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Bold Predictions--A Trap?

Bold Predictions--A Trap?

You can reach me by email at rtandler@comcast.net

Rich Tandler is the author of Gut Check, The Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs’ Washington Redskins. Get details and order at http://GutCheckBook.com

Just five years ago, an 8-5 Redskins team went to San Francisco to face a 49ers team that would finish 4-12. Those 1999 Redskins needed a break or two to win that game in overtime to clinch their only playoff berth since Joe Gibbs left in 1992.

On most teams, there would be some institutional memory, some players and coaches still around from that who would be able to warn the team of a pending trap. However, Team Turmoil has just one person who played on that night still on the payroll and Jon Jansen is on injured reserve.

No. It can’t possibly be. Or could it?

Is this game in San Francisco against the one team in the NFC looking up at the Redskins in the standings a trap, possible letdown game? Could the Redskins take them too lightly? Is that possible? It’s hard to shake the feeling that it’s possible even though on the face of it it’s ridiculous to think that a 4-9 team, one that has won just one of its last five games, would take any opponent for granted.

Even though Washington is 1-3 in its last four games, the Redskins certainly have been playing their best football of the season in that stretch. Unfortunately, the team starting to gel has coincided in time with playing three games in four weeks against two teams with a combined total of two losses. Had this upturn in the level of play come during a stretch in the schedule occurred during a stretch of the schedule when the team was playing against mediocre teams, which compose at least 75% of the league, a 3-1 or perhaps even a 4-0 record in those games.

So, while the Redskins haven’t been winning much lately, they have been putting forth a winning effort for each of the last four weeks. And that is what’s creating the feeling that a letdown might be coming.

It’s extremely difficult for a team that’s in the NFL’s mass of mediocrity—the Redskins right now are firmly ensconced in the lower end of that group—to put forth a winning effort for an extended period of time. Five weeks is getting towards the definition of “an extended period of time.”

Earlier in the week, I wasn’t going to predict a score for this game. I was going to say that if you wanted to know the score of this game you would have to ask Joe Gibbs because he was going to be able to name the score. That confidence has dissipated considerably over the course of the week.

Taking all of that into consideration, however, the Redskins could play at a considerably lower level than they have recently and still pull this game out. So, there are three possibilities for this game:

  1. A loss like in the Cleveland game where the Redskins sleepwalk through it and lose through a combination of mistakes and an inability to make the key plays at the important moments.
  2. A win like in the Chicago game where the Redskins make just enough mistakes to keep the other team in it but manage to stagger to an unimpressive win.
  3. A win like in the Giants game where everything comes together and the Redskins dominate the proceedings from the get-go and roll to a comfortable win.

All three outcomes are possible, but I think that something in between the latter two is the most likely. The Redskins will start out slowly but will avoid the killer mistake and pull away and get some breathing room in the second half. Let’s say something like:

Redskins 24, 49ers 10

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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 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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