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Need to Know: Should the Redskins shift to a run-first philosophy?

Need to Know: Should the Redskins shift to a run-first philosophy?

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, April 6, 21 days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/17) 11
—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 36
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 48
—First Sunday of 2017 season (9/10) 148

Should the Redskins shift to a run-first offense?

Good question, Eric. First, let’s look at just how much of a pass-first offense they were in 2016 so we can gauge how much they would have to adjust.

First, let’s establish that “run first” doesn’t mean that you run more than you pass. Last year the Cowboys led the league in rushing attempts with 499 but they called 511 pass plays (attempts + sacks). Most years one or two teams run a few more plays than they pass but if you get to a 55-45 pass-run ration you are predominantly running team compared to the rest of the NFL.

The 2016 Redskins ran 1,009 plays and called 630 passes and ran 379 times. That’s a ratio of 62 percent passes to 38 percent runs.  They would have some work to do to get that 55-45 ratio that would make them a run-first team.

Assuming they run the same number of plays as they did last year, the Redskins would need to change about 55 passes to runs over the course of the year.

That would mean a serious change of philosophy. While I have documented here a few times that Jay Gruden is not nearly as pass happy as his reputation would suggest (most recently right here), he probably isn’t going to switch out 55 passes for runs easily. But if he ends up with a rookie or journeyman quarterback next year he might have to move in that direction.

You don’t need to look any further than Dallas to see how being run-first can help a young quarterback. There is no question that Dak Prescott is talented but he was rarely tested. Only two teams threw less often than the Cowboys and their effective running game helped them move the ball and keep the pressure off Prescott. To take one slice of the season, the Cowboys ran on first down a league-high 290 times. They averaged five yards per carry. The NFL is hard but it’s a lot easier if you’re facing second and five a lot.

The key for the Cowboys, of course, was rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, who led the NFL in rushing. The Redskins don’t have a back like him. There are a few backs, namely Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, and Christian McCaffrey, who have that ability. Gruden talked about them at the NFL meetings in Arizona recently and it certainly sounded like he would welcome any of those three players into the Washington backfield.

Getting a true feature back will be the key. will be the key. Rob Kelley is a good running back for a passing offense. He’ll get you some yards while your pass catchers are getting a breather and pick up blitzes when necessary. But he is not suited to be the centerpiece of a run-first offense.

So if the Redskins pull the trigger on McCaffrey or Cooke in the first round (Fournette is likely to be gone) they could begin to work towards a heavier emphasis on the run. I wouldn’t expect it to start right away since they still will be paying Cousins $24 million this year. But if they get a star-quality running back they would be well set up to go into 2018 with Colt McCoy, Nate Sudfeld, or a rookie or journeyman-type quarterback.

That’s not all they would need to contend for the playoffs going forward, of course, The rebuild of the defense would have to continue with further free agent and draft investments. But you must be able to score and a true feature back is a quarterback’s best friend.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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What comes after a must-win? Redskins will find out Monday night against Bears

What comes after a must-win? Redskins will find out Monday night against Bears

At 0-2 and facing the pressure of a lost season very early in their schedule, it's not a secret that the Redskins need a victory Monday night against the Bears. 

In fact, it's beyond a need. It's beyond a must. The Redskins are desperate to get their first win of the year and stave off the questions that come with a terrible start. Jay Gruden and most of his staff are in the penultimate years of their contracts, and that's not an easy spot to be in if a team is losing. 

Washington's players know the situation. Washington's coaches and front office know the situation. But, how can they win?

  1. The Bears strength comes on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 3rd in the NFL in points allowed and 4th in yards allowed. Chicago's defense has given up just 24 points this year, Against the run, Chicago is giving up less than 70-yards-per-game, and combined with the Redskins inability to run the ball, that looks like a serious mismatch. Where Washington might find success is throwing the ball. In a Bears win last week in Denver, Broncos QB Joe Flacco threw for more than 280 yards. Chicago has some vulnerabilities at cornerback, and Gruden along with offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell will need to scheme to take advantage of the passing game.
     
