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What do the Redskins need to do to build a Super Bowl team?

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What do the Redskins need to do to build a Super Bowl team?

In less than a year, the Redskins completed a stunning turnaround, ascending from a laughingstock in 2014 to a division champion in 2015. But now comes the difficult part: taking that all-important next step and improving from a franchise that was fortunate to get into the playoffs to one that can do some damage once it gets there. And that work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.

In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the 25 biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.

No. 15

How can the Redskins make it to the Super Bowl?

El-Bashir: The Redskins laid a solid foundation in the second half of 2015, no doubt. They learned how to practice with focus and intensity. They learned how to win on the road. They also figured out what it takes to string together a few wins. As a result, Jay Gruden and Co. won five of their final six games en route to claiming the NFC East title.

But once they got into the playoffs, the Redskins learned the hardest lesson of them all: They’ve still got a ways to go before they’re ready to challenge the NFL’s elite. Which leads us to today’s question.

Here are the top three things that must occur for the Redskins to make it to the big game:

  • Kirk Cousins must take his game to the next level. He was outstanding down the stretch, but next season is going to be more challenging. Expectations will be higher. Opponents will be better prepared for him. And the schedule will be harder, too.
  • The defense must be, in a word, better. Each of this year’s final four—Denver, Carolina, New England and Arizona—finished among the top-10 in yards and points allowed. The Redskins, meantime, were 28th and 17th, respectively. Getting Junior Galette back will make the pass rush a lot more dynamic. But GM Scot McCloughan also must address a secondary that allowed 30 passing touchdowns. Only eight teams allowed more and, of course, none of those teams sniffed the postseason.  
  • As good as the passing game proved to be from November on, the Redskins must acquire a reliable running game to complement Cousins and the air attack. Last season, the Alfred Morris and Matt Jones-led ground game averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. As a result, McCloughan has some tough decisions to make. Is Jones ready to be the starter? Or does McCloughan need to make a bold move in free agency or the draft? Whatever he decides, it had better work because 30th in yards per attempt ain't going to cut it, obviously. 

Are there other areas where the Redskins need to be better? Sure. But if they make significant strides in those three, I think they'll be in position to make a run.

Tandler: With the NFL operating under a hard salary cap it is difficult to piece together a team that is dominant on both sides of the ball like the 1991 Redskins did. So building a high-scoring offense and a punishing defense sounds like a good plan on paper but the difficulty of doing so is high.

The Panthers are strong on both sides of the ball but they are in the Super Bowl thanks to the generational talent they have under contract. Carolina has some very good players but wouldn’t be playing in the Super Bowl today if not for Cam Newton. Getting a franchise quarterback is an important part of the formula but unless you have the good fortune of holding the No. 1 pick in a year when a player like Newton is in the draft pool it’s not going to happen.

The Broncos are more like the unbalanced teams that we have seen a lot of in the big game lately. Their offense was pedestrian. Peyton Manning struggled mightily all year. But it’s arguable that due to their defense, first in the league in terms of yards allowed, fourth in points allowed, they could be playing today with just about anyone behind center.

Back to the Redskins and their Super Bowl drought of nearly a quarter of a century, McCloughan’s first task needs to be to get the Redskins to where they are competent on both sides of the ball and then pour resources into one side or the other. It appears that they are further ahead on offense right now so building up the running game and continuing to develop Cousins could be the ticket to bigger and better things. 

25 Questions series

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Barry Trotz's departure reminiscent of Joe Gibbs' resignation in 1993

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Barry Trotz's departure reminiscent of Joe Gibbs' resignation in 1993

The sudden resignation of Barry Trotz as the coach of the Stanley Cup champion Capitals is the most stunning Washington coaching departure since Joe Gibbs retired from the Redskins about 13 months after the team won its third Super Bowl in a 10-year span. 

In the years leading up to Gibbs’ departure, there were some rumblings that he might leave. As early as 1986, John Madden said that Gibbs was a candidate to burn out of the profession early. During the 1989 season, Gibbs said that he was contemplating retirement, but he retracted his words the next day. In 1990, columnist and TV pregame panelist Will McDonough reported that Gibbs would retire after the season. Retirement rumors popped up again in early 1992, just two days before Super Bowl XXVI. Again, Gibbs denied them. The Redskins easily beat the Bills to claim their third championship in 10 years and there was no apparent reason why such a successful coach would think about leaving. 

Redskins fans had become so used to hearing the Gibbs retirement reports that many just started to tune them out. So on the morning of March 5, 1993, when reports of Gibbs’ resignation as coach started to circulate, many were in a state of denial.

