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Need to Know: Grading Redskins' Cousins against the Panthers

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Need to Know: Grading Redskins' Cousins against the Panthers

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, November 24, five days before the Redskins host the New York Giants.

Five final thoughts on Panthers 44, Redskins 16

—I simply don’t buy assertions that the Redskins suffered from some great “momentum” loss after Chris Culliver’s pick six was nullified by a shaky penalty call. They had a chance to grab momentum after Andre Roberts’ 99-yard kickoff return tied the game at 14. The Redskins did briefly, forcing a three and out on defense. But their offense promptly went three and out. The Panthers took the ensuing punt and drove all the way from their own eight into field goal range before the Culliver play. By that point it was clear that the Panthers were the superior team and while the final score might not have been as ugly if Culliver’s touchdown had stood the outcome would not have changed. Momentum matters much more if the two teams are evenly matched. On this day, Carolina was just better.

—I would argue that the holding penalty against Jordan Reed had just as big an impact as the Culliver penalty and it probably was a worse call. If Kirk Cousins’ run stands and the Redskins have first and goal at the three, they likely score and it’s 28-21 at halftime and Washington was receiving the second-half kickoff. The holding was a much worse call than the roughing because referees are trained to throw flag in borderline situations when the penalty involves player safety. They are not encouraged to call ticky-tack holding penalties.

—One more thing on penalties then we’ll move on. As Jay Gruden said during his press conference on Monday, illegal contact penalties need to be reviewable. If Gruden or any coach wants to use one of his challenges on such a play, why not? They are often big plays. Sure, it’s a judgment call, but so is whether a player got a second foot inbounds on a catch or if the ball broke the imaginary plane of the goal line. If there’s indisputable visual evidence that there was no prohibited contact, reverse the call. If not, it stands. In college they automatically review every such call. And the NFL reviews them each week to decide whether or not the player will be fined.

—I’ve been debating what grade to give Kirk Cousins for his performance on Sunday and I think I’m going with a C-, although I wouldn’t argue too hard if you want to go lower. His interception was completely on him as he overthrew DeSean Jackson for what would have been a first down near midfield. Cousins took five sacks and although at least one of them was due Josh LeRibeus snapping the ball too early and another came when Ty Nsekhe came in off the bench cold after Trent Williams was hurt and was evidently unprepared to, you know, block somebody, he takes his share of blame for them. On the good side, the TD pass to Jackson was very well thrown and he made a few other good throws. And his run that was nullified was very well executed. I’m grading on the curve a bit because he was up against the league’s best pass defense. All in all, the game was another data point to judge him by and this one on the down side of the “average” line.

—I’ve been giving Matt Jones something of a pass for his fumbles but he’s running out of rope. Four fumbles in 104 touches is beyond a concern and something to work on, it’s a five-alarm problem. Jones has been somewhat unlucky in that the Redskins lost all four fumbles and all of them either led to a touchdown for the other team or cost the Redskins a sure score. Jay Gruden can’t bench him because he is capable of making plays like the 78-yard touchdown rumble with a screen pass against the Saints. But “they work on ball security all the time” won’t cut it anymore. Jones needs special attention when it comes to holding on to the ball.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Player meetings, no media availability

Days until: Giants @ Redskins 5; Monday night Cowboys @ Redskins 13; Redskins @ Bears 19

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The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

Every NFL training camp is different, but there are a few consistent things you can count on happening at each one each year.

At some point, for example, a star will say that he's "just excited to hit a guy wearing a different colored jersey" after about a week of practicing against his teammates. Also on the list: a coach will tell reporters that his defense plans on being more aggressive and hopes to create more turnovers in the regular season.

One of the more pleasant camp traditions, meanwhile, is that undrafted rookie who goes from stand-in to stand out and makes the team by impressing in drills and preseason contests.

But while there will be plenty of time in the coming weeks for trying to figure out who'll do that for the Redskins in 2017, let's instead look back at a handful of the players who've already accomplished that in the past with Washington. Here are the seven best undrafted free agents the franchise has unearthed since 2010.

MORE: PLAYING OVER/UNDER WITH KEY STATS FOR KIRK COUSINS IN 2017

Logan Paulsen (2010)

No one will ever mistake Logan Paulsen's film for Rob Gronkowski's, but the former UCLA Bruin held down the third tight end spot for the Redskins from 2010-2014.

His two best years came in 2012 and 2013, where he posted 25 and 28 catches respectively, scored four total times and was on the receiving end of this magical fourth-down pass from Robert Griffin III against the Giants, a play that might've just been the peak of Griffin's rookie year. Now 30, Paulsen is reuniting with Kyle Shanahan out in San Francisco, continuing to exceed expectations and extending what's been a fruitful NFL career.

