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Redskins' offensive line holding steady

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Redskins' offensive line holding steady

In the preseason, it appeared that a banged up and unproven line might hold back a potentially explosive Redskins’ offense.

But Kory Lichtensteiger returned from a second knee surgery, Chris Chester’s ankle sprain turned out to be minor, and most important, reserve Tyler Polumbus proved to be an adequate replacement for the injured Jammal Brown.

While it might be a stretch to call the Redskins’ offensive line one of the team’s strengths, the unit certainly has performed much better than anticipated through the season's first six games.

“Overall, I’ve been happy with our guys,” Coach Mike Shanahan said this week. “They are starting to feel very comfortable with the system. They know what they are doing and it shows on the field.”

Quarterback Robert Griffin III has been sacked 12 times, a lower total that 17 other starters and has been hit an average of 5.8 times per game. Some of that, of course, is Griffin’s elusiveness. Some of it, though, is the result of an offensive line that’s in sync and doing an effective job in pass protection.

For comparison’s sake, Arizona’s Kevin Kolb has been sacked 27 times, while Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 23 times. 

The statistics also show Washington’s Trent Williams-led offensive line has been effective in run blocking.

The Redskins rank second in the NFL in rushing yards with 996. Rookie running back Alfred Morris leads the way with 538, while Griffin has amassed 379, the most among quarterbacks.

The unit has, however, seen its share of struggles from time to time. Against the Bengals, for example, Griffin was sacked six times for a total loss of 53 yards and contacted 13 other times while passing. In that game, Williams suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and his replacement, Jordan Black, was not sharp.

That game was the line's low point. Sunday's triumph over the Vikings' top-tier defense, meantime, marked its best effort.

Griffin was sacked just once and hit while passing only three times. The team also rushed for 183 yards, a total highlighted by Griffin’s 76-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. That play began with center Will Montgomery and guards Lichtensteiger and Chester opening a gaping hole for Griffin at the line of scrimmage.

Asked about the line’s unexpected improvement, Shanahan singled out three keys: health, chemistry and Polumbus’ emergence. Polumbus, a 6 foot 8, 305-pound tackle, was signed last November as a depth player. But he won the starting right tackle job in training camp, replacing Brown, who remains on the physically unable to perform list with a hip condition.

“There were a number of people that worried about our offensive line,” Shanahan said. “We have stayed fairly healthy, which is always a big advantage. The offensive line is a group of people working together as a unit. Everybody’s got a piece of the puzzle.”

He added: “The big addition has been Tyler Polumbus. He’s come in and he’s done a good job of picking up the system very quickly. Hopefully, he’ll keep on improving.”

On the other side of the line, Williams is quietly putting together a Pro Bowl-caliber season, a bid underscored by his standout performance against Jared Allen last week. Allen recorded a sack late in the game, but the Vikings’ star defensive end beat tight end Logan Paulsen on that play, not Williams.

“I don’t even like watching my rookie year film, because it’s not me,” Williams asked about his progress. “ It’s basically two different players at this point. Last year, I improved a lot. But even that player last year is not the player you see now. It’s experience.”

Williams also knows the line’s biggest challenge awaits Sunday at the Meadowlands. In addition to Jason Pierre Paul, the Redskins must contend with Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, among others. 

“They have the best front four the league has to offer,” Williams said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge.”

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Redskins vs Giants Preview: 5 things you need to know as 'Skins get desperate

Redskins vs Giants Preview: 5 things you need to know as 'Skins get desperate

The Redskins travel to take on the Giants, and despite recent history holding them down in New York, at 0-2 Washington is desperate for a win. Not only are the Redskins winless and the Giants undefeated at 2-0, New York already has a NFC East division win, pushing Jay Gruden's bunch further down the standings. Here are five things to know for Sunday's action, which kicks off at 1 p.m. from The Meadowlands. Weather looks good for the game, and all the coverage starts at noon on CSN.

