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Cousins will be tested in latter part of Redskins’ 2016 schedule

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Cousins will be tested in latter part of Redskins’ 2016 schedule

Kirk Cousins got off to a shaky start in 2015. After six games he was struggling with six touchdowns and eight interceptions. In the last two games during that stretch, against the Falcons and Jets, interceptions had been very costly.

He may not have been on the verge of being benched after those losses in Atlanta and the Meadowlands but if he had continued on that course he would not have established himself as the Redskins’ long-term starter. But his performance picked up after the Redskins went down 24-0 against the Bucs and the rest is history.

Cousins hasn’t necessarily locked up the job for the long term yet. The team wants to see more if they are going to give him a big-money deal. If he and the team are going to come to an agreement on a multiyear contract it would help if he had a solid 2016 season.

He should be better in the earlier part of the season for a couple of reasons. For one thing he will spend all of OTAs and all of training camp as the No. 1 quarterback, working with the first team offense. He didn’t get regular work with the starters until after the second preseason game last year.

And Cousins will be facing what appears to be a slightly softer slate of pass defenses in the first part of this year as opposed to last year. Here is the comparison using Football Outsiders’ pass defense DVOA metric (note that when it comes to defensive DVOA lower and negative numbers are better):

A caveat before we dive into this. Pass defenses do change from year to year. The three defensive free agents the Giants signed could greatly improve their pass defense. Or, as we saw with the Redskins often over the years, the free agents could take some time to fit in with the defense (or they may never fit in at all).

With that in mind, it does look like Cousins will be facing a slightly softer slate of pass defenses in September and October. Last year there were two defensives that finished with negative numbers last year; this year there are none. None of the defenses in the first six games this year were in the top 10 last year and only two, the Eagles and Steelers, were even in the top half and they were just barely there.

It will be good for Cousins if he can get off to a strong start but playing well against soft defenses is not really what the Redskins and many fans want to see. They want Cousins to be run through the gauntlet of some tough pass defenses to see what he is really made of. While the Redskins don’t face the Legion of Boom or any other similar “shutdown” units, the going does get significantly tougher from Week 7 on:

Again, this is based on last year and things will not be static. But it gives you a general idea that the going is likely to be tougher for Cousins in the second part of the season. Four of the opponents were in negative numbers in pass defense DVOA and six of them were in the top half of the NFL.

So if Cousins gets off to a sizzling start in 2016, don’t be surprised. If he continues that into the second part of the season then it will be time to be impressed.

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Trent Murphy had offseason foot surgery to repair broken bone, per source

Trent Murphy had offseason foot surgery to repair broken bone, per source

Redskins outside linebacker Trent Murphy underwent surgery this offseason to repair a broken bone in his foot, per a source with knowledge of the situation. Murphy has completely healed and is a full participant at training camp. 

The injury came late in the 2016 season and he played the Redskins final game of the season with the broken foot. He was listed on the injury report for that game as limited with a foot injury. He was not listed on the Week 16 injury report against the Bears.

Hit with a four-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs this offseason, Murphy won't suit up for the Redskins until Week 6. He will be forced to miss the first four games, and then the Redskins have a bye in Week 5. 

Murphy had a breakout season in 2016, finishing the year with nine sacks and 47 tackles. A second round pick in 2014, Murphy had a combined six sacks in the two seasons prior. Last offseason, Murphy was tasked with gaining weight for a position switch to defensive end. After he gained the weight, outside linebacker Junior Galette was lost for the season, and Murphy was moved back to outside linebacker. 

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Redskins' Gruden will readjust to calling plays by going off script

Redskins' Gruden will readjust to calling plays by going off script

RICHMOND—The Redskins offense is dealing with some challenges on the field. Their top two wide receivers from last year left as free agents and replacements Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson have little game experience with quarterback Kirk Cousins. Tight end Jordan Reed (toe) was a surprise entry on the PUP list. Running back Rob Kelley needs to prepare to get ready to carry the load for 16 games.

There is one other change the team must deal with. Sean McVay, the team’s offensive coordinator, left in January to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams. He had been calling the plays for the past two years. That duty will now fall on head coach Jay Gruden.

RELATED: Reed one of four to start camp on PUP

Play calling is not new to Gruden. He did it from 2011-2013 for the Bengals when he was the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati. Gruden also made the play calls in 2014, his first season as the Redskins head coach.

Still, he wants to make sure that he’s ready to retake the play caller’s headset. The method he will use is to throw away the script.

“I think early on we’re going to have scripted practices, and once we get going, get our main core of plays in there, I think we’ll have a lot of unscripted practices where I can call plays,” he said. “So I think that’s the most important thing, the unscripted practice. Whether it’s two -minute, whether it’s drives down the field, whether it’s third downs, all that good stuff, do a lot of unscripted work, red zone and go from there, but I feel pretty comfortable already.”

That certainly makes sense. Games are not scripted and the successful play callers who can adjust to the ebb and flow of the game. You can’t duplicate the dynamic but you can come close in 11 on 11 work on the practice field.

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Another key to making this work will be trusting his defensive and special teams coaches. If Gruden can’t delegate to them he will be getting pulled in too many directions on game days.

“How well I handle that will be how successful I will probably be as a coordinator calling plays and as a coach,” he said. “I feel good about the staff that I have around me. Coach [Greg] Manusky and Jim Tomsula and Torrian Gray on the defensive side of the ball, I don’t think I have to worry so much about that, Ben Kotwica, Bret Munsey on the special teams. The big thing is I have got to be involved in the football game, make sure I’m ready for the red flag tosses and all that good stuff, but for the most part I have confidence in the defense and special team coaches and players.”

We will see how well it works out. As a rookie coach he occasionally seemed to be overwhelmed by all that he had piled on his plate (the situation was complicated by his curious decision not to hire a quarterbacks coach). But now, with three years under his belt and an exponentially better understanding of what is involved in coaching an NFL game, there should be more confidence that he can handle it.

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.