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Need to Know: Cousins, Redskins have improved dramatically on third down

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Need to Know: Cousins, Redskins have improved dramatically on third down

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, November 13, two days before the Washington Redskins host the New Orleans Saints.

Five stats to know for Week 9, Redskins vs. Saints

—The Redskins have improved dramatically on third down from last year. In 2014 they were among the worst in the league, getting first downs on just 31.5 percent of their third-down plays. This year they are converting at a 43.9 percent clip, tied for eighth in the NFL. And it’s not just a matter of having shorter distances to go; they have improved on both attempts with six or fewer yards to go (49.9 percent in 2014, 64.2 percent this year) and with seven yards or more to go (13.3 percent to 24.1 percent). The Redskins have scored five touchdowns on third down through eight games this year after scoring just three all of last year.

—One of the reasons that the Redskins have improved on third down is that Kirk Cousins is playing better on third down compared to last year. In 2014 he was among the worst quarterbacks in the league on third down. Here’s a comparison of his numbers:

—Another area where the Redskins have accomplished a solid turnaround is when it comes to sacks allowed. They gave up the second most in the league last year, 58. That included a six-game stretch from their ninth through their 14th game where they gave up 36 sacks. That was the most sacks allowed in a six-game span since the 1997 Cardinals. So far this year they have given up nine sacks, tied for the fewest in the NFL. They allowed two sacks in Week 2 and have given up no more than one in any other game. The lack of sacks allowed and the third-down success are undoubtedly related.

—Will the Redskins be able to get on a roll offensively against the Saints? New Orleans has allowed 11 pass plays of 40 yards or longer this season, the most on the NFL. But this could be a case of the stoppable force meeting the movable object. The Redskins have just one such play themselves all year. Of course, DeSean Jackson, who led the NFL is receptions for 40-plus yards last year with 13, missed most of the first seven games before returning rusty against the Patriots last week. The Saints have given up 24 touchdown passes. Since the 1970 merger only the 1981 Colts have given up that many touchdown passes through the first nine games of the season.

—There was a lot of hand wringing earlier in the year when the Redskins were racking up penalty flags at a frightening pace. But that has changed over the last few weeks. They have had 51 accepted penalties against them this year. There are 25 NFL teams that have more. Washington has been penalized 441 yards, fewer than 26 teams. Since being penalized 10 times against the Eagles in Week 4 they have been flagged just 16 times in four games. It should be pointed out that they lost three of those four games so perhaps the correlation between avoiding penalties and winning isn’t as strong as some might think.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Practice 11:50; Jay Gruden and Sean McVay news conferences and player availability after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until: Saints @ Redskins 2; Redskins @ Panthers 9; Giants @ Redskins 16

In case you missed it

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A Redskin fan's guide to the NFL Draft Combine

A Redskin fan's guide to the NFL Draft Combine

This week in Indianapolis the NFL world will converge at the Scouting Combine to watch college football players work out, sprint and lift weights in anticipation of the upcoming draft. For the Redskins front office, this draft needs to be a win.

The 2016 Draft could still yield strong results for Washington, but overall the class did not play particularly well as rookies. This year, Scot McCloughan has nine picks at his disposal, with the extra picks late in the draft in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds.

It's no secret that the 'Skins need help along the defensive line, a lot of help. That should be a major area of focus for the Redskins scouts and coaches, and that will make next Sunday arguably the most important of the week in Indianapolis. 

The combine divides players into 11 position groups, but Groups 7, 8 and 9 will matter most. Groups 7 and 8 represent defensive linemen and 9 are the linebackers. That group officially arrives on Thursday but won't work out on the field until Sunday. The days in between include interviews, psychological testing and the bench press.

Obviously the Redskins won't spend all nine picks on only defensive linemen. The team will likely invest in the offensive line as well, and that group will arrive earlier in the week and work out on Friday. Cornerbacks and safeties are the last to work out on Monday, March 6. 

With the likely departure of at least one of DeSean Jackson or Pierre Garçon, and the possible departure of both, it would make sense for the 'Skins to bring in another receiver via the draft. They work out on Saturday, and should the Redskins decide to take a quarterback in the draft, the passers will work out that day too. 

Running back could be another spot the 'Skins invest. Jay Gruden said that Robert Kelley is locked into the RB1 role, but still the team might want increased competition at the position. The backs will work out Friday.

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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Why won’t Redskins brass talk to the media at the NFL Combine?

Why won’t Redskins brass talk to the media at the NFL Combine?

The NFL has released the official schedule of when NFL coaches and executives will take the podium and address the media at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. You can find it right here but I’ll save you a click—nobody from the Redskins is scheduled to talk.

NFL teams are not required to have a representative speak at the combine but most do. This year only the Saints and Patriots are joining the Redskins in avoiding the media.

Bill Belichick never talks at the combine and I believe that the Saints have bypassed the opportunity to do so in the past. However, the Redskins head coach traditionally has gone to the podium in the past. Joe Gibbs spoke when he was in his second stint as the head coach. Mike Shanahan, as tight lipped as anyone, met with the press in Indy each of his four years as head coach. Jay Gruden has spoken during each of the three years that he has been head coach.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 3.0

And last year Scot McCloughan held a small media gaggle with local reporters in his hotel in Indianapolis.

This year the Redskins are going somewhat dark. McCloughan did not speak to reporters at the Senior Bowl (Gruden held a brief availability in Mobile), a departure from his first two years with the team. And now no Redskins representatives at the combine.

One of the problems with changing what has been a longstanding practice and going into radio silence is that it leaves people speculating. If the team doesn’t want to put any information out there that is the organization’s option. But if you choose not to fill in the blanks, the fans and media will.

So why aren’t they talking? The best bet is that they are in a delicate stage when it comes to dealing with the future of quarterback Kirk Cousins. He is a pending free agent who is likely to be hit with the franchise tag on Wednesday, the day before the combine starts. At that point, the clock will be ticking on Cousins either signing a long-term contract or getting traded to a team that is willing to meet his asking price. It’s my guess that Jay Gruden does not want to face questions about Cousins’ future.

More Redskins: #RedskinsTalk podcast: Is Kirk too nice for his own good?

Gruden is not a very good liar; his poker face needs a lot of work. Perhaps that is a good quality for a human being but not a very good attribute for someone who would need to go out and talk about Cousins as the long-term quarterback for the team, or at least the QB for the coming season, when his status may be very much in doubt.

This is not to say that there is definitely going to be a trade of Cousins worked out at the combine. But it is very possible that a deal will be discussed with Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers and any number of other quarterback-needy teams. And perhaps there is concern that Gruden will let something slip or, more likely, say a lot on the subject of Cousins by not saying anything.

Again, this is just reading the tea leaves on my part. But by going silent the Redskins are sending an invitation for people to fill in the blanks. I am just taking them up on it.

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.