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Despite plenty of excuses to lose, Redskins went out and won

Despite plenty of excuses to lose, Redskins went out and won

The Redskins had plenty of excuses to lose.

Two of their best players didn't suit up. A poorly timed turnover. Continued red zone struggles. Coughing up a lead, and, coughing up a game's momentum.

But here's what's happened: The Redskins won.

In Sunday's 26-20 defeat of the Vikings, Washington could have lost a few different ways.

And if players or coaches wanted to, they could have made excuses.

Trent Williams didn't play, serving the first game of a four week-suspension. Few teams can afford to lose an elite talent like Williams, especially against a defensive front like the Vikings. 

But Bill Callahan's unit would make no excuses.

DeSean Jackson didn't play either, still dealing with a shoulder injury sustained two weeks prior in London. Though Jackson's numbers are down this season, his impact on the offense can't always be measured, and without him, surely the 'Skins offense would become more stagnant.

But Kirk Cousins' offense would make no excuses.

RELATED: THE BEST IMAGES FROM REDSKINS' WEEK 10 WIN

To a man - from head coach Jay Gruden to seldom used special teams players - the Redskins insisted on the Next Man Up philosopy that winning teams embrace. After three straight weeks without a win, Washington went out and took one, regardless of how close they came to a different result.

"Quite frankly, I don’t think you ever step into a football game without urgency, otherwise you get beat," Gruden said after his team moved to 5-3-1 on the year.

Like they've done in previous home games against the Browns and the Eagles, the Skins got out to an early 14-0 lead.

For a stretch, it looked like Washington would roll to a big win over the slumping Vikings, but like against the Browns and Eagles, the Redskins could not pull away. Minnesota clawed back to tie, and even took the lead going into halftime.

"We just had to keep our poise. I remind them every game this year, we’ve been leading and we’ve been trailing, and today’s no different," the coach said. "We just have to continue to handle the adversity, the adverse situations."

RELATED: WHAT WE LEARNED FROM REDSKINS' WIN OVER VIKINGS

In the second half the Redskins defense did just that - shutting down the Minnesota attack, allowing zero points over the game's final 30 minutes.

"We have a pretty good resolve in this locker room. We know every game is going to be close," Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "We know most games we’re playing are going to be close and you have to have that mindset going into every game that you have to play for a full 60 minutes.”

A good effort against a mediocre Vikings offense, the Washington defense was spurred to victory by Preston Smith's two sacks and an interception.

In a way, Smith's breakout game exemplifies what the Redskins did to win against the Vikes. Underwhelming at times this season despite showing great promise last year, Smith made the crucial interception when his team needed it most. 

"He answered the bell, he really did," Gruden said. "Preston showed up in a big way."

Smith wasn't the only one to 'answer the bell.' 

Ty Nsekhe answered the bell at left tackle with Williams out. Pierre Garçon had a season high 81 receiving yards with Jackson out.

"We do miss those players, without a doubt," Gruden said of Jackson and Williams. "The guys that played I’m very happy for, proud of the way they came and competed. It wasn’t too big for them and they made plays.”

In just his second season, Jamison Crowder has become Cousins' most trusted receiver. Leading the team in touchdowns and catches, Crowder again impressed, and afterwards, he explained that the whole offense stepped up with D-Jax on the sideline.

"We knew that with him being out we lost a big-time weapon but, you know, we just have to go out there and still have to do our job," Crowder said. "I wouldn’t say that we were pressured but we knew that we had to step it up another notch and make plays."

Then there is Robert Kelley, an undrafted rookie who has supplanted 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones as the starting running back.

"I really like the way these guys play. It’s a great effort. The guys are stepping up to fill in for crucial players," Gruden said. "A lot of guys are stepping up, everybody’s pitching in and doing their part, whether it’s one catch or five catches. Whether it’s one tackle or five tackles, everyone’s pitching in and doing their part."

To be clear, there is plenty to criticize from the Skins game on Sunday.

Red zone struggles continue to plague Washington, and the problem became very apparent in the second half against the Vikings. Cousins threw a highly questionnable ball early in the game that could have been intercepted, and Chris Thompson had an unfortunate fumble just before halftime. And, oh yeah, the Redskins defense proved entirely incapable of slowing former Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs.

RELATED: COUSINS EXPLAINS ORIGIN OF POSTGAME CELEBRATION

But for the Redskins, there will be no excuses. 

That's the fun thing about winning. Problems can be addressed, but excuses aren't made. Yes, DeSean and Trent didn't play, but the team won without them. Yes, Cousins' group left points on the field, again, but the team won despite it. 

Believe it or not, those are signs of good teams.

This Redskins team isn't great — but they are good. And there's a lot of season left to keep improving. 

