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Need to Know: Assessing the Redskins' playoff chances

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Need to Know: Assessing the Redskins' playoff chances

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, November 26, three days before the Redskins host the New York Giants.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks!

Five thoughts on the Redskins and the playoffs

—The Redskins are not a playoff team but that doesn’t mean they can’t make the playoffs. They are flawed in many ways but so are the other teams in the NFC East and per NFL rules one of the teams has to represent the division in the playoffs. It may not be ideal to be a mediocre playoff team but it’s better than being a mediocre non-playoff team. The experience of participating in a playoff game would be invaluable for younger players.

—A playoff trip can be a springboard to future success. The Panthers made the postseason going 7-8-1 last year. They won their first-round game and you see where they are now. The Seahawks took the NFC West in 2010 with a 7-9 record and upset the Saints in the first round. Two years later they were on their way to being a powerhouse. That may or may not happen but nothing bad can result from playing an extra game or two.

— "If we have any desire to play 17, 18 or 19 games, we’ve got to win Sunday," Jay Gruden said on Wednesday. That’s not mathematically true but being two games back with the Giants having the head-to-head tiebreaker in hand would be a very steep mountain to climb.

—Although this is a big game, the team’s approach shouldn’t really change. “If our attitude or preparation suddenly changes this week, I would be scratching my head wondering what guys were doing previous week,” said Kirk Cousins. “I feel like all of the games are important.”

—Like most, I think the odds are against the Redskins winning the division. It is hard for me to see them getting past the Giants; it’s just a bad matchup for them. But just like I can say that the Giants have the Redskins’ number, you can say Washington is due for a win over New York. If the home team can pull it off and get into a first-place tie with an edge in the division record tiebreaker I will start to take the playoff scenarios a lot more seriously.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Practice 10:35; Jay Gruden and Joe Barry news conferences and player availability after practice, approx. 12:30

Days until: Giants @ Redskins 3; Monday night Cowboys @ Redskins 121; Redskins @ Bears 17

In case you missed it

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Where did Redskins run game go? Gruden wants to recommit to Fat Rob

Where did Redskins run game go? Gruden wants to recommit to Fat Rob

Since the Redskins inserted Robert Kelley into the starting running back spot, Washington's ground game has stabilized and improved. It's well documented that Kelley limits negative plays in the run game - something his predecessor Matt Jones struggled with.

Kelley got his first start in London against the Bengals, and he ran the ball 21 times for 87 yards and a touchdown, good for more than 4 yards-per-carry. From there, Kelley gained 97 yards against the Vikings and 137 against the Packers, both Redskins wins. And in those post-bye week victories over the NFC North foes, Kelley got the ball 22 and 24 times respectively. 

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Coming off the Green Bay win, it seemed obvious that getting Kelley the ball more than 20 times per game was a big boost for the Redskins offense. Against the Packers, Washington piled up more than 500 yards of offense and Kelley averaged 5.7 YPC.

The 'Skins headed to Dallas riding high for a Thanksigving matchup, and quickly got into a big hole en route to a shootout loss. Jay Gruden explained after the game that being down multiple touchdowns early in the game forced Washington to get away from Kelley and rely on Kirk Cousins' arm. The QB's performance was impressive, he threw for more than 400 yards, but Kelley got just 14 carries.

In the Cowboys game, that made sense. 

Against Arizona this past weekend, Kelley again got just 14 carries. And that did not make sense.

"There’s no doubt about it, we would like to get more of [Kelley] involved," Gruden said on Monday.

The Redskins never trailed by more than a TD against the Cardinals like they did against the Cowboys. Washington even held two different second half leads in Arizona, and still, Kelley did not get the ball enough. 

Further, Kelley was running the ball well in the desert. Where he struggled against Dallas - 14 rushes for 37 yards, good for just 2.64 YPC - Kelley gained more than 60 yards on 14 carries against the Cards, good for a 4.5 YPC average.

"We ideally would like to get that running game going a little bit more – more touches for Robert because he’s been very good as far as running the football," Gruden said. "We have got to make sure that we get him more involved, maintain the time of possession and stay more balanced."

Beyond a balanced offense, Cousins often throws his best passes off play action. Without a commitment to the run game, the play action passing looks struggle. Usually one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL, Cousins did not play his best against the Cardinals. Some of that was missing throws, and some of it was heavy pressure from the Arizona defensive line. 

Regardless of the reason for Cousins' struggles - he completed only 21 of 37 pass attempts - more run plays might have helped the Redskins quarterback get into more of a rythym, not to mention slow down the Arizona pass rush.

In six wins this season, the Redskins have run the ball nearly 28 times per game. In five losses, that number dips to 19 runs per game. The proof is in the numbers. 

More Redskins: JAMISON CROWDER'S TOUCHDOWN DANCE WAS BETTER THAN HIS TOUCHDOWN

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Will Long's concussion force the Redskins to make a roster move?

Will Long's concussion force the Redskins to make a roster move?

The Redskins are dealing with concussions to two starters as they start preparations for their critical game against the Eagles on Sunday.

Jay Gruden said on Monday that both center Spencer Long and safety Will Blackmon are in the NFL’s concussion protocol. Long exited the Redskins’ loss to the Cardinals on Sunday in the second quarter and Blackmon left in the fourth. The status of each of the players for Sunday in Philadelphia is up in the air.

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If Blackmon can’t go against the Eagles the team would be able to get by with Donte Whitner and Duke Ihenacho at safety. That would leave them with Deshazor Everett, who hasn’t played a snap on defense this year, as the backup but they could survive.

If it looks like Long will be out the Redskins might have to make some roster changes. Veteran John Sullivan is a capable backup and they can function with him if Long is out. But there is not another center on the roster.

“I think right now if Spencer can’t go then we’d probably have to make a roster adjustment and we’ll have to see where Kory [Lichtensteiger] is,” said Gruden. “We’ll have to see. Ronald Patrick’s on our practice squad, that’s an opportunity. [Shawn] Lauvao is our backup center if he can’t go right now, so I’d like to keep him at guard. He hasn’t done a lot of center work, so we’d have to get somebody in here, somebody up.”

Lichtensteiger was the starter at center until he suffered a calf injury in Week 3. He went on injured reserve right after that. The Redskins have not used their one move to designate a player to return from IR so they could do that with Lichtensteiger if he is healthy.

The Redskins are Patrick’s seventh team since he came into the league as an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina in 2014. He is 6-1, 310 and he has yet to be on the 53-man roster for a regular season game.

More Redskins: WHERE DID REDSKINS RUN GAME GO? GRUDEN WANTS TO RECOMMIT TO FAT ROB