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Need to Know: Five things we've learned about the Redskins so far

Need to Know: Five things we've learned about the Redskins so far

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, August 22, 12 days before the Washington Redskins cut their roster to 53 players.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Practice 1:10; Player availability and Jay Gruden press conference after practice, approx. 3:15

—The Redskins last played a game that counted 225 days ago. It will be 21 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Cowboys @ Redskins 27; Browns @ Redskins 41; Redskins @ Ravens 48

Five things we have learned about the Redskins so far

The Redskins have been through two and a half weeks of training camp and they have played two preseason games. While we have no definitive answers about the team yet, there are some things that we have learned:

The running game still needs work—Perhaps a lot of it. Matt Jones had a solid camp but two of his big issues, fumbling and injury, sprang up against the Jets. Rookies Keith Marshall and Robert Kelley haven’t done much yet and the team has an average of 3.3 yards per carry so far.

DeSean Jackson is ready for a big year—The veteran is entering a contract year and he is ready for it. Jackson has been one of the stars of camp, hauling in deep passes from Kirk Cousins on multiple occasions. He did not miss a practice or even take a traditional veteran’s da off, a very good sign for a player who struggled to stay healthy last year.

The defense could be improved—During the preseason last year the Redskins had trouble when the other team’s No. 1 quarterback was in the game. Not so this year. Against the Falcons and Matt Ryan the defense forced two three and outs. The Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to generate two three and outs and then six plays and a punt. Ryan and Fitzpatrick combined to complete 4 of 13 passes for 43 yards. That comes to a combined passer rating of 30.8. There is a small sample size warning here but it is an improvement.

Josh Norman could be worth the money—All big-money free agents say they are going to work to show that they deserved their mega paydays but Norman is putting his work ethic where his mouth is. He stays at least 30 minutes after practice working on his game. After one practice in Richmond he caught 500 passes from the JUGS machine. Then after working overtime in training camp he spent more time with the fans signing autographs and posing for pictures than just about any other player. All of that is no guarantee of success on the field but it does show that, unlike many other Redskins free agents, he is doing all he can to be successful.

There is a real competition at left guard—Many thought that Spencer Long was just a placeholder for Shawn Lauvao at left guard. But with just one preseason game to go to decide (the fourth one doesn’t count) Long pulls the duties most often associated with being the starter. He has had the majority of the first-team reps and he has started both preseason games. Lauvao may end up with the job but he still has some work to do to get it.

Su’a Cravens will be well worth the draft pick—The Redskins’ second-round pick has made some plays in practice and he was all over the field in Atlanta. He’s going to make some mistakes but he will more than make up for them with some big plays.

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Redskins schedule preview: Week 16 vs. Titans

Redskins schedule preview: Week 16 vs. Titans

We’re previewing every game of the 2018 season with a look forward and a look back. Up today, it’s the game against the Titans. 

Week 16 December 22 or 23, Nissan Stadium (the date of the game will be determined no later than Week 8 in early November)

2017 Titans: 9-7, Second in AFC South, lost in the divisional round 

Projected 2018 wins per Westgate SuperBook: 8

Early line: Redskins +5.5

Key additions: CB Malcolm Butler, DT Bennie Logan, RB Dion Lewis

Key losses: DT Sylvester Williams, RB DeMarco Murray

Biggest questions: 

  • QB Marcus Mariota improved from his rookie year and had a solid 2016. But he regressed last season. In which direction is his career headed?
  • After head coach Mike Mularkey took the Titans to the second round of the playoffs he was summarily fired. Will they regret making to switch to Mike Vrabel?

Series history

The all-time series between the two teams is tied a 6-6; the teams split six games when the franchise was the Houston Oilers and they have gong 3-3 since the move to Tennessee. 

Series notables

The first time: October 10, 1971, RFK Stadium—The Redskins offense didn’t score a touchdown but that often didn’t matter when George Allen was the head coach as they still won 22-13. Washington’s scoring came on five Curt Knight field goals and on an 18-yard interception return by defensive end Ron McDole. That touchdown came on one of five takeaways by the Redskins defense. 

The last time: October 19, 2014, FedEx Field—Quarterback Kirk Cousins was struggling in the first half, losing a fumble and throwing a head-scratching interception. With the Redskins trailing the 2-4 Titans 10-6, Jay Gruden decided it was time for a change and Colt McCoy came in to play QB in the second half. 

Things clicked immediately as McCoy threw a short pass to Pierre Garçon, who turned upfield and rolled in for a 70-yard touchdown. It was back and forth in the second half and the Redskins were trailing 17-16 when they got the ball on their own 20 with 3:14 to play. McCoy led a 10-play drive that consumed all of the remaining time and culminated in a 22-yard Kai Forbath field goal to win it 19-17. 

The best time: November 3, 1991, RFK Stadium—To win nine straight NFL games to start out a season, you need solid blocking, accurate passing, hard-hitting tackling, inspired play calling, crisp execution and, as was the case today, a little bit of luck. Chip Lohmiller kicked a 41-yard field goal for Washington to give the Redskins a 16-13 overtime win over Houston. Darrell Green’s interception at the Houston 33 set up the kick. All of that, however, would not have happened if not for Oiler placekicker Ian Howfield. 

After Houston tied the game on a one-yard run by Lorenzo White with 1:42 left in the game, Brian Mitchell fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the Oilers prime field position. Howfield came in for a 33-yard field goal attempt with one second left. It appeared that the winning streak would end at eight. “You don’t exactly give up, but you’re not far from it,” said Andre Collins. 

The snap was perfect as was the hold, but Howfield’s kick was wide right. 

