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Need to Know: A big opportunity for the Redskins but are they ready for it?

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Need to Know: A big opportunity for the Redskins but are they ready for it?

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, October 7, two days before the Washington Redskins go up the road to play the Ravens in Baltimore.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Practice 12:05; Jay Gruden news conference and player availability after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until: Eagles @ Redskins 9; Redskins @ Lions 16; Redskins vs. Bengals in London 23

A big opportunity for the Redskins but are they ready for it?

The Redskins have a chance to make a statement in Baltimore on Sunday. But are they ready to do it?

Make no mistake, a win over Baltimore would be a big deal, some solid evidence that things are better than they were last year. In 2015 they couldn’t get a road win until Week 14 in Chicago. A win here would mean two road wins by the time the season is a third of the way done.

After beating the Bears they won over the Bills, the first time all year they had posted consecutive victories. A win Sunday would give them a three-game winning streak.

And in 2015 they didn’t have a win over a team with a winning record all year. The Giants were 2-0 when the Redskins beat them and the Ravens are 3-1. We don’t know at this point how the Ravens or Giants will finish the season but they got have a chance to end up over .500.

In short, they would have some pelts on the wall in early October that they either never got in 2015 or struggled into December to get.

That all sounds good when laid out as a hypothetical but can the Redskins pull it off? Baltimore is hardly a juggernaut despite their 3-1 record. But they are very solid defensively, ranking first in yards allowed and in the top 10 in most other significant defensive categories. It’s going to be tough for the Redskins to move the ball.

Then, of course, there is the matter of the Washington defense, which can’t stop anybody, particularly when the opposition runs the ball (31st in the NFL at 4.9 yards per carry) and runs third-down plays (last in the NFL allowing 57 percent conversions). You get the feeling that Baltimore offensive coordinator Marc Trestman will figure out ways to exploit the Redskins D.

The Redskins’ best chance to pull off the upset (they are four-point underdogs) is what helped them win their previous two games—takeaways. The Ravens have turned the ball over seven times as Joe Flacco has throw four interceptions and they have lost three fumbles.  The Redskins have eight takeaways (four fumble recoveries, four interceptions) tied for fifth in the NFL).

Are the takeaways sustainable? Defensive coordinator Joe Barry didn’t say that they were but he refused to concede that the are strictly due to chance.

“I think it’s maybe something that we talk about and preach, like my thing that I have the guys… before they walk onto the field every day, they’ve got to punch a ball out, they’ve got to hammer a ball out, they’ve got to rake a ball out,” Barry said when asked about the sustainability of getting takeaways.. “It’s just something that we kind of get our mindset before we walk onto the field for stretch. So it’s something that we emphasize in addition to all the other things that we emphasize, phases of the game. But, I do believe, again, taking the ball away is something that it’s a skill that has to be developed.”

And, indeed the Redskins players are greeted by a pair of these as they walk down onto the practice field:

I don’t know if that will make a huge difference—I’m sure that Flacco will have a tighter grip on the ball than the Velcro strips that attach the ball to the dummy have. But with the Redskins leading the league in forced fumbles both this year and since the start of the 2015 season, I guess you have to say, hey, whatever works.

The Redskins do not have to be reliant on takeaways to win but if they are going to win without them they will need to show vast improvement in other areas, like defensive third downs. That should start to improve if only because no team has ever gone a full season allowing over 50 percent conversions on third down. But getting the third-down problem to a level where they won’t have to rely on turnovers to win a game like this one might be too tall and order for the Redskins.

I’m certainly not ruling out the possibility of a big win. It really wouldn’t be that hard. Again, the Ravens are not a powerhouse team. Just cutting down on the missed tackles and knocking down a few more third-down passes would do it. It’s not going to be easy to move the ball against Baltimore but the Redskins have the weapons to get it done.

We will see if the team is ready to take that next step.

Tandler on Twitter

In case you missed it 

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Redskins offseason questions: Will Scot McCloughan go defense in 1st round?

Redskins offseason questions: Will Scot McCloughan go defense in 1st round?

The good news for the 2016 Redskins was that they didn’t collapse after winning the division the previous season as has been their pattern in the past. The bad news was that they didn’t take the next step and improve from a franchise that can compete to make the playoffs into one that is playing multiple postseason games year in and year out.

That work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players. In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Rich Tandler and JP Finlay will examine the biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.

RELATED: #RedskinsTalk podcast: It's tag day

Will the Redskins go with a defensive player in the first round of the 2017 Draft?

Finlay: The Redskins haven't drafted a defensive player in the first round since 2011 when the franchise grabbed Ryan Kerrigan with the 16th pick. In fact, the team has only drafted five defensive players in the first round over the last 15 years. 

History suggests Washington will stay away from a defensive player, but sources in Ashburn have suggested otherwise. Assuming the talent is there when the 'Skins pick at No. 17, Scot McCloughan would like to bolster the team's defensive line specifically. 

Things will get complicated should Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook slide to 17. Rich Tandler certainly would like to see the Burgundy and Gold add a top-flight running back.

Tandler: Many fans believe that conducting a draft is like going into a grocery store with a list. Defensive lineman is at the top of the list so you go to aisle 12 and put a DL in the cart. Safety is next on the list so you push the cart over to that aisle and pick out one of those.

No, a draft is much more unpredictable. There might not be a defensive lineman who is close to worthy of the No. 17 pick when the Redskins are on the clock. Talk of taking the best available player is like fingernails on a chalkboard to some. But if you’re reaching for need in a draft, you’re losing that draft. Sure, if a player in a position of need is just a spot or two down from the best available you think about it. Still, staying true to your board is the way to build a team.

The other thing to consider here is that we haven’t gone through free agency yet. Needs will shift after that. Suppose the Redskins sign two starting-caliber D-linemen and lose both Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson in free agency? Defensive line is no longer a five-alarm priority and receiver will be. 

More offseason questions: 

What are reasonable expectations for Josh Doctson?

— Will there be a surprise salary cap cut?

— Should the Redskins defense switch to the 4-3?

— Is Spencer Long the answer at center?

— How many D-linemen do the Redskins need?

— Should the Redskins draft another QB? 

— With Sean McVay gone, will the Redskins run the ball more?

— Can Cravens handle the transition to safety? 

— Will the Redskins re-sign Pierre Garçon? 

— Will Rob Kelley be the lead running back in 2017?

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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

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Redskins free agent WR Pierre Garçon has simple question: 'Y'all hiring?'

Redskins free agent WR Pierre Garçon has simple question: 'Y'all hiring?'

Twice in the last five seasons Pierre Garçon logged more than 1,000 yards receiving as a member of the Washington Redskins, including the 2016 season. He's caught 376 passes in Washington for 21 touchdowns over 74 games.

Outside of a foot injury that cost his six games in 2012, Garçon has been arguably the Redskins most durable wide receiver, and he's known to be a hard worker in the weight room and the practice field. 

Despite all that, Garçon doesn't know that he will be back with the Burgundy and Gold once free agency opens. In fact, that uncertainty led the 30-year-old wideout to post a simple question on his Instagram page.

#YallHiring?

A post shared by Pierre Garcon (@pierregarcon) on

The top of the Redskins offseason questions remains QB Kirk Cousins. Garçon and fellow wideout DeSean Jackson are headed for free agency, as is standout defensive lineman Chris Baker. Reports show that the team has made little to no contact with any of the players or their representatives, though many conversations could be planned for the NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis later this month. 

Garçon's question seems simple, but the answer remains a mystery. 

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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