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Redskins change at kicker turns into a good move


Redskins change at kicker turns into a good move

Not every personnel decision the Redskins made this offseason has worked out. But one have they made a game into the season has proven to be a stroke of genius.

After their Week 1 loss to the Dolphins, Scot McCloughan and Jay Gruden decided to move on from Kai Forbath, the team’s kicker since early in the 2012 season. Despite his impressive field goal accuracy of 87 percent, his below-average leg strength was an issue they decided they could no longer live with. In 2014 he was 31st in the league in both the percentage of kickoffs that resulted in touchbacks (33 percent) and in net kickoff average (40.7 yards).

In addition, the lack of leg strength made it hard for his coaches to trust him on long field goals. In his first two years in the league he tried four field goals of 50 yards or longer and made two. In the last two seasons, Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden decided to either punt or go for the first down rather then trot Forbath out there for a 50-plus yard field goal.

So after Week 1 it was exit Forbath, enter Dustin Hopkins, who had never played in the NFL. He has boomed 72 percent of his kickoffs for touchbacks and most of them have at least reached the end zone.

In five games as the Redskins kicker he already has two field goals of over 50 yards, as many as Forbath had in 41 games in Washington. Both were impressive. A 52-yarder in the Georgia Dome tied the game with Falcons with two seconds left in regulation.

Although the Redskins lost in overtime, Gruden was very pleased that Hopkins made his first real clutch kick of his short career.

“You’re talking about the total package of being a kicker — the long field goals and the kickoffs — and I think he [Hopkins] has proven that he’s pretty good,” Gruden said the day after the Atlanta game. “He made a huge kick yesterday. He missed one, a long one, but he made one [in] clutch, crunch time, which we were all curious – will he make that kick in a big-time situation, big-time game? He knocked it through there, so that’s exciting — exciting for him and exciting for us moving forward knowing that he’s got that experience in him now and he can make it.”

Last week he navigated the tricky winds in MetLife Stadium to boot a 54-yarder with a few yards to spare.

Gruden also has been impressed with something we have only seen once in a game.

“He’s been outstanding,” Gruden said of Hopkins. “Kicking the ball off, making field goals, his onside kicks – they’re like magic balls, I don’t know he keeps them in play. I don’t know how we haven’t recovered one yet. He’s an amazing onside kicker, but he’s done excellent.”

He has attempted one onside kick, in the fourth quarter against the Jets. The ball made it past the front line and it looked like a couple of Redskins had a shot at it before the Jets recovered. But apparently Gruden has been wowed with the onside kicks in practice. It is likely that Hopkins’ talent will be called upon again as the season goes on. 

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'It's a house divided': The Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is affecting these 'Skins' families

'It's a house divided': The Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is affecting these 'Skins' families

Zach Brown is a fearless player. Turns out, Zach Brown's dad is pretty fearless, too.

That first statement is one you can confirm by watching the Redskins linebacker play each time he takes the field, often times hurt.

The second statement, on the other hand, was confirmed earlier this week in an interview between Brown and JP Finlay about the Washington-Dallas rivalry.

"It got under our skin, knowing we got swept by them [last year]," the defender told Finlay after a weekday practice. "You just hate to go back home and hear them talk so much trash."

The leader of the brave "them" who actually taunt a 250-pound LB following a loss? Oh, just Brown's father, who's a diehard Cowboys supporter.

"My dad was giving it to me," he said while looking back on the 2017 season. "I said, 'Don't worry about it. Next year's gonna be a different movement.'"

"I'm gonna talk trash at the end of this season," Brown added. "It's a house divided."

Adrian Peterson knows what Brown's talking about. The Texas native even went as far as to break down exactly how his own house is divided.

According to him, 75-percent of his family are all about the Cowboys, 10-percent are looking for him to put up good numbers in a 'Boys victory and the final 15-percent have converted to the burgundy and gold.

Rookie corner Greg Stroman can relate as well. The Virginia kid who'll be making his debut in the series he's very familiar with said his grandma and her relatives fall on both sides of the matchup.

Stroman does have one advantage over Brown and Peterson, though. Unlike the two veterans, he was able to get his entire family's rooting interests in order for Sunday, at least.

"They all bought in now," he said.

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Redskins-Cowboys Week 7 preview: A storyline, a stat and a player to watch

Redskins-Cowboys Week 7 preview: A storyline, a stat and a player to watch

This Sunday, for the 117th time, the Redskins and Cowboys will meet. 

Dallas will bring its 3-3 record into FedEx Field and face off with a 3-2 Washington squad. The winner of the contest will guarantee themselves a share of the NFC East lead heading into Week 8.

Here's a storyline, stat and player to watch for the next installment of this rivalry. Once you're done reading those, you can officially start preparing yourself for some sketchy fourth down decisions by Jason Garrett. 

Biggest storyline

Since his tidy but effective game vs. the Packers, Alex Smith turned in a disconcerting performance in New Orleans and a lukewarm effort (albeit a winning one) against the Panthers. Overall, Smith has looked very in control at times but also uneasy and ineffective at others so far in 2018.

So, the biggest storyline in this edition of the series has to do with Smith. If this game calls for it, can he lead the 'Skins to a victory?

That could be difficult vs. the Cowboys. The QB will be without Jamison Crowder again, and on Friday, Jay Gruden listed Paul Richardson as doubtful. Chris Thompson, meanwhile, is questionable.

So, it's likely Smith will be without two of his most talented weapons and possible that he'll be missing three. And on top of that, he'll be operating behind an offensive line that's had issues, which is contributing to his sometimes shaky feet in the pocket.  

To make things even harder, the Dallas defense allows the second-fewest points-per-game in the league and boasts a defensive line that Gruden is very worried about because it employs a scheme that involves a lot of movement. The Colts D-line uses a lot of stunts and movement, too, and they held the 'Skins to just 9 points in Week 2.

Smith has yet to top 300 yards this season or throw for more than two touchdowns in a single outing. He's had no problem winning when the team jumps to an early lead and the running game is going, sure, but he can't count on that each time he starts. 

At some point, his right arm is going to have to be mainly responsible for a Redskins W. And there'd be no better time for that to happen than in his first shot against his new franchise's most-hated opponent.

One key stat

Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott don't know what it's like to play an NFL game vs. Washington and leave that game as the loser. Prescott is 4-0 in his four starts, while Elliott suited up in three of those triumphs. 

Elliott has been a big-time problem for the Redskins in their run-ins. The RB has scored five times against the burgundy and gold and averages 110 yards per appearance. 

Come Sunday around 7:30 or 8 p.m., when Elliott's day is done, odds are you'll be able to look at his stat line and judge the outcome of the game solely based on it.

If Greg Manusky and his defense, particularly his young stars up front, are able to bottle up Zeke, you have to like the Redskins' chances of beating the Cowboys for the first time since the 2015 season finale.

The Redskin to watch

Charley Casserly identified Fabian Moreau as a key Redskin for Week 7 (full video above). Another one worth watching is DJ Swearinger.

Swearinger terrorized Cam Newton last week and really flew around the entire field. He'll need to be as active against the Cowboys and, most importantly, be a sure tackler.

Elliott is going to churn out a few seven- and eight-yard runs. It'll be on Swearinger, plus fellow safety Montae Nicholson, to not let those become 20- or 30-yard gains. 

A lot of the attention, and deservedly so, will go toward what Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis are doing on Sunday. But if Swearinger can take smart angles, get Elliott to the ground and make a few plays in pass coverage, that'll go a long way vs. a limited Dallas offense.

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