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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.

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Redskins Playbook: 3 quotes that stood out during OTAs

Redskins Playbook: 3 quotes that stood out during OTAs

With Memorial Day weekend between now and the Redskins next batch of OTAs, let's look at the three best quotes from the first organized team session. For Redskins fans, the biggest looming issue remains the contract negotiations between Kirk Cousins and the organization, but there are plenty of other spots worth watching. 

1) Bad recruiting - A long-term deal might not get done, but that doesn't mean the talks aren't moving along. Cousins sounded almost optimistic but also knows that football is never a sure thing. To explain, he told a story from his high school days:

I’ve just kind of learned from previous experiences and if you know my story going back to high school, I played my senior year of high school with no scholarship offers, in fact there was a coach here from Northwestern today who was my recruiting coach at Northwestern, he’s still the running backs coach 10 years later at Northwestern and I was getting recruited by Northwestern, wanted a scholarship, they didn’t offer me, and it was just a reminder that you never know what’s going to happen. 

2) Sky's the limit - Despite the high-cost addition of Josh Norman, the Redskins secondary in 2016 was hardly a strength. Much of that came from poor safety play, where the team had few experienced options and spent little. This offseason, Washington invested in the position, bringing in D.J. Swearinger from the Arizona Cardinals. The new safety thinks the secondary can become a strength, quickly.

We have a lot of talent. If we work day in and day out I think this group can be one of the best. We just got to keep working, keep gelling to get everybody on the same page, the sky’s the limit.

3) Does it even matter - The NFL gives out a lot of awards, but at least publicly, there is no hardware for the funniest head coach. If there was a trophy, Jay Gruden should win it. Earlier this week the league announced a number of rule changes, most noticeably a change to stodgy TD celebration penalties. Another rule change: Overtime will shrink from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. Gruden wasn't impressed when asked about it. 

Who cares?

Bonus - Who you calling fat? Gruden is too funny to only make the list once. Asked about second-year running back Robert Kelley, the coach made sure people know the difference between a nickname and reality.

That was just a nickname, he wasn’t actually fat. I think when you’re a 22-year-old kid, 21-year-old guy out of Tulane and you understand the wear and tear that the NFL is going to give you, you better get yourself into shape if you want to maintain a career in the NFL as a running back.

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Need to Know: Are the Redskins one of the 10 most talented NFL teams?

Need to Know: Are the Redskins one of the 10 most talented NFL teams?

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, May 26, 18 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp on June 13.

Timeline

It’s been 145 days since the Redskins played a game. Their season opener against the Eagles at FedEx Field is in 107 days.

Days until:

—Redskins minicamp (6/13) 18
—Training camp starts (7/27) 62
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 76

A top 10 team? Or No. 22?

Former Cowboys VP and current SiriusXM commentator and NFL.com writer Gill Brandt did a list of his top 10 NFL teams in terms of talent. At the top of the list was the consensus pick for the best team in the league, the New England Patriots. Also on the list were some of the regulars on lists like this one—the Steelers, Falcons, Cowboys, etc.

But the team at No. 10 on the list was something of a surprise. Since it’s being mentioned here you’ve probably figured out that it’s the Washington Redskins.

Brandt points out that they have a significant number of quality players in what should be the prime seasons of their careers, which he says, “portends good things”.

Judging talent is always subjective, especially when you don’t know how new players who arrived as free agents or draft picks will fit in. But good players are good players. Do the Redskins really have enough of them to stack up as a top-10 team?

One way to gauge this is to try to figure out how many of a team’s players could start for at least half of the other teams in the NFL. That is subjective but that’s what we do here so here we go.

On the offensive line, Trent Williams, Brandon Scherff, and Morgan Moses could start for most teams. Of the skill players, Kirk Cousins, Jordan Reed, Terrelle Pryor, and Jamison Crowder are on the list.

Defense is a little trickier since not all the players in the front seven would be scheme fits everywhere. But I think it’s safe to say that most teams could find some way to utilize Jonathan Allen, Ryan Kerrigan, and Zach Brown as starters. Josh Norman is probably the only member of the secondary who would qualify here although with as weak as the safety position is around the league you could make a case for D.J. Swearinger.

Not counting the safety, that makes a total of 10 who start for at least 16 teams, just less than half of the starters. There are some who could make it there is they take some steps towards reaching their potential. Brandy mentions Josh Doctson and Preston Smith. I would add Spencer Long and, if healthy, Junior Galette.

On the other side of the coin, where are the Redskins clearly below average? Left guard is the weak spot on the O-line. While the running backs aren’t awful I’m not sure many teams would trade their group for Rob Kelley, Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson. Despite the addition of Allen, the D-line remains suspect.

It is interesting to note that the Redskins are one of three NFC East teams on Brandy’s list; the Cowboys are fifth and the Giants are sixth.

You can look at the strong and weak points of the Redskins and write almost any 2017 storyline you want to. Peter King of The MMQB has his doubts about Pryor and Doctson being able to adequately compensate for the free agency losses of Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson and his power ranking have Washington at 22nd.

Two respected analysts, two very different views of how the Redskins stack up in 2017. We have a little more than 100 days before we start to find out who’s right.

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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