That turned out to be wishful thinking. The fans were given a hard jolt of reality when the team announced a noon press conference. 

There the coach was on TV, as promised, confirming the news. He said it was a family decision. 

“Every year, we get away and talk about it,” Gibbs said. “We always reach the same conclusion. This year, it was different. The boys didn’t encourage me one way or another, but they understood when I told them what I was thinking. I think Pat’s happier than anyone. This isn’t an easy lifestyle for a coach’s wife. The coach is the guy who stands up and hears everyone tell him how great he is. The wife is the one waiting at home alone while the coach is spending every night at the office. 

“I wanted more time with my family. I wanted more time with my sons. I look at this as a window of opportunity with them and I couldn’t let it pass.” 

Although he has been diagnosed with a condition that has caused some pain and some difficulty in sleeping, Gibbs said that health was not a factor in his decision. 

Richie Petitbon, the team’s longtime defensive coordinator, was named the team’s new head coach. It had to be one of the shortest job interviews ever. 

“I get a call from Mr. Cooke who tells me Joe has retired and that he wants me to coach the Redskins,” Petitbon said. “After I picked myself up off the floor, I said yes.” 

After hearing the news, most Redskins fans had to pick themselves up as well.  

Petitbon lasted only one season as the head coach and the other eight head coaches who followed, including Gibbs himself in a four-year second stint, have been unable to get the Redskins back to the Super Bowl. Coincidentally, the Caps’ head coaching job is widely expected to go to Todd Reirden, who was Trotz’s top assistant just as Pettitbon was Gibbs’. 

Washington fans hope that the Caps have better fortune with Trotz’s successors. 

More Redskins

- 53-man roster: Roster projection--Offense
- 53-man roster: Best players 25 or younger

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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Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, June 19, 37 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense 

It may still be early to project the roster, but things are coming into focus after the round of practices in helmets and shorts. Here is my look at who I think will make it on defense; the offense was posted yesterday.

Defensive line (7)
Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier, Stacy McGee, Tim Settle, Ziggy Hood

I don’t think that McGee’s groin injury will be an issue, but it seemed that Jay Gruden was very tight-lipped about the whole thing, so we will have to wait until training camp starts. This is one more than they normally carry here and Hood’s presence on the roster could be in danger if injuries force the team to carry more players at another position. 

Outside linebacker (4)
Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Ryan Anderson, Pernell McPhee

Anderson is certain to make the roster, but he was mostly invisible during the offseason practices that were open to the media. The spotlight will be on last year’s second-round pick in training camp. After a zero-sack rookie season, Anderson will be under pressure to produce this season. 

Inside linebacker (5)
Zach Brown, Mason Foster, Zach Vigil, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaun Dion Hamilton

The player I have on the wrong side of the bubble here is Martrell Spaight. If he does work his way on, the spot most in jeopardy is Vigil’s. Harvey-Clemons got a lot of reps with the first team in OTAs and the team thinks he can help in nickel situations and perhaps more. And Gruden called Hamilton a potential future starter. So the two younger players seem safe, leaving Vigil vulnerable.

Cornerback (6)
Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau, Orlando Scandrick, Josh Holsey, Greg Stroman

As is the case with the running backs that I looked at yesterday, this group seems to be pretty well set. It’s not that it’s an exceptionally strong group, but there isn’t a lot of real competition. Behind these six are three undrafted free agents, and while Danny Johnson, Kenny Ladler, and Ranthony Texada all have had flashes in the offseason practices, they are extreme long shots to make the roster at this point. 

Safety (4)
D.J. Swearinger, Montae Nicholson, Deshazor Everett, Troy Apke

If there are concerns about Nicholson’s health—to be clear, as of now there are none—Fish Smithson could make it as a fifth safety. 

Specialists (3)
K Dustin Hopkins, P Tress Way, LS Nick Sundberg

It looks like the Redskins will have the same trio of specialists for the fourth straight year. I will look it up at some point but for now, I’ll say that it’s been a while since they had such stability here. 


Defensive players: 26
Rookies (5): 
Payne, Settle, Hamilton, Stroman, Apke
New to the Redskins in 2018 (7): Rookies plus McPhee, Scandrick
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster (13): Rookies plus new players plus Vigil (released in the final cut, re-signed later in the season). 

On the 53-man roster:

24 offense, 26 defense, 3 specialists
Rookies: 8
New to the Redskins in 2017: 12
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster: 16

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:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 37
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 51
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 74

The Redskins last played a game 170 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 82 days. 

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