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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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FedEx Field has a plan for maintaining grass for Redskins season after its event-filled summer

FedEx Field has a plan for maintaining grass for Redskins season after its event-filled summer

Partly due to their relentless passion and partly due to the large amount of things their favorite organization has trouble with, Redskins fans seem to be aware of and care about plenty of things most NFL fans don't pay any attention to.

For example, when the team changed trainers this past offseason, it was crucial news. The trainer!

Or how about all of the focus and debate on Washington's ping pong table in the locker room (which no longer exists, by the way). The Redskins are a football team, yet thousands of folks had a strong opinion on a piece of equipment that's typically used to avoid strange relatives at family gatherings. 

Yet even those two storylines don't get as much attention as the quality of FedEx Field's field, and concerns are mounting about said quality now that a handful of concerts and events at the stadium have been announced for the summer.

As of now, BTS (May 27), Justin Bieber (Aug. 21) and Rammstein (Aug. 27) will all appear in Landover, as will Monster Jam (June 6). For those tracking at home, those are three internationally-known music artists and a giant collection of trucks meant to create destruction scheduled to stop by the Redskins' home, with Bieber and Rammstein doing so just before the regular season begins.

According to JP Finlay, however, a plan is in place to ensure that FedEx Field's grass isn't compromised for the Burgundy and Gold:

The question remains how the team will fit their home preseason games in between the other things that are going on, but they do intend to start fresh before the NFL returns. 

So, that should calm everyone down (note: it won't). That means you're free to return to your takes about the new training staff and the ping pong table. Have fun. 

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Kyle Shanahan admits he knew Kirk Cousins was leaving Washington after the 2017 season

Kyle Shanahan admits he knew Kirk Cousins was leaving Washington after the 2017 season

Kyle Shanahan has never hidden the admiration he has for Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. 

The two worked together for two seasons with the Redskins in 2012 and 2013, when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator and Cousins was the backup to Robert Griffin III.

In his third year as the San Francisco 49ers head coach, Shanahan's squad is facing the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, led by third-year quarterback and reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes. Shanahan had the opportunity to draft Mahomes in 2017, his first draft as the helm in San Francisco.

So, why did Shanahan pass on Mahomes? Enter Cousins.

"It's pretty well documented the relationship I had with Kirk," Shanahan said. "Just being in Washington and everything, I felt confident he wasn't going to stay there."

It was expected that Shanahan's 49ers would be making a run at signing Cousins the following offseason before they traded for Jimmy Garoppolo at the 2017 trade deadline. Garoppolo won all five of his starts in 2017, and the 49ers signed him to a five-year extension the following offseason.

Cousins, who spent his final two years in Washington playing under the franchise tag, departed from the nation's capital to Minnesota, where he signed a three-year, $84 million fully-guaranteed deal with the Vikings.

"Any time you go into a season and know a franchise quarterback is going to be available the next year, it made me a lot more picky with what we were looking at," Shanahan said.

The 49ers decided to trade back with the Chicago Bears (who traded up to No. 2 to select UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky), and San Francisco ended up selecting defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. San Francisco took Iowa signal-caller C.J. Beathard in the third round, and he competed with veteran Brian Hoyer for the 49ers starting job in 2017. 

Shanahan expanded on his decision to pass on Mahomes, emphasizing the difficulty in scouting college quarterbacks in certain systems. Mahomes' system under Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech was named the "Air Raid' due to the high-volume of passes. 

"There were a bunch of talented guys in that draft," Shanahan said. "But it's very tough when you watch college systems and stuff, you don't really know until you get somebody in the building.

"You can see ability. You can see talent," he continued. "But how's the mind? How's the play in the pocket? How do they process? That's not just an IQ score. That's stuff that I don't think you can totally test."

The 2017 draft wasn't just Shanahan's first with the 49ers, it was his first draft as a head coach, ever. Thomas was a highly-rated prospect and was a relatively safe pick.

Looking back, it makes sense that the rookie head coach did not want to take a risk on a rookie quarterback, especially if he felt the team had a good chance at landing Cousins, someone he was familiar with.

But San Francisco ended up sticking with Garoppolo, and now the 49ers are 60 minutes away from their sixth Super Bowl title.

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