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Preview: Can the Redskins defy long odds on Sunday?

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Preview: Can the Redskins defy long odds on Sunday?

The Redskins are 3-4. The defending champion Patriots are 7-0.

The Redskins are scoring 21 points per game. The Patriots are putting up 36.

The Redskins struggle to win on the road. The Patriots are almost automatic at home.

The Redskins’ quarterback will be making his 17th career start. The Patriots’ quarterback is a future Hall of Famer.

Indeed, on paper, Sunday’s game at Foxboro looks like a monumental mismatch, which explains why Washington has been installed as a 14-point underdog. But games, of course, aren’t contested on paper and the Redskins, like every team that’s lined up against Tom Brady and Co. this season, believe they’ve got a chance.

Whether that’s actually true or not, well, we’re about to find out. Before Sunday's game, be sure to catch Redskins Kickoff on CSN Mid-Atlantic at noon and afterward tune into Redskins Postgame Live at 4.

Here are Tarik’s five areas/matchups to monitor:

1-Brady is motivated after a tumultuous offseason and, at 38, appears to be getting better with age. In fact, he’s one pace for an NFL-record 5,509 yards to go along with 46 touchdowns and two interceptions. And the crazy thing about it is this: everyone knows they're going to throw, and yet they still can’t stop Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and the league's most dangerous air attack. Can the Redskins be the first to do it this season? “There’s always a fine line when you play a great quarterback,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “Do you drop a bunch of guys into coverage? [Because] that limits your rush. Do you bring a bunch of guys in the rush? Well, then you’re limited in coverage. We’ll have a mixture.” The opportunity to pressure Brady figures to be there. Although Brady gets the ball out of his hand faster than any QB in the league, he’s been sacked 18 times this season (11th most).    

2-Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins acknowledged this week that he has patterned his game after Brady’s, having spent years studying his mechanics, etc. Cousins, of course, is attempting to establish himself as a quality starter in the NFL. And the next step for the fourth-year signal caller is eliminating the peaks and valleys and finding some consistency. Sunday will be an opportunity to do just that, and to do it against a Patriots’ defense that’s yielding 19 points per game (8th best.) Cousins earned NFC East player of the Week honors after leading the Redskins back from a 24-0 deficit against the Bucs. Sunday would be a good time to follow up that breakthrough performance with a second straight triple-digit passer rating—something he’s never done in successive starts.    

3-Tackling was a point of emphasis in practice this week for the Redskins after their poor display against the Bucs. In that game, the defense missed 13 tackles, according to ProFootballFocus.com. “We have not tackled well,” Barry conceded. “Going back over [the film during] the bye week, really looking at the [big] plays we’ve given up, I’d say as high as 85-percent of the plays we’ve given up have simply been on missed tackles.” Barry also noted that CBA rules limiting padded practices have hurt tackling technique across the league.  

4-Is this the week that the Redskins’ running game gets back on track? The ground attack has been a non-factor the past three games (51, 34 and 50 yards, respectively). Coach Jay Gruden said self-evaluation during the bye revealed that the struggles are the result of multiple breakdowns, including play-calling. “Mainly, it’s trying to do a better job of sticking with it [as a staff] and just performing better, executing better with everybody,” he said. “It’s not one person who we can really isolate [and say], ‘Honestly, we have to fix his technique.’” Although Gruden said no lineup changes were made during the bye, it’s worth keeping an eye on the running backs’ workload. Rookie Matt Jones received more carries than Alfred Morris vs. the Falcons and Bucs (Jones was sidelined against the Jets by a toe injury).   

5-The Redskins’ overall health has steadily improved in recent weeks after hitting a low point last month in New Jersey, where they were without six starters against the Jets. The big ones to monitor on Sunday are wide receiver DeSean Jackson (hamstring) and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (hand). Jackson, who’s been sidelined since Week 1, says he expects to play and Kerrigan says he hopes to play with a cast covering his right hand. Later Friday, Gruden will declare every injured player as probable, questionable, doubtful or out.

MORE REDSKINS: Bye week has not been an advantage for the Redskins  

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 20, two days before the Washington Redskins start OTAs.  

Best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Last week I took a stab at figuring out what the best-case and worst-case scenarios were for the key players on offense and defense. While individual stats are fun to track, it’s what the team does that really matters. What range of outcomes is realistic for the 2018 Redskins? While anything is possible, here are my thoughts on the best they are likely to be able to do and the worst. 

In both cases, I am assuming that the Redskins have reasonably good fortune when it comes to injuries and that the good and bad bounces of the ball equal out over the course of the season. 

Worst case: 6-10, last in NFC East

This is based mostly on Alex Smith having a tough time adjusting to Jay Gruden’s offense, his new teammates, and the NFC. Thinking he could struggle is not just negative thinking, there is history to back it up. 

Smith was traded from the 49ers to the Chiefs in 2013. In his first nine games, he completed just 59.7 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and four interceptions He had an adjusted net yards per attempt of 5.23. Had he finished the season there he would have ranked 28th in the NFL. His passer rating was 81.4, which would have ranked 25th. It’s safe to say he was off to a very slow start. 

But the Chiefs went 8-1 in those nine games. It is doubtful that the Redskins could survive such a slow start. In the past three seasons, with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, they were 4-17 in games where Cousins’ passer rating was under 90. If you drop the ceiling to 81, the record drops to 0-14. 

Kansas City managed to start 9-0 in 2013 because of a running game that produced at least 100 yards rushing every game and a defense that got at least one takeaway every game and got three or more turnovers in a game five times. 

Could the Redskins duplicate that and survive a slow start by Smith? It’s possible, but this is the worst-case scenario. And there is no guarantee that the Redskins will significantly improve a running attack that was 27thin the league last year or a rushing defense that was dead last. 

