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Need to Know: First look at Redskins vs. Ravens—Is it a rivalry?

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Need to Know: First look at Redskins vs. Ravens—Is it a rivalry?

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, October 5, four days before the Washington Redskins go up the road to play the Ravens in Baltimore.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Practice 1:00; Kirk Cousins and Jay Gruden news conferences and player availability after practice, approx. 3 p.m.

Days until: Eagles @ Redskins 11; Redskins @ Lions 18; Redskins vs. Bengals in London 25

First thoughts on Redskins vs. Ravens

—Every leap year the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. gets decided and the debate about whether or not the Redskins-Ravens series is a rivalry is hashed out. I don’t think that it is a rivalry for the players. If the players don’t get worked up over a game against the Cowboys any more than they do any other divisional game it’s hard to see how they would get overly excited about playing an AFC team just because it’s 40 miles up the road. Some fans get worked up about it so there’s that. But if call this a “rivalry” you have to come up with another word for events like Auburn-Alabama, where as far as the fans are concerned there is that game and the 364 days until the next one. There is a bit more juice to the atmosphere surrounding the game because of the geographical proximity but that's about it.

—Although the Ravens are 3-1, Joe Flacco's numbers indicate that he is struggling so far this season. He has four touchdowns and four interceptions and has completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 6.3 yards per attempt. Flacco's passer rating of 79.3 is 26th in the NFL. If you prefer more advanced analysis his DVOA is 31st in the league. But he had helped rally the Ravens to two of their wins and that is what they are paying him to do. After getting carved up pretty well by two rookie quarterbacks in their first four games, the Redskins won’t sleep on Flacco.

—Justin Forsett was released yesterday, a good sign the running back Kenneth Dixon, the Ravens’ fourth-round pick this year, is ready to make his NFL debut. He has missed the first four games with an MCL strain. He should get some carries but the prime back will be Terrance West, who gained 113 yards on 21 carries against the Raiders last week. That was a career high for the third-year veteran and his second career 100-yard rushing game. So we’ll see if he can do it again. And yes, against the Redskins’ 30th- ranked rushing defense take the over.

—So far this year the Ravens are a top-10 defense, perhaps even top five. They are first in total yards allowed, third in passing yards and fifth in rushing yards. Going again to the advanced stats, they are fourth in the NFL in defensive DVOA. They have nine sacks, one more than the Redskins, and Terrell Suggs, despite that fact that he is nearly 34 and coming off of a torn Achilles, has three of them. It will be tough to move the ball against them.

—Speaking of ageless wonders, WR Steve Smith is 37, also coming off of an Achilles tear, and he is leading the team in receptions (24) and receiving yards (281). Will the Redskins have Josh Norman trail him like he did Odell Beckham and Terrelle Pryor? It may depend on if Bashaud Breeland is ready to return from his ankle injury. If he can go they might just play sides. If not, they might not trust Quinton Dunbar to be able to cover Smith. In any case, they could start off playing sides and see how it goes, moving Norman with Smith if it becomes necessary.

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After 4 teams in 4 years, D.J. Swearinger knows what it takes to make the Redskins home

After 4 teams in 4 years, D.J. Swearinger knows what it takes to make the Redskins home

It's never been a talent issue for D.J. Swearinger. In college he made big plays and earned all conference honors playing in the SEC at South Carolina. He was drafted high by Houston, second round in 2013, and started 10 games his rookie season. 

In his first two seasons with the Texans, Swearinger started 22 games and proved to be a playmaker. He logged three interceptions and more than 100 tackles. He looked like a possible long-term answer at safety, until he was uncermoniously cut after his second year.

Reports showed Swearinger bucked at playing special teams. And over time, a reputation as a big - sometimes dirty - hitter emerged. 

None of it helped Swearinger, who was signed by Tampa in 2015. He played seven games for the Bucs but was cut mid-season. Arizona signed him late in the 2015 season, and kept him for 2016.

Last year, playing on a defense with strong leaders like Calais Campbell and Patrick Peterson, Swearinger excelled. He played all over the Cardinals secondary, starting 12 games and making plays like he did early in his career in Houston.

He finished the 2016 season with three interceptions, two sacks and eight passes defensed. He made more than 50 tackles. Pro Football Focus rated Swearinger with a +15.3 grade, by far the highest of his career and good for the 8th best rating of any safety in the NFL.

The Redskins haven't had solid safety play in years. In 2016, the team tried to address the position on the cheap, converting cornerbacks to safeties and signing low tier free agents. It didn't work.

So, finally, in 2017 the Redskins front office addressed the safety position by signing Swearinger to a three-year deal. And it sounds like the 25-year-old has grown up a lot after four years of bouncing around the league.

"I've been on a lot of teams. I want to make this home," Swearinger said (full video above). "I feel like I’m experienced enough to know what to do as a pro, know what to do to stay on top of things and be a pro. As long as I be a pro every day and make the plays I’m capable of, I’ll be a Redskin."

Swearinger's deal will keep him with the Redskins through the 2019 season, but already, head coach Jay Gruden seems excited about the new safety. Earlier this offseason, Gruden said watching film of Swearinger revealed a player hitting the highest levels of safety play in the NFL. In OTAs, seeing Swearinger in person, Gruden was impressed.

"Watching him the first two days really excites me. He just looks like a safety back there," Gruden said. "No offense to the previous safeties we’ve had before, but I just think D.J. is to a level in his career right now where he’s got a lot of confidence. He has got a lot of talent."

There was some question if Swearinger can play the free safety role in Washington. More to the point, if he has the speed to play a true center field, with second-year man Su'a Cravens moving from linebacker to strong safety. Swearinger has zero concerns.

"I'm a free safety, I think that fits my body well," he said. "As a free safety you got to have the confidence in yourself that you can run with those guys and make plays on those guys."

Swearinger doesn't lack for confidence, and he shouldn't. Combined with Cravens, along with Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland at cornerback, the Redskins secondary could be a strength in 2017.

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

It's normal for players to be excited in May. There supposed to be. 

Coaches, however, tend to be more hesitant with praise. Not optimism, but actual praise, though when it comes to Swearinger, Gruden isn't shy about his expectations.

"We know that he’s a physical guy, but as far as coverages and breaking up things, he’s got a lot of confidence and I think he’s going to really, really emerge as a top safety not only for this team but in this league," the coach said of his new free safety.

It's been a long journey for Swearinger. From four teams in four years to five teams in five years. He's hoping this one sticks. 

<<<NFL POWER RANKINGS: WHO GOT BETTER AFTER THE DRAFT>>>

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back

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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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<<<NFL POWER RANKINGS: WHO GOT BETTER AFTER THE DRAFT>>>

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back