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Redskins' Gruden: 'We've got to flip the script' on special teams

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Redskins' Gruden: 'We've got to flip the script' on special teams

When Jay Gruden took over as the head coach of the Redskins in 2014, he inherited one of the worst special teams units in NFL history. Seventeen games into his tenure, problems in the kicking game remain.

The Redskins' latest special teams gaffe cost them a game. With the Redskins tied with the Dolphins early in the fourth quarter, Miami’s Jarvis Landry took a Tress Way punt, found some room up the middle, put a move on Way, and was gone, 69 yards for the touchdown. That put the Dolphins in the lead at 17-10, which was the final score.

What went wrong? Plenty, according to Gruden. For one thing, Way outkicked his coverage with his 54-yard boot with about five seconds of hang time. But it was more than just that.

“We did have a couple of guys out of their lanes,” said Gruden. “Our gunner got pinned on the outside, he couldn’t get off a block. It’s just a matter of once the ball is kicked, we have to get off blocks better. We’ve got to have some good lane integrity. We had neither. We didn’t get off blocks, we missed a couple tackles down there.”

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Last year the Redskins allowed both a punt return and a kickoff return for touchdowns. In addition, they had a punt blocked and that was returned for six points. Washington has not had a special teams return touchdown of its own since 2010 and Gruden is tired of seeing other teams have all the fun.

 “It is deflating,” he said. “We’ve got to flip that script. We have to get some of those. We have to change the momentum in our favor. Seems like the last couple years, the kickoff returns have gone against us, the punt returns have gone against us, the blocked punts have gone against us. We have to start doing that ourselves, blocking some punts, returning some kicks. It’s going to take work and these guys have got to come out and buy into what they’re doing on special teams. I think we’re coaching them up well. We’ve got to coach better and we obviously have got to play better. But we have got to do better on special teams.”  

Getting better in the kicking game obviously is easier said than done. Mike Shanahan talked about it a lot in 2013 and Gruden has paid plenty of lip service to special teams. But even though there has been marginal improvement in special teams since 2013, there still is a long way to go.  

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Redskins OC Matt Cavanaugh takes you inside Vernon Davis' touchdown against the Panthers

Redskins OC Matt Cavanaugh takes you inside Vernon Davis' touchdown against the Panthers

With NFL RedZone, All-22 footage and GamePass, it’s literally never been easier to access information about your favorite teams and players. Still, nothing can quite beat the actual players and coaches, especially those who drew up those plays in the first place.

Redskins offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh was happy to share some insight on the touchdown pass Alex Smith threw to Vernon Davis to kick off the scoring against the Panthers in Week 6. 

The Redskins took over possession after a Carolina turnover, and the offense was ready to strike quickly. Smith found Davis wide open in the end zone and connected with his longtime tight end to give the ‘Skins an early 7-0 lead.

Interestingly, as Cavanaugh points out, the play was designed to clear out space for the team’s top tight end, Jordan Reed. Instead, the Panthers safety rolled towards Reed, who is generally seen as the more likely receiving threat. You can see in the video of the play that Smith does look towards Reed first, and then noticed the rolling safety leaving Davis wide open down the seam.

Cavanaugh also emphasizes how vital it is for the offense to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

“When we’re not on the field and the defense creates a turnover and all of a sudden we’re back out there, we gotta be ready to score, particularly when we get the ball in that great field position. It’s huge, it obviously set the tone for the rest of the game for us.”

A one play, 22-yard drive certainly does show off an offensive unit ready to score quickly and without the benefit of a long possession to get into rhythm.

Hopefully Cavanaugh doesn’t give away too many of his X’s and O’s secrets, but it’s always fascinating to experience a behind-the-scenes look at important plays. It’s even more fun when those plays are of Redskins touchdowns, and it’s the most fun when those plays are of Redskins touchdowns that come in Redskins victories.

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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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