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Ballhawks wanted at Redskins Park

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Ballhawks wanted at Redskins Park

Plenty will be written over the next six months or so about what the Redskins need to do to take the next step and become true Super Bowl contenders. But the biggest factor in determining if they rise up NFL power rankings or slide back into their losing ways is their ability to take the ball away on defense and to protect it on offense.

Washington did pretty well in turnover margin in 2015 they finished at a plus-five, with 27 takeaways and 22 giveaways. That was tied for 10th in the NFL. As Scot McCloughan tries to build the team’s talent base, the Redskins will have to continue to be on the plus side of the turnover ratio in order to stay competitive.

Yesterday we looked at fumble recoveries. Today we’ll look at interceptions by the defense, how they performed in 2015 and what they’ll need to do going forward. Later we’ll look the giveaway side of the equation.

The Redskins intercepted 11 passes in 2015, tied for 21st in the NFL. Three players, Bashaud Breeland, Will Blackmon, and Perry Riley, tied for the team lead with two picks apiece. Is that good? Well, 47 other players had more interceptions than anyone on the Redskins did so you can figure that out for yourself.

How much did the interceptions help the Redskins? Here is their record broken down by the number of interceptions they had in the game:

So as we saw with fumble recoveries yesterday, they were able to get along fine in games where they did not get an interception. Only when they got multiple picks did the results show on the scoreboard.

Perhaps one of the reasons that interceptions were not much of a factor for the Redskins is that they didn’t do much with them when they got them. They went through 15 regular season games without getting an interception and then driving for a touchdown. They finally did it in the meaningless season finale in Dallas.

In all, they scored one touchdown and two field goals on drives following interceptions plus Dashon Goldson had a pick-six against the Saints. Add it up and that’s 20 points generated off of interceptions.

Compare that to the best team in the league in maximizing interceptions, the Chiefs. They were second in the league with 22 picks. They returned four of them for touchdowns, drove for eight more TD’s and four field goals on possessions that stated with INT’s. I’ll do the math for you; they scored exactly 100 points off of interceptions. If you want to know why they were able to rank ninth in scoring while ranking 27th in yards gained, there’s your answer.

It should be noted that the Redskins did have a critical interception. At FedEx Field the Giants were threatening to get back into a game the Redskins led 17-0 as they drove into Washington territory. But on third down at the four, Quinton Dunbar picked off Eli Manning’s pass in the end zone to kill the drive.

As noted yesterday, the Redskins are likely to recover fewer opponents’ fumbles than they did last year due to the element of luck that is involved in fumble recoveries. If they are going to stay around the top 10 in takeaways, something that would help them in their effort to stay competitive while Scot McCloughan rebuilds the roster, they probably will need more interceptions.

One thing McCloughan could do is add a ball hawk or two the secondary. Of the secondary members likely to return in 2016, Bashaud Breeland has four interceptions in two seasons, Dashon Goldson has 2 in the last three years and DeAngelo Hall has not picked off a pass since 2013. Maybe Breeland can snag a few more (he did drop some that were in his hands last year) and Hall can regain the form that saw him pick off a total of eight passes in 2012 and 2013. Still, finding a draft pick or free agent with a knack for making interceptions would be great.

There are two other things that could help in the interception department. One is an improved pass rush. Of the top five teams in interceptions last year, four were in the top 12 in sacks. And scoring more points and playing with a lead forces quarterbacks to throw more and to take more chances.

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Cousins believes "a lot rides" on the coming Redskins season

Cousins believes "a lot rides" on the coming Redskins season

RICHMOND—While Kirk Cousins has had a lot of success in his first two seasons as the Redskins’ starting quarterback, he and the team didn’t finish last season the way they wanted to. They lost four of their last six games to finish out of a playoff spot. With the game on the line in the season finale against the Giants, Cousins threw an interception as the team was driving for a late score to win or tie the game. The loss was the final blow to their playoff hopes.

As with any disappointing situation, Cousins and the team must walk a line between learning from the mistakes that were made—and there were many beyond the Cousins interception—and dwelling on the past. Cousins said today that the failure to make the playoffs will help drive the team this year.

RELATED: Reed one of four to start camp on PUP

“I think what it does is it gives us an edge, because we stay humble and hungry because we left the season realizing we do have a long ways to go,” Cousins said of the late-season woes. “We do need to improve if we want to go in the direction that we all believe we can. In that sense we’ll take the silver lining that nobody is content, nobody is entitled, nobody feels like we can rest on what we’ve done in the past.”

While they can focus on the silver lining for now, Cousins says that they realize that coming close to the playoffs but missing out year after year won’t cut it. That’s what gets coaches fired and leads to players losing their jobs.

MORE REDSKINS: Ranking the Redskins roster, the final update

“We do feel like a lot rides on this season up ahead,” he said. “Hopefully, that gives us a sense of urgency all through training camp to be really focused, and as a result gets the best out of every one of us so that our team can play as well as we possibly can.”

Cousins is playing on the one-year franchise tag. He has been quick to point out that many of his teammates are either on one-year deals or in the final season of a multi-year deal. Cousins is one of over a dozen starters or key contributors who will become free agents in 2018. If they are going to stay around they can’t go 2-4 down the stretch like they did last year.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Redskins' Cousins says he bets on the system, not on himself

Redskins' Cousins says he bets on the system, not on himself

RICHMOND—As Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins goes into playing under the franchise tag for the second straight season, the phrase commonly used about him is that he is betting on himself, eschewing the long-term security of a multiyear deal in favor hoping to improve his leverage by playing on the tags.

However, Cousins said that is a misconception.

“I don’t know that I ever bet on myself, I bet on the system, he said. “It has nothing to do with myself. I’m just going out and playing and there’s never been anything but positive feelings. I’m excited to get to work here. As I’ve said, my wife and I love it here and we’re in a good place.”

RELATED: Reed one of four to start camp on PUP

Ever since the deadline for him to sign a long-term contract this year came and went without a new deal, Cousins has been trying to debunk the notion that he has a desire to leave the Redskins as soon as he can. Appearing on 106.7 The Fan last week, Cousins said that the Redskins are his “first choice” to be his team going forward. He talked positively about his future in Washington again today after the Redskins first training camp walkthrough.

Although there was talk that the contract negotiations took a sour turn at the end after team president Bruce Allen revealed some of the details of the team’s final offer to Cousins, Cousins indicated today that everything is fine.

“W e’ve done a good job communicating between me and the team,” he said. “We’re on the same page and we’ve done everything we can possibly do to get that settled and move forward. I think we’re all in a good place right now and we’ve got enough to worry about getting our offense playing at the level we need to have a great season so I can be back in future years.”

MORE REDSKINS: Ranking the Redskins roster, the final update

What it really comes down to, what Cousins believes will make things good in the future for him and the Redskins, is success on the field.

“If you win football games, everything else takes care of itself,” he said.

“In the offseason, the ball’s in the team’s court. But from Week 1 to Week 17, the ball’s in my court and I’ve got to go play football well. That’s where my focus is.”

There likely will be more talk of Cousins future beyond the 2017 seas in the coming weeks and months. It appears that for right now that is the furthest thing from Cousins’ mind.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.