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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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Cassanova McKinzy brave in face of stepbrother’s death with standout performance vs. Atlanta

Cassanova McKinzy brave in face of stepbrother’s death with standout performance vs. Atlanta

In the Redskins' 19-7 preseason victory over the Falcons, outside linebacker Cassanova McKinzy arguably solidified his spot on the 53-man roster. 

The former Auburn linebacker recorded three tackles and two sacks, one of which resulted in a forced fumble. The other, McKinzy blew by the left tackle using a Demarcus Ware-like technique to have a free run at the quarterback.

McKinzy, who is positioning himself to be on an active roster to start a season for the first time in his career, was asked by NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay if any of the coaches had said anything to him regarding his stellar performance and roster status.

"I had a couple of coaches saying 'good job,' but I haven't talked to anyone," McKinzy told Finlay. "I stayed out there a little longer than I was supposed to."

After the clock hit zero and the initial on-field postgame exchanges concluded, McKinzy stayed a little bit longer on the turf. He had to let his emotion out.

Just three days prior, the linebacker's stepbrother had passed away. 

"I haven't cried all week. I haven't let anything out. I haven't told anybody. That was just my time to let it all out," McKinzy said. "I feel a little better, and when I get around my family, I'll feel even better. I'll see them tonight."

Despite his devastating loss, McKinzy was able to stay focused on football. Very few people, if anyone, in Redskins Park knew what the linebacker was going through.

He didn't want anyone to know, either.

"No one really knew. I didn't tell anyone because, at the end of the day, it's still my job," he said. "I don't want any pity from nobody. I just want to go out there and do my job and show that I can keep focus, no matter what's going on in my life."

"I have to do my job," he continued. "In that building, the only thing that matters is football. Everything else, you have to keep outside the building."

The linebacker was able to do just that on Thursday, as his standout preseason continued. In the three seasons since he went undrafted, McKinzy has just one NFL tackle to his name. He's changed his body and gotten quicker, and if this preseason is any indication, he could be a viable pass rusher for the Burgundy and Gold in 2019. 

While No. 58 would not say he dedicated his performance to his late stepbrother, it did give him, if anything, a little extra motivation.

"I would say half and half," on whether he dedicated his performance to his late step-brother. "I came out today saying I was going to work on some things, and I worked on them. I came out and said I was going to start reading, being better with my keys and more consistent running to the ball. Just paying attention to what the tackles were giving me, the whole nine."

While he's likely played himself onto the 53-man roster, McKinzy doesn't believe he's a sure thing yet.

"I wouldn't say lock, I still have a lot of work to do," he said. "It felt real good just to be back out there and do what I know how to do."

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Five takeaways from Redskins-Falcons, including notes on Landon Collins and the receivers

Five takeaways from Redskins-Falcons, including notes on Landon Collins and the receivers

The Redskins won't go winless in the 2019 preseason. On Thursday night, the team took down the Falcons 19-7 in their third exhibition contest of the year.

The biggest news of the night, unfortunately, is the concussion Jordan Reed sustained in the first half. The star tight end has had numerous head injuries in his career and as of now, it's unknown if he'll be ready to play Week 1 against the Eagles.

Aside from that tough blow, though, Jay Gruden learned plenty of important things about his roster. Here are five of the biggest takeaways.

1) Derrius Guice should help this offense right away

After his promising performance, the running back tweeted out a handful of happy emojis — and for good reason. He got the chance to play for the first time in more than a year, but he sure didn't run like someone who's been out of football for that long.

In Atlanta, Guice broke plenty of tackles, showed a sweet combination of patience and burst and found a way to pick up yardage when there wasn't much to pick up. In all, his 11-carry, 44-yard evening indicated that he has the potential to really elevate Jay Gruden's offense. 

2) This team has to be especially careful with its turnovers

Case Keenum's first half fumble put the defense in a difficult spot and led to the Falcons' lone touchdown of the game. Those are the kind of mistakes he and the Burgundy and Gold can't afford much of this year.

In 2018, Alex Smith may not have lit it up with his right arm, but he did a fantastic job at limiting his turnovers. Between Keenum, Dwayne Haskins and maybe Colt McCoy, there probably will be a spike in giveaways in 2019. 

Now, if those signal callers can keep that spike to a minimum, maybe the Redskins can put together a playoff-caliber campaign. If not, things will be ugly, because they simply don't have the firepower to make up for lost possessions.

3) Landon Collins looks like a force on the back end

The expensive safety popped with some run stops as well as a terrific read and near-interception of Matt Ryan on Thursday. Afterward, he gushed about how well he and Montae Nicholson are meshing on the defense's last line.

If you like picture-perfect form tackling, then you're going to like watching Collins go to work all season long. He and Nicholson could become one hell of a duo for Greg Manusky.

4) Cassanova McKinzy may be a sneaky good pass rusher

Ryan Kerrigan and Montez Sweat are the headliners at outside linebacker, but don't overlook McKinzy. The 26-year-old posted two sacks and also jarred the ball loose on one of those takedowns.

Much like what they'll need to do on the interior defensive line, it'll be necessary for the Redskins to rotate Kerrigan and Sweat so they aren't worn out by November. Maybe McKinzy can be that third threat and a specialist on third downs for the unit.

5) There are a lot of useful receivers, but no true No. 1

Cam Sims put together his best stat line of the preseason and Kelvin Harmon showed up as well. Then you have Paul Richardson, Trey Quinn and Terry McLaurin who figure to see tons of snaps on the outside, plus Robert Davis, who's had the best August of all the wideouts.

As mentioned earlier, there isn't an abundance of big-time playmakers on offense and that includes the receivers, where no true No. 1 exists. Maybe, just maybe, there are enough good targets, though, to keep defenses off balance and provide the QB multiple places to go in passing situations.

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