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Benching Griffin is not the answer

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Benching Griffin is not the answer

The Washington Redskins might have a better chance of beating the Detroit Lions on Sunday with Kirk Cousins at quarterback instead of Robert Griffin III.

But benching Griffin right now would be a huge mistake.

Yes, I saw Griffin struggle to make plays yesterday against the Packers and last Monday against the Eagles, at least while the game was still competitive. At times he has little time to throw because he has pass rush pressure in his face and he seems either incapable of scrambling and either buying more time to pass or taking off and running or very reluctant to do so. And when he does have some time to pass his throws frequently missed the mark.

Is it rust, the lingering effects of not playing in the preseason and very limited 11 on 11 team action in training camp? Is the knee not has healthy as we are led to believe? Are the Redskins trying to convert Griffin into a pocket passer without the benefit of that practice?

The explanation I’ve heard that makes the most sense came from CBS analyst Steve Tasker. He was on The Junkies on 106.7 The Fan last week (I can’t locate the podcast on their site, otherwise I would link to it and quote Tasker directly). The former Bills special teams ace said that he suffered multiple knee injuries during his 14-year NFL career. When he came back, he said the knee was healthy and pain free but it was just different. Tasker said that it took some time for him to adjust to playing on what was essentially a “new” knee. The confidence that it would respond to what he needed it to do took some time and some adjustment.

When a special teams player is feeling his way around a knee that may not feel quite right even though it’s medically sound it doesn’t have ripple effects on every snap and the situation doesn’t make all of the highlights and get put under the microscope on every one of the myriad of NFL shows that heavily populate your cable TV guide. When the quarterback has those issues and that quarterback is Griffin it’s national news.

That Griffin’s struggles are being magnified by the fact that he’s a high-profile player in the highest profile sports league on the planet is not the only issue. The Redskins’ defense is playing poorly. They are having problems covering and tackling. The team is falling behind, elements like play action passing that made the offense hum aren’t effective so the offense can’t sustain drives. That puts the defense back on the field quickly and things start to snowball.

But whether the defense is working or not, Griffin and the offense need to do what the need to do to keep the team competitive throughout the game. And that’s not happening.

If it happens or if it doesn’t, Griffin needs to be the one doing it or not doing it. Cousins might provide a short-term lift but if this team is going to get to a Super Bowl this year or in the future it’s going to be Griffin doing the heavy lifting. A game or two on the bench for Griffin means that it’s a game or two longer until he’s right. And that puts the Redskins a game or two further away from their goals.

Benching Griffin might be a short-term fix. For years the Redskins organization lived for instant gratification. We have seen the results of thinking about the coming year, the coming game over thinking about setting things up to be successful for a long time.

That’s why the Vikings did last year with Adrian Peterson. It’s easy to look back at his near-record season last year following an ACL injury and think that he came out of the box blazing in 2012. But he did not. In his first six games he went over 100 yards once. In Week 2 he picked up a very pedestrian 60 yards on 16 carries. The next game he rushed for 86 yards but it took him 25 carries to get there (3.4 yards per carry).

The Vikings did not bench Peterson in favor of Toby Gerhart. They know he is the franchise and they kept him in and kept on giving him the ball. Their patience was rewarded when Peterson ran for over 100 yards in nine of the last 10 games, going over 150 yards in six of them.

It remains to be seen if Griffin will explode later in the season but we’ll never find out if the team gets into playing the QB shuffle.

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Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, April 23, four days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 10
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 31
—Training camp starts (7/27) 95
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 140

In search of someone, anyone, to stop the run

One of the areas the Redskins needed to improve last year was their rushing defense on first down. In 2015, they gave up a league-worse 5.0 yards per carry on first down. That was the worst performance in the league. It’s pretty tough to play defense when a handoff makes it second and five. The Saints, who had a historically bad defense that year, were second, fiving up 4.8 yards a pop.

