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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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Week 6's Redskins game marked another successful celebration of the THINK-PINK! campaign

Week 6's Redskins game marked another successful celebration of the THINK-PINK! campaign

During the Redskins-Panthers Week 6 matchup, the FedEx Field end zones ditched their usual gold trim for some pink instead. As it turns out, burgundy and pink go quite well together.

The reason for the change was to celebrate the Redskins Breast Cancer Awareness game as well as the 20th anniversary of Tanya Snyder's THINK-PINK! campaign.

Mrs. Snyder started the movement two decades ago by passing out 8,000 handmade pink ribbons at the team's stadium meant to remind people that early detection of breast cancer can make a major difference.

Now, her campaign has gone league-wide and is the reason you see so many players wearing pink in October, fans waving pink towels in the stands and other awareness-raising initiatives throughout the NFL.

"Very, very, very proud," Snyder said while handing out ribbons before the Washington-Carolina game. "We're not finished, but we are making a difference with early detection. So I'm beaming." 

For more information on Snyder and the NFL's breast cancer efforts, head to redskins.com/thinkpink. And for more details about the events held at FedEx Field during Week 6, check out the video above.

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Redskins need a winning streak to convince legion of skeptics

Redskins need a winning streak to convince legion of skeptics

If you want to, you can find plenty of things wrong with the Redskins’ 23-17 win over the Panthers. The home team was up 17-0 in the second quarter and yet had to hang on as the Panthers reached the red zone with a chance to win in the last minute. The game got tight because the Redskins continued their second-half scoring problems, putting up just six points. Alex Smith passed for just 153 yards. 

But you can’t poke holes in the fact that the Redskins are 3-2 and in first place in the NFC East. Sure, there is a long way to go. But consider this—a Redskins schedule that looked rough at the beginning of the season doesn’t look quite as tough. In fact, right now the Redskins have a better winning percentage than any team they will play in their remaining 11 games. 

Yes, that’s right. They have six games to play in the division, two each against the Cowboys and Eagles, both now 3-3, and the 1-5 Giants. Their two remaining games against the NFC South are against the 2-3 Bucs and the 2-4 Falcons. The schedule is rounded out with games against three AFC South teams, the Titans, Texans, and Jaguars. All three of those teams are tied atop the division at 3-3. 

Of course, you can’t expect all of these teams to still be wallowing around .500 when they face the Redskins. It looks like the Eagles and Falcons are on the upswing and in today’s NFL any team can get hot at any time. 

And, as the Redskins demonstrated in their Week 2 loss to the Colts, they are capable of losing to a weak team. They still have plenty of issues they have to correct if they plan on maintaining their winning record and staying in contention for the division title. They won’t survive if they continue to have difficulty scoring in the second half (their only second-half TD this season came in garbage time against the Saints). They need to get more sacks from Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith, who have one combined. Plenty of details need to be ironed out. 

But the fact that they are a flawed team doesn’t take away from the fact that they got a quality win over the Panthers. Carolina was 3-1, coming off of an 11-5 playoff season. On top of that, the Redskins had not beaten the Panthers since 2006, a stretch that included an 0-4 record against Cam Newton. They didn’t commit a turnover for the first time this year and they got a season-high three takeaways. Christian McCaffrey came into the game averaging 83 yards per game and left it averaging 70 after picking up 20 yards on eight carries. 

With all of that said, the Redskins still have to overcome their inconsistency. They have won two games in a row just twice since the beginning of the 2017 season. Nobody is going to believe that anything is different about the Redskins until they can string together three or four wins in a row. Until then, skepticism will abound. 

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