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Need to Know: Redskins pre-camp 53-man roster projection, offense

Need to Know: Redskins pre-camp 53-man roster projection, offense

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 24, three days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 204 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 48 days.

Days until:

—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 17
—Preseason vs. Packers at FedEx Field (8/19) 26
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 41

Redskins roster projection—offense

The Redskins strap it up and start the battle for the 53 roster spots in earnest in just three days. Some are locks, others are hoping to hang on. Here is my prediction of the roster will shake out along with players who are on the bubble. The offense is up today, the defense tomorrow.

Players I have making the roster who are new to the organization in 2017 are in italics

Quarterback (3)

Starter: Kirk Cousins
Backups: Colt McCoy, Nate Sudfeld

Cousins and the team didn’t agree on the contract but that changes nothing for 2017. The elimination of two-a-day practices makes a fourth “camp arm” QB unnecessary so these three will handle all the snaps from now until when the season ends.   

Running backs (3)

Starter: Rob Kelley
Backups: Samaje Perine, Chris Thompson

Bubble: Mack Brown, Keith Marshall

Kelley skipped the drive-through window meals during the offseason, switching to a healthier diet to get himself in better shape. He will need to be strong to hold off Perine, who will make a push for playing time. Brown could be on or off depending on numbers elsewhere on the roster. If Marshall can stay healthy, he could force his way into the picture but the health is a big “if”.

Wide receivers (6)

Starters: Josh Doctson, Terrelle Pryor, Jamison Crowder (slot)
Backups: Maurice Harris, Ryan Grant, Robert Davis

Bubble: Brian Quick

I’m not sure if Grant, who caught nine passes while playing in all 16 games last year, should be a lock but it appears that he is. Davis is a projection; he has a lot to learn but if he is showing significant progress he could push out the veteran Quick, who was not impressive during the offseason practices.    

Tight ends (4)

Starter: Jordan Reed
Backups: Vernon Davis, Niles Paul, Jeremy Sprinkle

Bubble: Derek Carrier

Paul and Sprinkle could be considered on the bubble as well. The normal allowance is for three tight ends on the 53-man roster. Reed and Davis are locks, they need Paul for special teams, and Sprinkle is slated to be the blocking tight end. But Sprinkle needs to add a lot of polish to his game and Paul has the injury bug to fight. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Offensive line (9)

Starters (left to right): Trent Williams, Shawn Lauvao, Spencer Long, Brandon Scherff, Morgan Moses
Backups: Ty Nsekhe, Arie Kouandjio, Vinston Painter, Chase Roullier

Bubble: John Kling

The starters are locked in unless Kouandjio can come up with a huge camp and push Lauvao out of the starting job. Roullier could be the backup center but if he’s not ready the Redskins could look for a veteran off the waiver wire for that spot.

Offensive breakdown: 25 players, four rookies, a total of five new to the Redskins.

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' Jay Gruden ranked highest of all NFC East coaches by For The Win

Redskins' Jay Gruden ranked highest of all NFC East coaches by For The Win

Jay Gruden doesn't always get a lot of attention from national media, which should be considered something of a victory for the Redskins after all of the focus on his predecessor Mike Shanahan. 

But looking at Gruden's work over three years, he does deserve some recognition for taking the team from 4-12 his first season to consecutive winning records, including an NFC East title in 2015. 

Steven Ruiz, writing for USA TODAY's For The Win, gave the Redskins coach some love in a ranking of all 32 NFL head coaches. 

He slotted Gruden at No. 12, above all other NFC East coaches. 

Ruiz cites Gruden's unflappability amid personnell and front office changes, as well as his development of Kirk Cousins into a franchise quarterback in a very productive Redskins offense. 

MORE REDSKINS: Pair of Redskins rookies could start season on NFI list

Ruiz ranks Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett at No. 16, reasoning that it's not hard to succeed when you pair one of the best offensive lines in the league with superstar rookies Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. 

New York's Ben McAddo and Philadelphia's Doug Pederson rank No. 21 and 26, respectively. 

Interestingly, two Redskins offensive coordinators who've since taken head coaching jobs – Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay – fall way behind at No. 29 and 30. Both coaches have been rumored draws for Cousins once he hits free agency in 2018. 

Going back to Gruden, he deserves credit beyond giving Cousins the starting QB job. He's become well-liked and respected by Washington's players despite dealing with big-personality additions like DeSean Jackson and Josh Norman.

After the Redskins finished his first season with a 4-12 record, the team rebounded to win the NFC East in 2015 and then narrowly missed the playoffs with an 8-7 record in 2016. 

If Cousins plays up to his one-year, $24 million franchise tag, Gruden has a chance to continue building his coaching reputation.