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Fixing offensive red zone woes critical for 2017 Redskins

Fixing offensive red zone woes critical for 2017 Redskins

Yesterday, I took a broad look at the three areas that Jay Gruden said that his team was “terrible” in during the 2016 season, issues that cost the team a chance at the playoffs.

Today I’ll take a closer look at one of those areas, the struggles the offense had in the red zone.

The 2016 Redskins moved the ball up and down the field.

They were third in the NFL with a team-record 6,454 yards of offense. But they did not put points on the board to match their impressive yardage total. They were 12th in scoring, putting up just 396 points.

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There are many reasons why the Redskins’ point total was not in the same league as their yardage total but primary among them is their lack of productivity in the red zone. They had 61 drives with at least one snap inside the oppositions’ 20 yard line. They scored 28 touchdowns on those drives. That comes to a 45.9 percent success rate, 29th in the NFL.

It’s difficult to quantify what those problems cost the Redskins in terms of points and wins. But we can take a stab at it anyway.

Let’s say that their red zone efficiency had remained about where it was last year when the put the ball in the end zone 61 percent of the time. They would have scored 37 touchdowns rather than the 28 that they actually did tally this year. They didn’t get a field goal every time they didn’t get a touchdown in the red zone but since we’re estimating here, for the sake of simplicity let’s say they would have traded nine field goals for nine touchdowns. That would be an additional 36 points scored which would give them 432 for the season, tied for fourth in the NFL.

What matters, of course, is not how many points they score but when they score them. Here are some hand-picked games where the Redskins had red zone problems in losses.

Opponent:Red zone TD’s/Red zone chances — Result

— Week 2 vs. Cowboys: 2/6 — lost 27-23
— Week 8 @ Bengals: 1/4 — tied 27-27
— Week 12 @ Cowboys: 2/5 — lost 31-26
— Week 15 vs. Panthers: 1/3 — lost 26-16
— Week 17 vs. Giants: 1/2 — lost 19-10

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The first Cowboys game seemed to touch it all off.

The worst red zone failure in that game came in the fourth quarter when Kirk Cousins threw an interception in the end zone with the Redskins up 23-20 early in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys responded with a game-winning touchdown drive.

Many have theorized that the end zone interception, the first red zone interception thrown by Cousins in his career save for a garbage time pick the previous week, made him tentative in the tight spaces near the goal line. That can’t be proven one way or the other but something happened with Cousins; the numbers don’t lie.

In 2015 he completed 64 percent of his red zone passes with 22 touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 113.5.

This year the numbers were 47.5 percent completions, 14 TD, 2 INT, and a rating of 84.6.

Since I know you’re wondering, the Redskins actually ran better in the red zone this year than they did in 2015. Last year they had 61 carries and averaged 1.8 yards per attempt. This year it was 62 tries and an average of 2.8. It should be noted that they did have more red zone trips this year (61 to 49) so they ran less frequently per red zone trip.

You can do the math on the games listed above and see that the Redskins could have won some of them with decent red zone production. It’s easy to take the 36 “missing” points calculated above and spread them out to come up with a few more wins.

What happened is one thing. How to solve it is another.

Whether it’s with personnel (Josh Doctson?), scheme, play calling (more running?), or some combination of all of the above they will need to be more efficient in the red zone or they could really be in trouble.

Their 61 red zone trips this year were the most the team has had since the NFL started tracking the stat in 2000. As noted above, the total yardage they compiled set a team record, one that had stood for 27 years. These were rare accomplishments and chances are they won’t be getting to the red zone as often in 2017 as they did in 2016. If they don’t improve their efficiency their scoring could drop and they could find themselves in negative point differential territory, not a place where winning teams are usually found.

Or maybe the defense can fix its issues and get them back on the plus side of the points ledger. We’ll take a look at what went wrong with red zone defense next.

RELATED: 2017 NFL MOCK DRAFT 1.0

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Jalen Ramsey has requested a trade. And Landon Collins has made public appeals to him before

Jalen Ramsey has requested a trade. And Landon Collins has made public appeals to him before

The Jacksonville Jaguars 2019 regular season has not gone according to plan.

In Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs, starting quarterback Nick Foles broke his clavicle and was placed on IR, and following a Week 2 loss to the Houston Texans, the team's star defensive back Jalen Ramsey has reportedly requested a trade.