Offensively, the hope is that Derrius Guice will improve the running game. But rookies are, well rookies. And being a high draft pick is no guarantee of success. In the past three drafts, 20 running backers were drafted in the first three rounds. Of those players, four rushed for 750 yards or more as rookies. Maybe Guice will be one of the productive players but the odds are not in his favor. This isn’t saying he will be a bust; however, he may not have instant impact. 

One other note about the rushing game. It’s important to remember that both tackles are coming off of surgery, the right guard was injured last year, the center has all of six starts under his belt, and left guard remains up in the air. Maybe everything will hum when the season starts but that seems like a tall order. 

Improvement in the stopping the run also relies at least in part on rookies. Daron Payne will have an adjustment period as will Tim Settle. The inside linebacker spot should be stronger but it’s hard to say that it will be a strength. The rushing defense probably won’t be last again, but it may not climb out of the twenties in the rankings. 

The Redskins haven’t been awful at getting takeaways, but they have not done it at a consistently game-changing level. They have three or more takeaways in a game five times in their last 30 games. I don’t see any reason to think that this will change dramatically. 

To put the 6-10 worst-case scenario onto the schedule, the Redskins could go 2-4 in the division with splits against the Cowboys and Giants and getting swept by the Eagles. Against the NFC South, which had three teams with 10 wins or more last year, they might be 1-3. That leaves a split with the AFC South (two of the final eight teams in the playoffs last year) and of their two other NFC games for a 6-10 record. 

Best-case scenario: 10-6, Wild card, win a playoff game

This scenario doesn’t require a whole lot of explanation beyond flipping the elements of the worst case into more positive outcomes. 

Smith could pick up where he left off last year when he completed 67.5 percent of his passes and was third in the league with 7.2 adjusted net yards per attempt. Maybe the yards per attempt will drop some as he tries to find a consistent deep target.

A healthy Jordan Reed would help Smith out tremendously. If Reed can participate in most of training camp, the two could hit the ground running. Smith’s ability to connect with Josh Doctson on some 50-50 balls also will be important. 

As for the running game, Guice could break out early behind a line that gels quickly. It’s not out of the question for him to gain 1,000 yards (that’s just about 65 yards per game), maybe a little more. A healthy Chris Thompson could kick in over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. 

Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis could pick up right where they left off last year before Allen was lost for the season with a foot injury and Ioannidis missed two games with a broken hand and was hampered by the injury for a few weeks after that. That would let Payne and Settle, well, settle into the pro game. 

The Redskins also would need at least to maintain the solid pass defense they had last year. And they would benefit from fewer turnovers on offense (27 last year, 26thin the NFL) and by adding a few takeaways to the 23 they got in 2017.

So how could they pull this off? The would need to go 4-2 in the division, with a sweep of the Giants and splits against Philly and Dallas. They then would need 2-2 records against the NFC South and AFC South. That part of it is probably the toughest task. To get to 10 they would need to beat the Cardinals on the road in the season opener and then have a good day against Aaron Rodgers and get a win over the Packers. It’s not an easy road but if enough pieces fall into place it’s not out of the question. 

A 10-6 record should be good enough for a wild-card spot. If they get through their fairly tough schedule with double-digit wins, they should be good enough to go on the road and take out the three or four seed. 

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

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 23
—Training camp starts (7/26) 68
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 82

The Redskins last played a game 139 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 113 days. 

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Rookie camp report, Guice a fan favorite

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Rookie camp report, Guice a fan favorite

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, May 19, three days before the Washington Redskins start OTAs.  

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

Five key upcoming free agent decisions for the Redskins—Some may say it’s too early to talk about 2019 free agents but the key to Redskins keeping their own players has been to lock them up before they hit free agency. It will be interesting to see what unfolds between now and the start of the season regarding Preston Smith, Jamison Crowder, and a few others. 

Redskins 2017 draft picks who must step up this season—While the focus is on the newly acquired draft picks and free agents if the Redskins are going to improve this year some of the players already on the team will need to contribute more. The bulk of the members of that club are from the 2017 draft class. Who will this year’s versions for Kendall Fuller and Matt Ioannidis? 

A post-draft look at the possible Redskins defense three years from now—I was a little wary of posting a look three years down the road but after I wrote it I’m glad I did. And the posts did fairly well (you can find the post on the offense here) so that was a bonus. The best thing I found out while putting this together was the possible 2021 defensive; you can find it at the bottom of the post).

Redskins rookie camp practice report—The draft picks and other rookies get introduced to the NFL game, the rookies get introduced to the coaches, the media, and each other, and everybody (at least all of the draft picks) looks good. There are a few good takeaways to be had—Troy Apke’s makeup speed, Trey Quin’s ability to put a DB on the ground—the real action starts when they put the pads on down in Richmond. 

Tweet of the week

Perhaps I was late to the party. It looks like Guice already is a fan favorite and the hype train is starting to roll. He’s not anywhere near where RGIII was in 2012 but the dynamic is the same. 

It easy for everything to be great now. Guice is hustling and being a leader among the rookies and all is well. All of those red-hot draft day rumors about his character have vanished. The test will come if he fumbles at a key moment in a regular season game or if he has a three-week stretch where he averages 3.1 yards per carry. Then his upbeat personality might not play as well. Or it might not be as upbeat. And if he doesn’t take criticism well things could deteriorate further. 

This is not a prediction that things will not go well for Guice, just that the road could get bumpy. It often does for NFL rookies. 

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

Timeline  

Former Redskins linebacker London Fletcher was born on this date in 1975.

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 25
—Training camp starts (7/26) 69
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 83

The Redskins last played a game 138 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 114 days. 

In case you missed it