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Need to Know: The Redskins need a quarterback to have a chance at the Super Bowl

Need to Know: The Redskins need a quarterback to have a chance at the Super Bowl

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 5, 32 days before the March 9 start of NFL free agency.  

Timeline

Days until:

NFL Franchise tag deadline (3/1) 24
—NFL Draft (4/27) 81
First Sunday of 2017 season (9/10) 217

The Redskins week that was

After today nearly half of all the Super Bowls ever played will have passed by in succession without the Redskins having participated. Since Washington last participated the Cowboys have won three, the Giants two and the Eagles have been to one. The Bears have been once, the Panthers have been twice and the Saints have won one. So have the Buccaneers. The Cardinals had a chance to win one.

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If the Redskins had remained even a competitive team most they almost should have stumbled into one of the 50 Super Bowl spots that have been up for grabs since they beat the Bills in Minneapolis. But since 1991 they have had three seasons with double digit wins, all of them 10-win seasons, and 12 seasons with double-digit losses.

Part of the problem has been at quarterback. In the 25 seasons since their last Super Bowl appearance, 13 different quarterbacks have led the team in passing yards. If you look down the list of Super Bowl starters you will find many more in the Hall of Fame (John Elway, Joe Montana) or very good, long-term starter (Joe Theismann, Russell Wilson) categories than you find in the average or below club (Trent Dilfer, Rex Grossman).

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This does not mean that signing Kirk Cousins to a long-term deal will automatically get the Redskins back to the Super Bowl. Since 1991 they have finished in the bottom half in the league in points allowed 16 times including the last eight seasons in a row. But it is possible to have a solid defense while paying a quarterback in excess of $20 million as demonstrated lately by the Broncos, Panthers, and Seahawks, among others.

What it boils down to is drafting well and getting productive seasons out of low-wage players. Then when their rookie contracts are up the organization must make smart choices about who to keep on both sides of the ball. Even then, you have to stay healthy and get a break or two along the way. There isn’t a straight line from re-signing Cousins to the Super Bowl. But it’s a necessary starting point because if you don’t have a quarterback you don’t have a realistic chance.

Does it have to be Cousins? No. But good luck finding one in the free agent market. You could try to find one in the middle rounds of the draft, someone like Russell Wilson or Dak Prescott. But, wait, the Redskins already did that when they drafted Cousins in the fourth round. The Seahawks have had to give Wilson the big deal and the Cowboys will have to do so with Prescott in a couple of years.

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The 2005 draft link that bonds the Redskins and Packers ahead of Week 3

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The 2005 draft link that bonds the Redskins and Packers ahead of Week 3

Looking back at NFL Drafts can be a frustrating task for Redskins fans. Missed opportunities and botched picks litter the record books, though the organization has made plenty of good picks, too. 

This weekend marks an interesting intersection of past drafts and current reality when Aaron Rodgers and the Packers come to visit the Redskins and Alex Smith.

Way back, in the 2005 NFL Draft, the 49ers selected Smith with the No. 1 overall pick. He was a major prospect and the consensus top pick in the draft coming out of an outrageous year playing under Urban Meyer at the University of Utah. 

Later that same draft, all the way down to the 24th pick, Green Bay took Aaron Rodgers out of the University of California Berkeley. At the time, the selection turned heads, as the Packers had future Hall of Famer Brett Favre at QB. 

The Rodgers pick turned out to be pretty smart, to say the least. Smith’s tenure in San Francisco had high points, but nothing that lived up to his lofty draft position. 

Rodgers and Smith have talked about being from the same draft class, and the two have developed a friendship off the field. 

“You know, he's a decent player,” Smith joked about Rodgers on Wednesday. 

“He and I [have] been around each other a lot of time now, always linked, pretty good buddies. Certainly, kind of I think follow each other's career from afar.”

Fair or not, Smith and Rodgers have been linked ever since that 2005 draft. Those weren’t the only two QBs taken that year though. 

The Redskins selected Jason Campbell out of Auburn with the 25th pick. If Rodgers had slipped just one more spot, maybe the Redskins take Rodgers instead.

Just to make one more connection, albeit an odd one, but Rodgers wasn’t even the only guy with that last name taken in 2005.

The Redskins selected cornerback Carlos Rogers with the ninth overall pick. Imagine if they took the QB with the slightly different last name. 

 

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Washington Redskins, Alex Smith work to balance patience and aggression in pass game

Washington Redskins, Alex Smith work to balance patience and aggression in pass game

Alex Smith finished the Week 2 loss to the Indianapolis Colts by averaging 6.3 yards-per-pass attempt on 33 completions. Those numbers aren't particularly good, and while they're not bad either, it clearly did not produce enough opportunities for points in the home opener. 

The Colts defense had a lot to do with that too. Indianapolis deployed a soft zone coverage system, forcing the Washington Redskins to look underneath for short gains and eschewing many chances at deep shots down the field. 

That's fine when the team is able to run the ball well, like the dominant Week 1 win in Arizona. But when Washington can't run the ball, like the embarassing Week 2, the short passing game looks too conservative. 

"I mean I think every guy on the team, certainly every guy on offense went through the game and what plays could I have done differently to help us," Smith said Wedneday. "Could I have taken a shot here? You know, all week we talked about being patient. The way they play defense, be patient. Let the shots present themselves."

The shots rarely presented themselves. 

Smith did put two passes in positions for chunk gains, but Josh Doctson was unable to bring in a deep ball on the sideline, and later in the game, Paul Richardson could not corral a big gain over the middle. Neither drop was devestating, but a catch in either situation could have turned momentum in the game. 

Prior to 2017, Smith had a reputation as a quarterback that rarely went down the field. Last season, he disproved that with his best ever statistical campaign and a number of highlight reel plays down the field in the Kansas City offense. 

Redskins fans are starting to wonder if they got the 2017 version of Smith, or the earlier version. 

Truth is the sample size is much too small to determine that answer. In Week 1, Smith didn't need to air the ball out. In fact, he still tried, barely missing a deep completion to Richardson on a play flagged because the receiver was held. 

There are other factors too. The offensive line had a poor performance in Week 2, and Richardson played the game dealing with a shoulder injury. 

Still, there were times it seemed Smith had chances down the field he didn't take, instead opting for the safer check-down pass.

Running back Chris Thompson finished the game with 13 catches but for just 92 yards. Much of that production came late in the second half when the Colts had taken a substantial lead.

"In the second half, very apparent, I mean they were not going to let anything get over their head or get behind them. It was so soft. Hence, a lot of the underneath stuff was open," Smith said.

What version of Smith will show up Sunday against Green Bay?

Much of that will have to do with the offensive line and Jay Gruden's game plan. But plenty will be determined by Smith too. 

The veteran QB does not turn the ball over, which is a big bonus. The Redskins need points though if they're going to keep up with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. 

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