  2. Speaking of the passing game, Redskins QB Case Keenum probably needs to play his best game in Washington to get a win. Keenum has been pretty good so far this season, particularly at not turning the ball over. He has no interceptions in two games, and while there have been a few close calls, he must keep the ball away from the Bears fierce pass rush of Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd. To make matters more complicated against the stout Bears defense is that Keenum has to protect the ball but also capitalize on big plays when they develop. The Bears offense is struggle city, so if Washington can make a few big plays and get on the scoreboard, Chicago might not be able to keep up.
     
  3. The Bears offensive struggles begin with QB Mitchell Trubisky. In two games, he's completing fewer than 59 percent of his passes and averaging 174 passing yards-per-game. Compare that to Keenum, who's completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 300 yards-per-game, and the Redskins should have a decisive advantage at the game's most important position. Trubisky is dangerous with his legs, but so far this year has been reluctant to run, with just four rushes for 19 yards. The Redskins defensive front needs to show up for this one; pressure on Trubisky could lead to turnovers. Turnovers could lead to early scores and good field position, which helps a lot against Chicago's defense.
     
  4. While Chicago's defense has been terrific, that might not be the Redskins biggest hurdle on Monday. Just playing on Monday night is an immense struggle for Washington. The team hasn't won a Monday Night Football game since 2014 and hasn't won at home on Monday night since 2012.
     
  5. The Redskins have a mountain of injuries, so don't expect to see Jordan Reed or Quinton Dunbar. Also, Trent Williams continues to hold out from the organization, and it was reported over the weekend that Reed might be considering retirement after sustaining his seventh concussion in the preseason.
     

News & Notes

  • Redskins RB Chris Thompson needs four receptions to pass Earnest Byner for No. 3 all-time on the Redskins list of catches by a running back. 
  • If rookie WR Terry McLaurin catches a touchdown against the Bears, that would be his third straight contest with a score. No Redskins rookie WR has done that since Hall of Famer Charley Taylor in 1962. 
  • Jay Gruden is 2-0 against the Bears. 
  • Redskins rookie LB Cole Holcomb was college roommates with Bears QB Mitch Trubisky at the University of North Carolina.
     

They said it

Jay Gruden on the prospect of opening the year 0-3:

"You have to feel it without a doubt. If you don’t feel it then you’re numb, you’re not a football player. There’s nobody that likes to lose in this locker room. Not a lot has to be said when you lose one game, let alone two in a row in your division against the Cowboys and Eagles, one at home. We’re already in a hole a little bit, so everybody understands there’s a sense of urgency, for sure."

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Right or wrong, Daniel Jones' performance turns up pressure on Redskins and Dwayne Haskins

Right or wrong, Daniel Jones' performance turns up pressure on Redskins and Dwayne Haskins

The Giants turned to their rookie quarterback Daniel Jones on Sunday, and he delivered a fantastic performance and got New York their first win of the year.

Whether it should or not, that turns up the pressure on Redskins rookie QB Dwayne Haskins. 

Jones turned in a tremendous game in his first ever NFL start, completing 22 of 36 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for two scores, including the game-winner late in the fourth quarter. The New York tabloids will likely go nuts after Jones' effort, and while it's likely overkill, the former Duke Blue Devil looked completely in control of his game and the Giants offense. 

He was good, and right or wrong, that's going to lead a lot of people to look at the Redskins and their plan for Haskins. 

Let's be clear — current Washington starter Case Keenum has acquitted himself well through two games. He's gone for 600 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. The Redskins are 0-2,  but it hasn't been Kenum's fault. 

That said, Keenum hasn't been great either. He's missed some big opportunities down the field and held on to the ball a little too long  in a few spots that have finished in sacks. 

If Keenum wins Monday night against Chicago, the Redskins will stick with him Week 4 in New York. 

But should the Redskins lose, whether it's Keenum's fault or not, the pressure to go to Haskins will be immense. Washington would be wise to not cave to that pressure, but it's going to be intense. 

Remember, Jones went 6th overall to New York and Haskins went 15th overall to the Redskins. Many expected the Giants to take Haskins at 6, and he grew up in New Jersey rooting for Big Blue. That didn't happen, and Haskins got to come to the Redskins and stay in the D.C. area, where he played his high school football. 

The NFL hype machine can't be stopped. The Redskins know that. 

If Keenum doesn't win Monday night, and there could be a million reasons for a win or loss outside of his control, that hype machine will push hard for Haskins vs. Jones. 

The Redskins should ignore the hype, but sometimes, it just can't be stopped. 

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