukewarm effort (albeit a winning one) against the Panthers. Overall, Smith has looked very in control at times but also uneasy and ineffective at others so far in 2018.

So, the biggest storyline in this edition of the series has to do with Smith. If this game calls for it, can he lead the 'Skins to a victory?

That could be difficult vs. the Cowboys. The QB will be without Jamison Crowder again, and on Friday, Jay Gruden listed Paul Richardson as doubtful. Chris Thompson, meanwhile, is questionable.

So, it's likely Smith will be without two of his most talented weapons and possible that he'll be missing three. And on top of that, he'll be operating behind an offensive line that's had issues, which is contributing to his sometimes shaky feet in the pocket.  

To make things even harder, the Dallas defense allows the second-fewest points-per-game in the league and boasts a defensive line that Gruden is very worried about because it employs a scheme that involves a lot of movement. The Colts D-line uses a lot of stunts and movement, too, and they held the 'Skins to just 9 points in Week 2.

Smith has yet to top 300 yards this season or throw for more than two touchdowns in a single outing. He's had no problem winning when the team jumps to an early lead and the running game is going, sure, but he can't count on that each time he starts. 

At some point, his right arm is going to have to be mainly responsible for a Redskins W. And there'd be no better time for that to happen than in his first shot against his new franchise's most-hated opponent.

One key stat

Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott don't know what it's like to play an NFL game vs. Washington and leave that game as the loser. Prescott is 4-0 in his four starts, while Elliott suited up in three of those triumphs. 

Elliott has been a big-time problem for the Redskins in their run-ins. The RB has scored five times against the burgundy and gold and averages 110 yards per appearance. 

Come Sunday around 7:30 or 8 p.m., when Elliott's day is done, odds are you'll be able to look at his stat line and judge the outcome of the game solely based on it.

If Greg Manusky and his defense, particularly his young stars up front, are able to bottle up Zeke, you have to like the Redskins' chances of beating the Cowboys for the first time since the 2015 season finale.

The Redskin to watch

Charley Casserly identified Fabian Moreau as a key Redskin for Week 7 (full video above). Another one worth watching is DJ Swearinger.

Swearinger terrorized Cam Newton last week and really flew around the entire field. He'll need to be as active against the Cowboys and, most importantly, be a sure tackler.

Elliott is going to churn out a few seven- and eight-yard runs. It'll be on Swearinger, plus fellow safety Montae Nicholson, to not let those become 20- or 30-yard gains. 

A lot of the attention, and deservedly so, will go toward what Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis are doing on Sunday. But if Swearinger can take smart angles, get Elliott to the ground and make a few plays in pass coverage, that'll go a long way vs. a limited Dallas offense.

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