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Why loss is not all Cousins' fault, but he shares blame

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Why loss is not all Cousins' fault, but he shares blame

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ—It looked like Kirk Cousins and the Redskins had turned the corner. It turns out that they actually went all the way around the block and were right back where they started from.

The Redskins quarterback had a rocky go of it in MetLife Stadium as the Giants took an early lead, thanks in part to a Cousins interception, and refused to get caught, beating the Redskins 32-21 in a game that wasn’t quite as close as the final score would indicate. 

Cousins numbers didn’t look bad at first glance. He completed 30 of 49 passes for 316 yards and a touchdown and was sacked just once. But he had two interceptions and that’s only the start of the bad news. 

The first interception was the most damaging. In the first quarter Cousins threw a play action pass over the middle intended for Pierre Garçon. Cornerback Prince Amukamara picked it off. Both Cousins and Jay Gruden called it a nice play by the defender but it looks like the pass never should have been thrown. 

MORE REDSKINS: INSTANT ANALYSIS OF WASHINGTON'S LOSS TO NEW YORK

The other one also shouldn’t have been thrown either. The Redskins were on the move in Giants territory when Cousins scrambled out of the pocket and fired for tight end Derek Carrier, who was closely defended. The pass bounced off of his hands and linebacker Uani ‘Unga made a diving interception. It was a first and 10 play and Cousins said after the game that there was no reason for him to throw that pass.

As noted, there were other issues. In the second quarter he twice fired off-target passes when Jordan Reed was open in the end zone. They settled for field goals on those two drives so instead of trailing just 15-14 at halftime it was 15-6. Other passes were off target and either fell incomplete or forced the receiver to reach for the ball. 

You certainly can’t blame Cousins for everything that went wrong. The Giants blocked a punt that went out of the end zone for the first score of the game. A rushing game that has allowed Cousins to play it safe offensively in the first two games couldn’t get untracked, gaining just 88 yards with 26 of them coming on a Chris Thompson carry as time ran out. Matt Jones, hailed as a rookie sensation just a few days ago rushed for just 38 yards on 11 carries. Alfred Morris rushed for just 19 yards on six carries. 

But the play of the quarterback is on the list of reasons for the rather ugly loss if not at the top. As if we need any reminder that a quarterback who didn’t play well is perpetually on the hot seat in Washington, a reporter asked Jay Gruden if he contemplated make a switch to Colt McCoy when things weren’t going well. Gruden said no but it is clear that Cousins doesn’t have an unlimited amount of rope. 

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Are the Redskins running the ball too much on first down?

Are the Redskins running the ball too much on first down?

After one loss, the play calling of Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is already under fire. After years of being criticized for abandoning the running game, some are saying that he is now running too often, at least on first down. 

The decision of what to do on first-and-10 is one of the basic quandaries of play calling. Running the ball is likely to get you ahead of the sticks but if the play gets stuffed you are facing second-and-8 or 9. Defenses often are geared to stop the run on first down so that affects the success rate. 

Passing on first down can be a more attractive option. Even a quick pass with a few yards after the catch can get you into second and short in a hurry. But passes are incomplete about a third of the time and that leaves the offense looking at second-and-10. The occasional sack or holding penalty can quickly kill a drive. 

This season, Gruden has leaned heavily towards taking the lower risk, lower reward route of running the ball on first down. The Redskins 39 first-down runs are the most in the NFL, one more than the Texans and considerably more than the NFL average of 27 first-down runs. (The numbers here are from Pro Football Reference and are complete through Sunday’s games.) 

Those are the raw numbers. When you break it down into first-down rush percentage, the Redskins are fifth in the league at 58.2 percent. Still, that leans heavily towards the run in a league that passes on first down (51.7%) more often than it runs (48.3%).

In looking at just 2018 we are dealing with a small sample size. The two Redskins games were very different. In their first game, they never trailed, and runs were called on 69 percent of first down plays (25 of 36). Against the Colts where they never led and ran on 45 percent of first downs (14 of 31). 