Will Compton (2013)

Will Compton's made a steady climb up Washington's roster since entering the league as a free agent linebacker out of Nebraska.

He was cut in his first season back in 2013 but latched onto the practice squad. He eventually debuted near the end of 2013, though, and made the 53-man squad the next go-round. 2015 was when he first started playing regularly, then last year he started 15 contests while also serving as a captain.

In 2017, he'll have to compete with Zach Brown and Mason Foster for a starting gig, but he figures to play plenty no matter the outcome and he's one of Jay Gruden's most trusted defenders. Not bad for a guy who has admitted he "wasn't confident" as a rookie:

Houston Bates (2015)

Special teams often is the avenue a college free agent has to take to make a roster, and Houston Bates is an example of one who's been there, done that. He's appeared in 24 games for the Redskins in his first two NFL campaigns and will look to recover from a torn ACL he suffered last December so he can add to that total in year three.

Before that injury, he was Washington's most active special teams player with 292 snaps in 14 contests.

Quinton Dunbar (2015)

Quinton Dunbar has not only overcome being an undrafted free agent; the former Florida Gator has also made the successful transition from wide receiver to cornerback, too.

Like his classmate Bates, Dunbar has participated often in 2015 and 2016, and like Paulsen, his biggest moments have come against the Giants. As a first-year pro, he picked off Eli Manning in the end zone to the delight of a raucous FedExField crowd, and as a sophomore, he helped complete a risky fake punt and also notched another (absolutely insane) INT in New York:

Rob Kelley (2016)

This offseason, Jay Gruden joked that Rob Kelley has worked his way up from "ninth-string" to starter. He laughed as he said it, but it may not have been that big of an exaggeration.

Kelley never rushed for more than 420 yards at Tulane, but he ripped off 704 last year for the 'Skins. Now he's the top option in a talented backfield, and while Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson are nipping at his heels for carries, Gruden has repeatedly said how much he loves Kelley. He'll be fed plenty in 2017.

Anthony Lanier (2016)

Anthony Lanier's on this list not for what he's done, but for what he's projected to do. Gruden uses not one but two really's to describe how excited he is about Lanier, and a couple of months of working with assistant Jim Tomsula might be all the lineman needs to make the jump from a project to a problem. 

Maurice Harris (2016)

Last on the list is a receiver who displayed sure hands and a knack for converting third downs in limited action last year. Maurice Harris now looks like he'll be an early option off the bench in Gruden's offense and should see the field far more often than he did in the second half of 2016.

You may not be fully sold on Harris, but it sounds like his teammates are, so don't be surprised if he breaks out and develops into another option for Kirk Cousins:

RELATED: RANKING THE REDSKINS ROSTER FROM BOTTOM TO TOP

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Need to Know: Redskins by the numbers—First-down rushing, forcing fumbles

Need to Know: Redskins by the numbers—First-down rushing, forcing fumbles

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, July 23, four days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 203 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 49 days.

Days until:

—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 18
—Preseason vs. Packers at FedEx Field (8/19) 27
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 41

The Redskins by the numbers

5.01—The average yards per carry against the Redskins on first down last year.

I have noted this before but I took a closer look and it’s even worse. In 2016, four running backs—Isaiah Crowell of the Browns, DeAngelo Williams of the Steelers, Jordan Howard of the Bears, and Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys—gained over 100 yards against Washington on first down alone. It took Elliott two games to get there but the other three made it in one. If the Redskins don’t get this fixed (this is the second year in a row they have been last in the league here) their defense won’t get much better.

3.85—The Redskins average offensive gain per carry on first down.

This is not a very good performance here — the average is 20th in the NFL. But it does represent a significant improvement from 2015, when they were last in the NFL at 3.3 yards per carry. One difference was negative plays. Two years ago, they had 63 first-down plays go for no gain or a loss of yards. Last year they had 48 such plays. Rob Kelley, who was fourth-best in the league as a rookie last year at gaining yardage after being contacted behind the line, can claim a lot of credit.

8—The number of opponents’ fumbles the Redskins recovered this year.

A total of 17 other teams recovered more fumbles than the Redskins did last year and their recoveries were exactly half of what they were in 2015, when they had 16, the most in the league. It wasn’t surprising that their recoveries fell. The numbers crunchers say that fumble recoveries aren’t “sticky,” meaning that there tends to be a lot of variance for each team each year. And that makes sense as a lot of recovering fumbles is the bounce of the ball.

But it should be noted that the Redskins forced just 22 fumbles last year after forcing 36 in 2015. You have to get the ball on the ground to recover it and the Redskins could do a better job of forcing fumbles in 2017

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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