Well, it was no better for the Redskins defense in 2016. Again, they gave up 5.0 yards per carry on first down, again the worst performance in the league.  Remember, this is on first down, when teams are most likely to run.

The Redskins’ problems on third down were well known. They were dead last in the league allowing first downs on 46.6 percent of third-down attempts. For context, an average performance on third down is allowing about 38 percent and the best teams are around 35 percent.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, however. The Redskins weren’t very good at getting teams to third down. They allowed first downs on 33.8 percent of their opponents’ second-down plays. That put them in the bottom third of the league. Again, you don’t have to look too hard to connect the dots to link that back to the five yards per rushing play on first down. Second and five is a piece of cake most of the time.

You don’t need an advanced degree in statistical analysis to figure out that the Redskins defense isn’t going to get much better if they can’t stop teams from running the ball on first down.

It’s easy to point to the defensive line, which has not been very good, and say that the problem is there. That certainly has something to do with it. But the Redskins didn’t have a very good D-line in 2014 and they allowed 4.1 yards per first-down rushing attempt, a performance that was right at the league average.

The factor that was common in 2015 and 2016 and was different in 2014 was the defensive coordinator. It’s possible that opposing teams found a flaw to exploit in Joe Barry’s scheme that wasn’t there in Jim Haslett’s (which surely had flaws in other places).

But X’s and O’s can only get you so far. The Redskins will be looking to take a defensive lineman early and perhaps use an additional pick or two at the position later in the draft. While getting one who can rush the passer would be a plus, they need a run stuffer who can take snaps on first down and bottle up the ground game.

The focus in the draft will be on the first-round pick but, as has been discussed here many times, that pick is unlikely to be a defensive lineman. There isn’t likely to be one at 17 who would represent good value. That could mean that the Redskins’ second- or third-round pick, perhaps an interior lineman like Caleb Brantley of Florida, Larry Ogunjobi of Charlotte, or Montravius Adams of Auburn, is just as important to the team’s success as the first-round pick.

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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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 22, five days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 20
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 32
—Training camp starts (7/27) 96
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 141

The Redskins week that was

Redskins full 2017 schedule released—Even with the Caps and Wizards in full playoff mode, the DMV stops to take a look and see when the Redskins will be playing. The Thanksgiving game was surprising. It’s another working day but I worked at various places since I was 14 and last year was the first time I’ve had to work on Thanksgiving so I can’t complain too much about working two in a row. It’s a small price to pay for having the best job in the world.

Don't count out any RB for Redskins at 17—Yeah, I know that NFL teams aren’t supposed to take running backs in the first round any more. But that is one of those trends that comes and goes. In 2013 and 2014 there were no RBs taken in the first. Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott in the last couple of years began to shift the thinking. If the Redskins think that Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey can help them win games more than any other player on the board they should pull the trigger.

Rise of Patrick Mahomes could bring big payoff for Redskins—It seems likely that quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky will be taken before the Redskins pick at No. 17 goes on the clock. That means that two players in whom the Redskins might be interested will be available, pushed back by the quarter backs. Could Mahomes, out of Texas Tech, push a third player back to Washington. The buzz is that a team might grab him in the first half of the first round.

The Redskins' five best salary cap bargains for 2017—When I started pulling the numbers for this post I thought I’d find more key players with salaries of under $1 million. I only found three and one of them is the kicker. This means that they don’t have very many late-round or undrafted players who are contributing a lot of value. They need more out of players like Anthony Lanier, Matt Ioannidis and Maurice Harris. That is how a team thrives in the salary cap era. A couple of Saturday picks could make or break this draft.

Redskins mock 2.0 goes offense early, defense often—There are a lot of ways the first 16 picks of this draft can work out. It seems almost certain that everyone’s favorite first-round pick, a stud defensive lineman, won’t be a realistic option on the board. This could send things in an odd direction for the Redskins. It’s fun to do a mock and I’ll do one or two more prior to draft day but there are too many variables to think that it has a high degree of accuracy. 

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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