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Need to Know: 5 reasons the Redskins could struggle in 2014

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Need to Know: 5 reasons the Redskins could struggle in 2014

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, June 23, 31 days before the Redskins start training camp.

Nickel coverage

Yesterday we looked at five reasons for the Redskins to be optimistic about the 2014 season. Today it’s the other side of the coin, five reasons the team could struggle this season.

The safety situation is shaky—Perhaps the Redskins should be applauded for not overpaying for safeties like Mike Mitchell and Jairus Byrd but one of the rewards for their fiscal restraint is a patched-together unit at safety. Ryan Clark is smart and a leader but the Steelers thought he’d lost too many steps. Brandon Meriweather likes to go headhunting and Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas are woefully inexperienced.

Injuries on the defensive line—There are three D-lineman over 30 who have had surgery in the last seven months. Barry Cofield (hernia), Stephen Bowen (knee, microfracture) and Jason Hatcher (knee, cleanup) are all likely to be ready to go when the season starts. But it remains to be seen if they can last once the seasons begins.

A high-risk defensive scheme—It’s all about getting to the quarterback for this defense. If the pass rush doesn’t improve dramatically due to injuries, offensive adjustments, or any one of dozens of things that could go wrong, the weak secondary will be exposed.

Offensive line in transition—It seems that Jay Gruden is going to utilize the outside zone run game that was so effective for the Redskins under Mike Shanahan but at the same time he wants bigger offensive linemen to protect the quarterback. This is a “have your cake and eat it, too” situation and how it shakes out will be vital to the team’s fortunes.

A first-year head coach—It seems like Jay Gruden has his act together and the players seem to be responding to him positively. But they haven’t suffered a three-game losing streak yet. Gruden hasn’t yet made a questionable third-down decision and he hasn’t yet faced the wrath of fans who think he abandoned the run too early in a close loss. It remains to be seen how he reacts to such adversity.

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Timeline

—It’s been 176 days since the Redskins played a game; in 76 days they play the Texans in their 2014 season opener.

Days until: Training camp 31; Preseason opener vs. Patriots 45; Home opener Jaguars @ Redskins 83

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Poll: How many more wins for the Redskins?

Poll: How many more wins for the Redskins?

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Fumbles not bouncing the Redskins' way this year

Fumbles not bouncing the Redskins' way this year

As Kirk Cousins likes to say, each season is its own entity. Sometimes things that went well for you in one 16-game stretch in one year won’t got well during a 16-game stretch in subsequent years. And that is the case with the Redskins and recovering opponents’ fumbles.

In 2015 the Redskins were scooping up loose balls all over the place. Opponents put it on the carpet 36 times and the Redskins recovered a league-leading 16 of them. Doing the math, they recovered the ball 44.4 percent of the time.

This year, with the same defensive coordinator and many of the same players on defense, it’s a different story. Through 12 games, the Redskins have forced 18 fumbles and recovered seven. Projecting it out over a 16-game season, they are on pace to force 24 fumbles and recover 9, a 37.5 percent recovery rate.

However, the decrease in the rate of fumble recoveries has not hurt the Redskins as much as you might think. This year they are on pace score about as many points after fumbles as they did last year.

In 2015 they started the average drive following a fumble recovery at their own 46. They drove for two touchdowns and three field goals. The Redskins returned one fumble for a touchdown so they got a total of 30 points off of fumbles.

This year they started at their own 36 on average and they have scored two touchdowns and two field goals on drives and they have no fumble returns for touchdowns. With 20 points through 12 games, they are on pace to score 27 points because of recovering fumbles.

One thing that must be noted here is that the effect of recovering fumbles goes beyond just scoring points after doing so. Even if the offense goes three and out after a fumble recovery the other team’s drive got stopped and after the punt field position gets flipped.

Also, timing is everything. The fumble that went out of the end zone following the Ravens’ interception in Week 5 saved seven points in a six-point Redskins win. Josh Norman’s forced fumble in the fourth quarter against the Packers didn’t have quite the same impact as the one in the Ravens game but it did help them wrap up an important win.

And we are looking at a small sample size so the projections could change in a major way. If the Redskins recover two fumbles on Sunday and turn them into 10 points they would be closer to last year’s pace for recoveries and ahead of 2015 for points off of fumble recoveries.

In any case, that the Redskins are recovering fewer fumbles this year than last should not be surprising. As the stat guys like to say, fumble recoveries aren’t “sticky” from year to year. Teams that recover a lot of fumbles one year don’t tend to repeat it year after year. There is a lot of luck involved; nowhere is the bounce of the oblong ball more decisive than when hits the ground.