  1. No more talky talky - All week, it seemed New York players were taking shots at the Redskins. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins had choice words for DeSean Jackson, and former Washington linebacker Keenand Robinson sounded off about the 'Skins a few different times. That doesn't even bring into account the mountain of trash talk exchanged between Odell Beckham and Josh Norman since last year's heated matchup between the two. Finally, on Sunday, the talk will end and the gmae will start. 
  2. Got to get over the hump - The Redskins struggles this season can be attributed to multiple factors, but a big one is the offense's inability to score touchdowns. Kirk Cousins has passed for nearly 700 yards in just two games, the Washington offense has moved the ball well until they get in the Red Zone. "We’ve got to be ready to execute," offensive coordinator Sean McVay said of scoring TDs. "We did put a little extra emphasis specifically on some of those things."
  3. Giving up ground - Look at the box scores from Week 1 and 2 and it's clear the Redskins do not run the ball enough. Matt Jones has 20 carries in two games; ideally a running back would get close to 20 carries per game. Repeatedly Gruden and McVay have said they strive for a run/pass balance, but don't expect that to come this week. "We want to run the ball, we want to be balanced there’s no question about that, I think every team does. But, really at the end of the day, the best way we think to attack will be shown on Sunday," Gruden said. The Giants are giving up about 70 yards per game on the ground, and while the 'Skins absolutely need to commit to the run, this might not be the week it starts.
  4.  Man on Manning - For the second time in three weeks, the Redskins face a potential Hall of Fame quarterback in Eli Manning. Manning has had an impressive start to the season, completing nearly 74 percent of his passes with 3 TDs and just one interception. If Manning has a weakness, like any quarterback, it's when he gets rushed and hit consitently, and the Giants offensive line is not a strength. The Redskins pass rush has not been particulary effective yet this season, but team sources suggested some changes could be coming, particularly on third downs. Trent Murphy showed good burst last week against Dallas, and if he can maintain that pace and Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith play at their top level, the pressure could mount on Manning. 
  5. Playing slots - With Beckham, Cruz and Shepard, wide receiver is obviously a strength for the Giants. That said, cornerback should be a strength for the Redskins as well. Much has been made of the potential Norman-Beckham matchup, but look for the Redskins to show new looks in nickel coverage, perhaps even bringing Bashaud Breeland into the slot to combat Cruz and/or Shepard. 

Numbers & Notes:

  • The Redskins have not won in New York since 2011.
  • If Kirk Cousins throws one TD pass he will tie Gus Frerotte (48) for eighth-most career touchdown passes in Redskins history.
  • Pierre Garçon is nine catches away from 500 career receptions.
  • Ryan Kerrigan is one sack away from 50 career sacks.

Want more - listen to #RedskinsTalk Podcast below for Giants preview with Ralph Vacchiano.

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Redskins Gruden on rookie Kendall Fuller: He's just the odd man out, for now

Redskins Gruden on rookie Kendall Fuller: He's just the odd man out, for now

When the Redskins drafted Kendall Fuller out of Virginia Tech, many considered it a steal. Widely considered one of the top corners in the country going into the 2015 college football season, Fuller's draft stock fell after a knee injury, allowing the Redskins to poach the Hokie in the third round. 

The good news for Fuller and Washington is that his knee has not been an issue. Fuller played throughout training camp and the preseason, showing the rookie learning curve at times while making plays and strong tackles in other spots. Through two games, however, Fuller has not made the 'Skins active roster.

"Right now he’s just the odd man out, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be forever," coach Jay Gruden said of Fuller. 

In losses to Pittsburgh and Dallas, the Redskins pass defense has struggled in spots. Josh Norman has been stout, but the rest of the defense has looked confused in assignments and missed some coverages at times. A rookie like Fuller is unlikely to be the solution, but it is possible he could help, especially facing a Giants offense with Eli Manning throwing to Odell Beckham, Victor Cruz and rookie Sterling Shepard.

Gruden did not rule out Fuller playing this week, but it didn't sound like a ringing endorsement either.

"It could be just for this week, might be next week," Gruden said, "he’ll be up and ready to roll."

The coach explained that Fuller is getting good work on the scout team and working on his readiness.

"He’s mentally getting himself there. Physically, I think he’s starting to feel really, really good. I think it’s just a matter of time before he gets up.”

On game days, the 'Skins have dressed Norman, Bashaud Breeland, Dashaun Phillips, Quinton Dunbar, and Greg Toler at corner and then DeAngelo Hall, David Bruton, Deshazor Everett and Will Blackmon at safety. Duke Ihenacho dressed for the second game but was inactive Week 1. What hurts Fuller is that some of the safeties can also play corner as needed, certainly Hall and Blackmon, and Everett is a special teams star while Blackmon works as kick returner.

Versatility is a key that for now is slowing down Fuller's progress. Coming off a knee injury, and with potential of being a top-tier corner, the Redskins are unlikely to ask much of Fuller on specials. 

Whether Fuller plays Week 3 in New York, or doesn't make the active roster until later in the season, the Redskins brass still views their rookie as a long-term asset. Impatient fans tired of watching the Washington defense give up pass completions may want to see Fuller sooner.