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Grading the Redskins: Good start, rocky finish for defense

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Grading the Redskins: Good start, rocky finish for defense

DefenseGrade vs. Falcons:CComment:Its tough to assign a passing grade when the end result was surrendering 24 points and suffering an eighth straight loss at FedEx Field. But we will this week and here are three reasons why:-- The Redskins front did a good job stuffing the Falcons ground game. The unit, led by Ryan Kerrigan, Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield, limited running back Michael Turner to 67 yards on 18 carries (3.7 yard average). Atlantas longest run, in fact, was for 13 yards. In all, Atlantas pass-first offense amassed only 83 yards on the ground after back-to-back weeks of rushing for 121 and 119 yards.-- The unit continued to capitalize on the scoreboard, as well. Kerrigan doesnt possess the vertical leap of a NBA player, but the linebacker used timing and anticipation to jump and pick off a Matt Ryan screen pass in the second quarter. Once Kerrigan had the ball secured, he raced 28 yards for the games first touchdown and the defenses third touchdown of the season. The last time the unit scored three times in a season was 1999, when it scored four.-- Ryan completed 34 of 52 passes 345 yards and two touchdowns and tight end Tony Gonzalez hauled in 13 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. But the Redskins battered secondary did not yield a long, backbreaking pass play (they gave had given up nine passes of 30 or more yards in the previous four games). Ryans longest completion was for 29 yards and only two others went for more than 20. Additionally, the go-ahead touchdown reception by Julio Jones in the fourth quarter required a near perfect throw and catch over Josh Wilson.Overall, the Redskins' defense held an undefeated Atlanta team a touchdown below their season average. But its no reason to celebrate. Much work remains for Jim Hasletts beleaguered unit, which still ranks dead last against the pass in yards (328.6 per game) and touchdowns (13) and struggled to get the Falcons off the field (Atlanta converted 9 of 17 third downs).

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2 stats that point to a Redskins breakthrough win against Cowboys

2 stats that point to a Redskins breakthrough win against Cowboys

In their last four games, the Cowboys cannot lose to the Redskins. There have been blowouts and there have been nailbiters, but all with the same result, a Dallas win. 

Cowboys QB Dak Prescott has never lost to the Redskins, and neither has running back Ezekiel Elliott. Embattled Dallas head coach Jason Garrett holds a 6-2 record against Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. 

Despite all that, two 2018 stats might matter the most when the two teams play on Sunday in D.C. 

At 0-3, the Cowboys are yet to win on the road this season, and Washington is 2-1 so far this year at FedEx field.

In three road games so far this season, Dallas is averaging just more than 12 points-per-game. 

Further, Dallas takes care of the ball when playing at home. They've committed zero turnovers at Jerry World, er, AT&T Stadium.

On the road, the Cowboys average two turnovers-per-game. 

The key to the Redskins victory last week over Carolina was generating three turnovers, and Washington will look to do the same this week. 

In fact, there are other similarities between the Redskins Week 6 matchup with the Panthers and the Week 7 game against the Cowboys. Going into the Carolina contest, Cam Newton had never lost to Washington and the Panthers held a long win streak against the ‘Skins dating back to 2006. 

With strong run defense and creating turnovers, the Redskins snapped that streak. Washington held the top-ranked run game in the NFL to almost half of their weekly total, and nearly eliminated RB Christian McCaffrey from the gameplan.

Maybe the same happens on Sunday against Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys. 

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Redskins OC Matt Cavanaugh takes you inside Vernon Davis' touchdown against the Panthers

Redskins OC Matt Cavanaugh takes you inside Vernon Davis' touchdown against the Panthers

With NFL RedZone, All-22 footage and GamePass, it’s literally never been easier to access information about your favorite teams and players. Still, nothing can quite beat the actual players and coaches, especially those who drew up those plays in the first place.

Redskins offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh was happy to share some insight on the touchdown pass Alex Smith threw to Vernon Davis to kick off the scoring against the Panthers in Week 6. 

The Redskins took over possession after a Carolina turnover, and the offense was ready to strike quickly. Smith found Davis wide open in the end zone and connected with his longtime tight end to give the ‘Skins an early 7-0 lead.

Interestingly, as Cavanaugh points out, the play was designed to clear out space for the team’s top tight end, Jordan Reed. Instead, the Panthers safety rolled towards Reed, who is generally seen as the more likely receiving threat. You can see in the video of the play that Smith does look towards Reed first, and then noticed the rolling safety leaving Davis wide open down the seam.

Cavanaugh also emphasizes how vital it is for the offense to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

“When we’re not on the field and the defense creates a turnover and all of a sudden we’re back out there, we gotta be ready to score, particularly when we get the ball in that great field position. It’s huge, it obviously set the tone for the rest of the game for us.”

A one play, 22-yard drive certainly does show off an offensive unit ready to score quickly and without the benefit of a long possession to get into rhythm.

Hopefully Cavanaugh doesn’t give away too many of his X’s and O’s secrets, but it’s always fascinating to experience a behind-the-scenes look at important plays. It’s even more fun when those plays are of Redskins touchdowns, and it’s the most fun when those plays are of Redskins touchdowns that come in Redskins victories.