Looking at a larger set of data covering games from the start of the 2017 season through Sunday’s game, Gruden called runs on 58.5 percent of first-down plays. That was the fifth-highest percentage in the league. The league average seems to shift to more running as the year wears on as over the last full season plus two games teams ran on first down 52.4 percent of the time. 

Looking at the big picture, you might wonder why Gruden ran it so often on first down last year with such a poor (27thin NFL) rushing game. They averaged 3.16 yards per first down run. That was the worst average in the league.

We will track this occasionally as the year goes on. This year, again a small sample size, they are averaging a respectable 4.3 yards on first-down rushing attempts, 10th in the NFL. Let’s see if the strategy shifts, if the defense adjusts and keys to stop the run on first down, and/or if they are having trouble consistently moving the ball. 

Redskins analysis

-Running game struggles: No immediate answers
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Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler

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Need to Know: First look at Redskins vs. Packers

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Need to Know: First look at Redskins vs. Packers

Here is what you need to know on Wednesday, September 19, four days before the Washington Redskins host the Green Bay Packers  

Talking points

The Redskins are taking on the Packers on Sunday and here is a look at what I found out taking a first look at them. 

It’s all about Aaron Rodgers

You can argue about who the best QB in the game is, but you can’t argue that the Packers are a Super Bowl contender with Rodgers and a sub-.500 team without him. No player carries his team to the extent that Rodgers does. We will see what pops up on the injury report regarding Rodgers after that Week 1 knee injury, but it would be foolish to expect anything other than him taking every snap. 

The Packers’ offensive line is a notch below that of the Redskins

They have a pair of quality tackles in LT David Bakhtiari and RT Bryan Bulaga. But they don’t have a Brandon Scherff equivalent on the inside. Between the line and Rodgers’ mobility (which is somewhat in question due to the condition of his knee), they manage to avoid sacks so don’t look for a pass rush that has been struggling to get better against Green Bay. 

Green Bay’s leading rusher is averaging 3.4 yards per carry

Jamaal Williams in the only Packer who is has more than seven rushing attempts. In two games, Green Bay’s 2017 fourth-round pick has 31 carries for 106 yards with a long run of 11. They use converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery as a change of pace back; he has seven carries for 38 yards (5.4 ypc). 

There are solid players on every level of the Packers’ defense

At age 32, Clay Matthews is not the player who made six Pro Bowls and posted double-digit sacks four times from 2009-2015. But it would be inaccurate to say that he’s a shadow of his former self. He has had trouble staying on the field the last couple of years but when he’s healthy, which he is now, he gets pressure. The Redskins wanted to sign DL Sheldon Richardson, a top-notch run stuffer, this offseason but he went to Green Bay. At safety, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has 12 interceptions in four-plus years in the league, including one off of Kirk Cousins last week. 

Ball control will not be enough

The conventional wisdom when it comes to beating the Packers is to control the ball with runs and short passes and keep Rodgers on the sideline. Well, that formula didn’t work for the Redskins against Andrew Luck and the Colts. Washington had the ball for 33 minutes, but red zone problems doomed them. They will have to score touchdowns to win on Sunday. Since the start of the 2016 season, the Packers have only one loss in a game that Rodgers started and finished where their opponent scored fewer than 30 points. As the fight song goes, the points will have to soar if the Redskins are going to have a chance to hail victory. 

Injuries of note

RB Rob Kelly was put on injured reserve with a toe injury. He is a candidate to return from injured reserve after he misses at least eight games. 

The agenda

Today: Alex Smith press conference 12 noon; Practice 1 p.m.; Jay Gruden news conference and open locker room after practice approx. 3 p.m.

Upcoming: Packers @ Redskins (Sept. 23) 4; Redskins @ Saints (October 8) 19; Cowboys @ Redskins 32

In case you missed it

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