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Need to Know: When will it be time for the Redskins to panic about the running game?


Need to Know: When will it be time for the Redskins to panic about the running game?

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, August 16, three days before the Washington Redskins play the New York Jets at FedEx Field.


Today's schedule: Off day

—The Redskins last played a game that counted 219 days ago. It will be 27 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Final roster cut 18; Cowboys @ Redskins 33; Browns @ Redskins 47

—Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan was born on this date in 1988.

When will it be time to panic about the running game?

The Redskins entered training camp with an unsettled and, for many fans, unsettling situation at running back. They are departing with the same uncertainty.

Matt Jones is still the starter and he has said all of the right things and he has looked pretty good in practice. But it’s hard to tell much about his progress from last year, when he averaged 3.4 yards per carry, the lowest in the league among qualifying backs, when contact is very limited. And even though he didn’t fumble at all during training camp despite the defense constantly pawing at the ball there is not solid evidence that his fumbling problems of last year are a thing of the past.

Jones saw very light action in the Redskins’ preseason opener, gaining on yard on two carries, so there’s nothing to go on there.

Chris Thompson did well catching passes out of the backfield in Richmond and demonstrated his speed on a few runs around the outside. But several times Thompson indicated to reporters that he thinks he’s better off in his role as a third-down back and not working as Jones’ backup.

That leaves Robert Kelley, Keith Marshall, and Mack Brown to fight it out for the role as Jones’ backup. They have all had their moments. Marshall, a seventh-round draft pick this year, may have the inside track but he had minus-one yard in five carries in the preseason opener. Kelley led the team with 40 yards on the ground against Atlanta but 18 of those came on one run. Brown may have been the most consistent of the group, getting 28 yards on seven carries.

The problem with the running game might not be the ball carriers. There were not many openings for the running backs against the Falcons and it’s hard for the best of backs to gain much yardage without blocking.

“We’re going to keep working on it,” said head coach Jay Gruden. “We’re not going to panic in the first preseason game but we also understand that in these games you are who you are and what you put on tape. We’ve got to make sure that we continue to work on it and get better at it. That’s all you can do.”

Would it be panicking if they brought in a veteran running back, a player like Pierre Thomas who could work as Jones’ backup? There has been talk of that since it became apparent that Alfred Morris was on his way out as a free agent. If Jones doesn’t prove that he is worthy of the coaches’ trust and if nobody emerges to establish himself as a reliable backup it would be crazy not to make a move.

The running game issues are not new. After an offseason spent talking about being a power running team, the 2015 Redskins were 20th in the NFL in rushing yards and 30th in yards per carry. At some point, panic, or at least trying something different, is called for.

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Need to Know: Smith says Redskins just need to execute vs. Rodgers and the Packers

Need to Know: Smith says Redskins just need to execute vs. Rodgers and the Packers

Here is what you need to know on Friday, September 21, two days before the Washington Redskins host the Green Bay Packers  

Talking points

Here are a few things heard around Redskins Park this week along with my comments. 

Alex Smith on if the offense would feel any additional pressure because they are facing Aaron Rodgers: "I think that you can get sucked into that. In the end, of course, we want to dominate regardless the offense we’re playing, of course, we want to go out there and execute, move the chains . . . It just comes through execution, though . . . The way to do that is just play good offense."

Comment: The Redskins probably will need to score at least 30 points to win this game. Since 2016, the Packers have lost one game that Rodgers started and finish where the opponent scored fewer than 30 points. But Jay Gruden can’t come up with a special “we have to score 35 points” game plan. What he can do, however, is remember what happened to the Bears in Week 1 and remain aggressive if they do build a lead.

D.J. Swearinger on defending the back-shoulder pass against Rodgers: "You’ve got to defend the receiver. The receiver will tell you if he’s going back shoulder or if he’s going [deep] based on body language."

Comment: This is a great detail here. Defensive back can get so scared to get beaten deep that they just keep running while the receiver slows down to catch an intentionally underthrown Rodgers pass. The key is watching the receiver’s eyes as that will give away where the ball is going. It’s easier said than done, but the discipline to do so is critical when playing against a QB like Rodgers. 

Trent Williams on the shuffling that the offensive line likely will have to do with LG Shawn Lauvao out: "It’s a challenge any time you have anybody who has to move positions or any guy who’s new to the lineup. It’s definitely a learning curve to get caught up to speed on how we like to do things. With Tony being a veteran and knowing the offense inside and out, Chase kicking over to guard, those are two of the smarter guys in the offensive line room."

Comment: He doesn’t appear to be too worried that Tony Bergstrom will move in at center and starting center Chase Roullier will slide over to left guard. I don’t think that there should be too much concern about Bergstrom knowing what he needs to do. But his performance in the preseason was spotty at best. We will see how the revamped interior line performs against the Packers’ quality group on the interior defensive line.

Injuries of note

Out: S Troy Apke (hamstring), G Shawn Lauvao (calf)
Limited: WR Paul Richardson (shoulder), LB Zach Brown (oblique), G Brandon Scherff (knee), OT Trent Williams (knee)

Changes from Wednesday: Richardson and Brown from out to limited

The agenda

Today: Practice 12:15 p.m.; Jay Gruden news conference and open locker room after practice approx. 2 p.m.

Upcoming: Packers @ Redskins (Sept. 23) 2; Redskins @ Saints (October 8) 17; Cowboys @ Redskins 30


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


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.