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Preview: Are Cousins, Redskins ready to take the next step?


Preview: Are Cousins, Redskins ready to take the next step?

Who: Packers (10-6) at Redskins (9-7).

When: Sunday, 4:40 p.m.

Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.

Watch: Redskins Kickoff on CSN Mid-Atlantic at 3 p.m., and Redskins Postgame Live at 7:30 on CSN+.

My five storylines/matchups to watch:

1-Earlier this week, Aaron Rodgers pointed out that the Packers have a decided edge in postseason experience. Green Bay has qualified for the postseason seven straight years. The Redskins, meanwhile, have made the tournament twice since 2008. “We value [playoff experience] a lot,” Rodgers said. “I think you have to learn how to win in the playoffs.” Indeed, the overarching theme of the 2015 regular season in Washington has been how an inexperienced quarterback, a second-year head coach and a young Redskins’ team grew together and, after some early setbacks, began taking steps forward. Through trial and error, the team has learned how to prepare. It’s learned how to win on the road. How to bounce back from losses, and to not over-celebrate victories. The question before the Redskins now is this: are they ready to take that next step and win a playoff game? Or will Rodgers and Co. take them to school on Sunday?  

2-Speaking of Rodgers, he’s been sacked—a lot—in recent games. In fact, since Week 8, he’s been taken down a whopping 35 times while playing behind an injury-plagued offensive line. That should open up some opportunities for Ryan Kerrigan (team-best 9.5 sacks), Chris Baker (career-best 6 sacks) and Co. But it’s not as simple as bringing the house with a quarterback who is as slippery as Rodgers. “The thing you’ve got to be strategically be aware of with [Rodgers] is, how many do you bring, and how do you deploy it?” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “He has been sacked. But he is so good at eluding pressure and finding guys down the field. So you have to be strategic with it.” Barry also said that he’s shown his players the TV copy of recent Green Bay games so that they can get a feel for Rodgers’ cadence, which he uses to draw defenses offside. “He’s No. 2 in the league as far as quarterbacks getting guys offsides,” Barry said. “You can’t go on sound. You can’t go on his leg or the center’s head bob. You have to be disciplined.”

3-Kirk Cousins is the game’s hottest quarterback, at the most important time of the season. But this also the biggest game of his career. Is he ready for the bright lights and the big stage of the NFL postseason? A couple of years ago, I would have said, ‘Absolutely not.’ But now I have no doubt that Cousins will handle the pressure just fine. Why? Because he’s shown time and again this season that he doesn't allow games to be bigger than they are, that he thrives when heat's cranked up, that he’s the Redskins’ most dependable player when the chips are down. Remember the Week 4 comeback against the Eagles? How about rallying the Redskins to the biggest comeback in franchise history, all the way back from a 24-0 deficit vs. the Buccaneers, in a game they had to win. “You just try to stay focused on the same processes I have I have all year long,” Cousins said, asked if there’s anything different about preparing for a playoff game.  “I’d be a fool to change something now.”

4-All week, there’s been speculation about the Redskins’ lineup at running back if all four—Alfred Morris, Matt Jones, Chris Thompson and Pierre Thomas—were healthy. Well, it’s looking more likely that the decision will be taken out of Jay Gruden’s hands. Jones, who has missed the past two games with a hip pointer, was “very” limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, according to Gruden. That would leave the rookie with one practice and a walkthrough to get right for Sunday…and that would seem like a longshot at this point. If Jones isn’t able to play, the workload would be split between Morris, Thompson and Thomas for a second straight game. “Unless [Jones] shows us some major improvement …he’s going to be the odd man out.”   

5-Another week, another injury the Redskins must overcome. This time it’s Cary Williams, signed as a free agent on Monday, replacing jack-of-all-trades rookie Kyshoen Jarrett, who was lost for the season in Dallas. How much will Williams play? That’s not clear. But, given the state of the Redskins’ secondary, it could be a decent amount. “He’s had experience playing [on the inside and the outside], so we’re not going to limit him to just playing one spot,” Barry said. “He’s started a bunch of games. He’s played a bunch of big games. He’s played high-level football.” Williams also has a Super Bowl ring, which he won as a member of the Ravens.  

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Roster competition, Brown vs. Pryor

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Roster competition, Brown vs. Pryor

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, June 23, 33 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins  and NBC Sports Washington.

Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense—NFL coaches and others like to tell you that competition determines who wins roster spots in the league. And that may be true to an extent. But many roster spots are predetermined by a player’s contract situation and/or draft status. It is unlikely that an undrafted player like Fish Smithson will win a roster spot over Troy Apke even if the former outperforms the latter in every way during training camp. Apke was a fourth-round pick and they aren’t going to give up on him in favor of an undrafted player. It would cost $3.2 million in dead cap to cut Stacy McGee and only $150,000 to move on from Ziggy Hood so McGee will win a “competition” that is even remotely close. (Offensive projection here)

Redskins will 'have it out' for Terrelle Pryor at training camp—While this is something that could add a little spice to the Jets’ visit to Richmond, don’t look for much of anything to happen. Zach Brown might give a little extra shove to Pryor here and there but he’s not going to do anything that will draw blood or even cause a deep bruise. If nothing else, a big hit on Pryor would invite retaliation by the Jets on Josh Doctson or Paul Richardson. And that might lead to more retaliation and you end up with a brawl like the Redskins and Texans had a couple of years ago.

Trent Williams very much of approves of Smith and Guice—Williams is going into his ninth NFL season and he has yet to be on the winning side of a playoff game. He thinks that Alex Smith and Derrius Guice can help change that. 

The curious case of Alex Smith and the NFL Top 100 list—I normally greet this list with a big yawn and this year was no exception. But I do find the omission of Smith, who led the NFL in passer rating and was third in adjusted net yards per attempt, odd. In an update to this post, the NFL released the names of the top 10 players and Smith is not on it. He shouldn’t be, but he should be somewhere on the 100, perhaps in the middle of the pack. The only Redskins player to appear on the list was Trent Williams at No. 57.

The Redskins' best players who are 25 or younger—It’s likely that nine players who are 25 or younger will line up as starters for the Redskins this year. I don’t have a rundown of how that compares to the rest of the league but it’s notable that in the last two years six of them have replaced players who were either approaching age 30 or over it. I’ll engage in some speculation here and say that five of the young players—Daron Payne, Derrius Guice, Preston Smith, Jonathan Allen, and Montae Nicholson—are good enough to potentially make a Pro Bowl at some point in their careers. 

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

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Former Redskins defensive tackle Dave Butz was born on this date in 1950. 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 33
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 47
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 70

The Redskins last played a game 174 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 78 days. 

In case you missed it

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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,  and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS  and on Instagram @RichTandler