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Need to Know: Pass defense key for Redskins vs. Cardinals

Need to Know: Pass defense key for Redskins vs. Cardinals

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, December 2, two days before the Washington Redskins play the Arizona Cardinals.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Practice 12:05; Jay Gruden news conference and open locker room after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until: Redskins @ Eagles 9; Panthers @ Redskins 17; Redskins @ Bears Christmas Eve 22

Injuries of note:
Did not practice:
TE Jordan Reed
Limited: G Brandon Scherff (ankle), OT Ty Nsekhe (ankle), Bashaud Breeland (ankle_
Full: LS Nick Sundberg
Thursday injury report

Redskins vs. Cardinals
FOX, Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Dick Stockton and Chris Spielman
Line: Cardinals -2.5

Redskins vs. Cardinals nuggets and observations

—The Redskins’ offensive line is a little banged up. LT Ty Nsekhe, G Brandon Scherff, and RT Morgan Moses are all suffering from ankle injuries. Moses has been full in practice this week, Nsekhe and Scherff were limited. Having multiple injuries at one position group makes it difficult to conduct a proper practice but it’s something that all teams are dealing with. It will be surprising if any of them misses a snap on Sunday, however. As an aside, this is the last game of Trent Williams’ four-game suspension; he will return to practice this week and will start at left tackle against the Eagles on December 11.

—Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ offensive line is mostly healthy with the exception of the loss of G Evan Mathis to an ankle injury earlier this year, but they have been struggling. They have allowed 33 sacks, 39 QB hits, and 119 hurries. By comparison the Redskins have allowed 14 sacks, 21 hits, and 94 hurries. Perhaps you don’t have to look much further than the line to figure out why Carson Palmer is having a bad season.

—If you are looking for a common thread in the Redskins’ wins look at their pass defense. In each of their four losses the opposing team has averaged 7.6 yards or more per pass play in each of them. When the opposition averaged less than that, the Redskins are 5-0-1 (they won against the Giants despite allowing 8.4 per pass play). Palmer and the Cardinals have gone over 7.6 yards per pass pay just once this season. Their 2016 average is 5.9, down almost two full yards from last year.

—It’s starting to look like Josh Norman might stalk the University of Phoenix Stadium parking lot, meet Larry Fitzgerald when he arrives, and follow him for the rest of the day. Yes, even in the slot, if the defense calls for it. “There will be times per call – if the call dictates that Josh matches No. 11 [Fitzgerald], he’s going to match him even if he’s lined up in the backfield,” said defensive coordinator Joe Barry.

—A lot of Redskins fans wanted the team to draft defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche in the first round this year instead of Josh Doctson. The Cardinals took the Ole Miss product with the 29th overall pick. But he has had minimal impact this year. He has played in just four games and not all his games off have been due to injuries. Nkemdiche has not dented to stat book with zero tackles and zero sacks. Assuming he would have had a similar performance in a Redskins uniform the Washington defense would not be any better had they drafted him. Of course, Nkemdiche could get rolling later this year or in future seasons but for 2016 the Cardinals haven’t gotten much more out of their top draft pick than the Redskins have out of theirs.

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Redskins fans shouldn't forget about Colt McCoy because the coaches haven't

Redskins fans shouldn't forget about Colt McCoy because the coaches haven't

After a third surgery on his leg in April, Colt McCoy did not practice with the team during OTAs or mandatory minicamp. He was in Ashburn for many of the workouts, but did not take any team snaps.

In a normal quarterback battle, that would put McCoy at a distinct disadvantage, but the Redskins quarterback battle is not exactly normal. 

Veteran Case Keenum and rookie Dwayne Haskins got nearly all of the work at signal caller during the spring practice sessions, and both showed signs of being able to take over head coach Jay Gruden's offense. Keenum proved he can handle the huddle and has quickness when plays broke down behind the line of scrimmage. Haskins showed a rocket arm and a ton of potential, but he's also a rookie trying to learn a boatload about life in the NFL in a hurry, like calling plays, and that showed too. 

All of that is a long way to say neither Keenum nor Haskins locked up the top QB job. And that means the door is still open for McCoy.

"We would love for him to take some reps, but obviously his health is more important right now than anything, and that is the most important thing for him," Gruden said about McCoy on the first day of minicamp. "When his time comes it will come quickly. He will be ready."

Gruden's quote speaks to the biggest advantage McCoy will have once he hits the field. He's been with the Redskins since 2014, and knows Gruden's version of the West Coast offense backwards and forwards. 

Throughout the spring sessions, Haskins made clear that his number one goal for the offseason was to learn the playbook and gain mastery of calling plays in the huddle. McCoy already has that.

Speaking with reporters on the last day of minicamp, Keenum explained that Gruden's offense is the seventh or eighth new system he's learned in the NFL. Keenum said each system is like learning a new language, and that "there is no Rosetta Stone for the West Coast Offense."

If there was a translator, its name would be Colt McCoy. 

Once doctors clear the former University of Texas star, he will immediately be the Redskins quarterback with the best understanding of the offense. That will show up on the field right away.

Remember too that Gruden has tried to turn to McCoy as his quarterback at a few different turns, but injuries have always derailed those plans. If McCoy gets fully healthy in time for Richmond, which team sources believe will happen, he has a chance to finally take over this job.

Make no mistake, Haskins is the Redskins long-term future at the quarterback position. He has the talent but needs to learn the speed of the NFL, from playcalling to pass rush. Eventually though, he will be on the field for the Redskins. 

If he wins the job, it's his.

Same for Keenum, who is probably better than he showed last year in Denver but not as good as his career season with Minnesota in 2017. Keenum could certainly start Week 1 in Philadelphia and is probably ahead of Haskins right now. 

But fans would be wise not to count McCoy out of the quarterback competition. The Redskins coaching staff definitely hasn't. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS: 

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The Dwayne Decision: How should Redskins handle Haskins' first season?

The Dwayne Decision: How should Redskins handle Haskins' first season?

For the first time since 2012, the Redskins have a prized first-round rookie quarterback on their roster. 

Now, the team must decide how to approach Dwayne Haskins' first year in the NFL.

Does Washington give him the job right away and let him open up as the No. 1 option in Week 1? Do they let Case Keenum get the first shot, then insert Haskins if things don't go well? Or do they hold him out as long as possible, considering how inexperienced he still is?

Those are the questions the franchise must ask itself, because while Haskins' career is just beginning, it's crucial that things get off to a promising start. And those are the questions NBCSportsWashington.com is asking, too.

Over the next few weeks, you'll hear from analysts like JP Finlay, Brian Mitchell, Pete Hailey and Grant Paulsen, as they all analyze how they would approach the Dwayne Decision. Before you hear from them, though, it's necessary to get Haskins' and Jay Gruden's thoughts on how the youngster handled his initial exposure to the pro level. 

So, here's the passer and the head coach. Check back as the summer rolls along for the takes from NBC Sports Washington's voices, too. And be ready to submit yours at some point, as we intend to let the fans chime in.

What Gruden and Haskins are saying (WATCH)

"We threw a lot at him: formations, motions, protections, route concepts, run concepts, audible, two-minute, no huddle, all of that stuff. There is a lot to learn for the kid, but we want to get it all out there for him so he has an understanding of what it is going to be like come training camp. A long way to go, but I like where he is at." - Gruden after June minicamp

"When I know what I'm doing, I feel like I'm pretty good... Once I figure out the plays, I feel like the sky's the limit for me." - Haskins after June minicamp

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