On Houston’s second offensive play of overtime, Oiler quarterback Warren Moon got bumped as he threw an out pass and Green picked it off. Three Ernest Byner runs preceded Lohmiller’s game-ending kick. 

The worst time: October 30, 1988, Astrodome—Washington entered the contest riding a three-game winning streak and appeared to be rounding into form to defend their Super Bowl title. Warren Moon threw three touchdown passes to Drew Hill, however, and the Redskins took a 41-17 whipping that wasn’t even as close as the final score would indicate.

Redskins schedule series

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

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Inside the numbers: Will a 1,000-yard receiver make or break the 2018 Redskins?

Inside the numbers: Will a 1,000-yard receiver make or break the 2018 Redskins?

In 2017, the Redskins missed the playoffs while no receiver went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Jamison Crowder led the team with 789 receiving yards.

In 2016, the Redskins missed the playoffs while two receivers went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Pierre Garçon gained 1,041 yards that year while DeSean Jackson posted 1,005 receiving yards. 

In 2015, the Redskins did make the playoffs. That season the team had no receivers go for 1,000 yards, though Jordan Reed got close with 952 receiving yards. 

Is there a lesson here? Is there a takeaway that can help to predict the 2018 season?

Going into this season, no Redskins wideout has ever accounted for 1,000 yards in a single season. In their career.

Former first-round pick Josh Doctson accounted for just more than 500 receiving yards last season, catching 35 of the 78 balls thrown his way.  Crowder was mostly productive, but there was an expectation, fair or not, he would make more of a jump in 2018 than he did. Jordan Reed hardly played. 

To help the group, the Redskins added Paul Richardson in free agency. Last year playing for the Seahawks, Richardson went for 703 yards on 44 catches. The speedster gives the Redskins a true downfield threat the team lacked in 2017, and that could help the whole offense. In fact, it better help the whole offense. 

Still, looking at a top three of Doctson, Crowder and Richardson, it's hard to confidently predict a 1,000-yard receiver from the bunch. 

Could it happen? Absolutely. Any of the three could pop to a four-digit total.

Would you put your own hard-earned cash on the line? That would take some guts. 

Though the Redskins have a new quarterback in Alex Smith, head coach Jay Gruden has been crystal clear the team is not in a rebuilding mode. Washington must win, now, this season, and a minimum goal should be a Wild Card playoff spot. 

How imperative is a 1,000-yard wide receiver to that goal? Let's look back at the past 12 NFC playoff teams. 

Only three of six NFL playoff teams in 2017 had a 1,000-yard wideout. The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles did not, but the Vikings, Saints and Falcons all did. 

In 2016, however, five of six playoff teams had 1,000-yard receivers. The only team that didn't, the Cowboys, deployed a heavy run offense that resulted in Ezekiel Elliott going for more than 1,600 rush yards. 

Added together, in the past two seasons, eight of 12 NFC playoff teams had a receiver on their squad go at least four digits. 

One more note: the New England Patriots played in the last two Super Bowls, winning one and losing one. Both years they had at least one receiver get to 1,000 yards (Julian Edelman in 2016, Brandin Cooks in 2017). In 2017, tight end Rob Gronkowski broke the 1,000-yard mark too.

Again, what's the takeaway? Having a 1,000-yard receiver is certainly good, but it's not a must for a playoff berth or a deep playoff run. The Eagles proved that. 

On some teams, an elite wideout makes a huge difference. Watch Giants tape and it's clear what Odell Beckham does for the offense. Watch Falcons tape and Julio Jones does the same. 

On other teams, an elite quarterback makes a huge difference. Duh.  

Of the teams examined, the 2016 Packers came the closest to the 2017 Patriots with having two players go for over 1,000 yards.

2017 New England did it with Cooks (1,082) and Gronkowski (1,084), 2016 Green Bay almost got there with Jordy Nelson (1,257) and Davante Adams (997). 

While Gronkowski and Nelson are excellent players, the common denominator is obviously the elite play of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. 

For the 2018 Redskins, what does it mean?

The Redskins don't have an elite wideout like Jones or Beckham. The Redskins don't have an elite quarterback like Brady or Rodgers. 

The best path for Washington's offense might be balance, and trying to emulate the Eagles model from 2017. Carson Wentz played most of the season at an elite level, but he spread the ball around to a number of targets and leaned heavily on his tight ends. It helped that the Eagles ran the ball very well too. 

Could the 'Skins do something similar? Alex Smith is known to spread the ball around, and if Jordan Reed and Derrius Guice can produce this fall, the offenses might be similar. 

The answer can't be force enough balls to one wideout to ensure a 1,000 yard season. That won't work. 

There might be another way to consider. Of the three NFC teams that made the 2017 playoffs without a 1,000-yard wideout, two found a lot of success throwing to a running back.

The Panthers leading WR was Devin Funchess with 840 receiving yards. Their second best receiver? Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey. 

The Rams leading WR was Cooper Kupp with 869 receiving yards. Their second best receiver? Running back Todd Gurley.

See a pattern?

Before breaking his leg in November, Chris Thompson had more than 500 receiving yards. He still finished as the team's fourth-leading receiver despite playing only 10 games. 

The offensive path to playoff success for Washington might not hinge on a true 1,000-yard wideout like it does for many teams. Full, healthy seasons from Jordan Reed or Chris Thompson could make up for deficiencies at other skill positions. It also remains possible Doctson, Crowder or Richardson make the four digit leap. 

Having a 1,000-yard receiver seems like a nice option for a good offense, and that's proven by nearly 70 percent of recent NFC playoff teams. Still, other paths remain to the postseason, and increased production at tight end and running back can go a long way. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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