Ramsey and head coach Doug Marrone got into it verbally during the loss to Houston and according to multiple reports, the fractured relationship could expedite a potential trade.

The Jaguars are reportedly asking for at least one first-round pick in return for the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback.

It's worth noting that Ramsey's agent, David Mulugheta, also represents Redskins Dwayne Haskins and Landon Collins. Collins tweeted at Ramsey back in April, jokingly recruiting Ramsey to D.C. after Jaguars' VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin called out Ramsey for missing voluntary offseason workouts and the latter responded

Ramsey, who was the fifth pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, is currently looking for a new contract. He is currently in the fourth year of his rookie deal and the Jaguars have picked up his fifth-year option in 2020.

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Jay Gruden address comments that he doesn't like AP's running style: 'You want north-south running backs'

Jay Gruden address comments that he doesn't like AP's running style: 'You want north-south running backs'

In the early stages of Sunday's Redskins-Cowboys clash, FOX Sports' Pam Oliver dropped a bombshell on the broadcast.

"Jay Gruden, to be perfectly clear, he is still not in favor of Peterson's strength, which is a north-south running style," Oliver said. "He feels like it limits the offense and gives the defense way too many opportunities."

If true, that helps explain the decision the Redskins head coach made prior to Week 1, making the 34-year-old and future Hall of Fame running back a healthy scratch for the first time in his career.

What it doesn't explain is the reasoning behind it. Peterson, who was signed just a couple of weeks prior to the 2018 season, ran for over 1,000 yards for the Burgundy and Gold a season ago, earning the team's Offensive Most Valuable Player award.

In an exclusive one-on-one interview with Gruden, NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay asked the head coach about Oliver's comments.

Gruden refuted the claim. 

"You want north-south running backs. I don’t think you want east-west backs, that’s for sure," Gruden said. "[Peterson] is a north-south runner....when he gets going north-south, what that does is creates a physical mentality for our offense. Our linemen love it, and it opens up our play-action passes. We do love north-south backs.”

What the fifth-year head coach did touch on, however, is the limited amount of plays that the offense can run with Peterson is in the game. That could explain the origin of where Oliver's comments came from. 

"[Peterson] is a north-south runner," Gruden said. "What that does, sometimes, ya know it’s hard when he’s in the game, like yesterday we were in 11 personnel and they but base on the field and said ‘heck you’re just not going to run it’ and you know we had to throw it." 

It's no secret that Gruden prefers a running back that can be involved in the passing game as well. While Peterson has improved in that facet, the Redskins other options -- Chris Thompson, Wendell Smallwood, and even the injured Derrius Guice -- are currently better pass-catching backs.

Of the Redskins 62 offensive snaps, Thompson, the best pass-catching running back of the bunch, was the one who played the most. Peterson played just 18 snaps, 29 percent of the team's offensive plays.

The flow of the game also could have affected this, as the Redskins found themselves trailing for the majority of the afternoon. 

Still, Gruden insists that there's a role for Peterson in the offense.

"You know, he played last year and had a thousand yards, so..." he said.

Regardless of who the running back has been for the Burgundy and Gold thus far in 2019, they largely have been ineffective.

Against Philadelphia, Guice mustered just 18 rushing yards on 10 carries. Peterson received the same amount of carries in Week 2 vs. Dallas and didn't perform much better. Sure, he found the end zone, but was not a factor otherwise, rushing for a total of just 25 yards.

Through the first two games, the Redskins have been outrushed 336-75. That is not a winning formula by any means.

When asked why the rushing attack has been so poor in 2019, Gruden couldn't point to one specific reason.

"Combination of things," Gruden said. "Philadelphia, we tried to run the ball in the second half and we had a negative play and a holding penalty. You know, there are things that take you out of the running game, and then you lose the lead and you have to try and play a little bit faster, play a little bit of catch up and you aren’t able to run the ball. So, we haven’t been able to stick with the run for four quarters and we haven’t had enough production out of the running game."

That must change immediately, starting next Monday against Chicago, if the Redskins want to turn their season around. Gruden is confident that it will.

"We had a couple of good hits, AP had a couple of good hits [Sunday] against Dallas, we can build off of that," he said. "But I also think that when you have a new left tackle and a new left guard coming in for the first time and you have the tight end issues we’ve had a little bit, I think we’ll get there."

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