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Kyle: Hankerson's progress has cut Morgan's playing time

Kyle: Hankerson's progress has cut Morgan's playing time

The NFL is often a zero-sum game where one player’s gain must mean another player’s loss.

The starkest example of this dynamic is in roster spots. There are 53 of them and each one that is claimed by one man means that the opportunity is lost to another.

But sometimes the zero-sum deal is subtler. There are only 22 starting spots and one player earning a job means that another one loses his. The number of passes that a team throws in a game is more flexible but, still, each one thrown to Player A can’t go to Player B.

Josh Morgan of the Redskins is not happy with his diminishing playing time and opportunities. He started the season opener but he has played about a third of the Redskins’ snaps this year. And the wide receiver has been mostly in a blocking role. He was targeted for passes a total of 10 times in the first two games. In the seven games since then he has been targeted a total of seven times.

What is frustrating to Morgan is that he doesn’t believe he has done anything wrong. And, according to Kyle Shanahan, he hasn’t. It’s a matter of Leonard Hankerson earning more chances to take snaps and catch passes.

“It’s more that Hankerson has been stepping it up so we’ve given Hank more reps,” said Shanahan when asked about Morgan’s reduced role. “It’s something we said back in training camp – those guys have been competing since the starting of OTAs this year through camp. They were always neck-and-neck. Right when one guy would take a step up the next day he would take a step back and they were always right here and that’s how it was kind of at the beginning of the year. We just felt on the practice field that Hank had been stepping it up so we’ve been giving him a few more opportunities, especially on third down and stuff – more passing situations – and that’s how it’s been.”

Hankerson, a third-round draft pick in 2011, has participated in 58 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Robert Griffin III feeds him a steady diet of opportunities. In seven of the team’s nine games, Hankerson has been targeted either five or six times. His 29 receptions and 370 receiving yards are both second on the team.

Even if Morgan and Hankerson perform equally well in practice there are practical reasons to give Hankerson more playing time. He is four years younger than Morgan and he is under contract next year. Morgan is a free agent and his future with the team is uncertain.

So it’s possible that Morgan will have to clearly outperform Hankerson in practice in order to change the status quo. A tie would likely go to Hankerson.

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Want to beat the Cardinals? Bring down Carson Palmer

Want to beat the Cardinals? Bring down Carson Palmer

Many considered the Cardinals a Super Bowl contender this season, though the team has not performed to that level so far in 2016. One huge problem for Arizona - protecting quarterback Carson Palmer. 

In its last four games, Arizona has given up 16 sacks on Palmer, including a staggering eight sacks against the Carolina Panthers. In the last two games, Palmer has gone down six times, and both games have been losses. 

With weapons like wideout Larry Fitzgerald and running back David Johnson, Palmer has lots of options to move the ball. That's why Jay Gruden knows how important it is for his front seven to get home.

"It’s going to start with the pass rush," Gruden said. "If Carson [Palmer] has all day to throw and give Larry time to do double moves and stem you inside and vertical and then get back out or break it back across, I don’t care how big you are or how fast you are, it’s going to be hard."

In all six Cardinals losses, Palmer has been sacked at least two times, and in four of the losses, Palmer has gone down at least four times. Beyond the Panthers' eight sacks, the Bills brought down the Cards QB five times, and both the Seahawks and Vikings got to Palmer four times.

While the sack totals stand out, Washington's Preston Smith knows each week is different in the NFL.

"Every game you’re fired up because you feel like it's an opporttunity to get out there and get sacks," Smith said. "You don’t think about what another team did, they’re going to play us different."

Talking on the latest #RedskinsTalk Podcast, Redskins linebacker Trent Murphy acknowledged that the defense knows how beat up the Cardinals' offensive line is. Murphy, who has seven sacks on the season, added that he's 'drooling' for this matchup and the opportunity to take advantage of the Arizona vulnerabilities up front. (Listen to the full podcast below.)

Bruce Arians knows his team is undermanned on the line, and the Arizona offense will be creative to protect Palmer.

"You have to help them," Arians said of his O-line. "You have got to stay balanced and hopefully not get into a situation where it’s a throw, throw, throw game because then you’re putting them in harm’s way and your quarterback in harm’s way."

It doesn't help that in his 14th season, Palmer is probably one of the least mobile quarterbacks in the NFL. After matching up against Aaron Rodgers and Dak Prescott in their last two games, the Redskins defense knows Palmer won't move nearly as much, though that doesn't mean he's neccesarily easier to get down.

"You’re not going against a mobile quarterback but you still got to get to that spot," Smith said. "Carson’s a good quarterback."

Linebacker Mason Foster said that sacks aren't as important as consistent pressure. 

"On a great quarterback like that you want consistent pressure all day long. Make things tough on him, you don’t want a clean pocket," Foster said. "If you have pressure in his face all day and you don’t get no sacks, I think that's a success."

Even at 36, Palmer is still a dangerous quarterback. He's thrown for nearly 3,000 yards this year with a beat-up offensive line and missing one start. But numbers are numbers, and the data shows that if the 'Skins pass rushers can get Palmer to the ground, the chances of a Washington win shoot right up. 

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

 

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Poll: What is your approval rating for Redskins coach Jay Gruden?

Poll: What is your approval rating for Redskins coach Jay Gruden?

As always, hit the poll and then head to the comments section here and talk about your answer, or reply on Twitter.