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Need to Know: Numbers the 2015 Redskins must improve

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Need to Know: Numbers the 2015 Redskins must improve

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, June 25, 35 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.

Nickel coverage

Earlier this week I looked at some reasons why the Redskins might be better than many think they will be this year. Here are five numbers that will need to improve if that is going to happen.

Rushing attempts—There is some cause and effect here that might be hard to sort out. Just calling more than the 25 runs a game they did last year won’t get it done. They need to be able to run effectively and the defense and special teams will have to do their part and keep games close. If the Redskins are running the ball 30 times per game, that will be a sign that things are going well.

Net passing yards per attempt—This is yards per attempt minus yards lost to sacks. When the quarterbacks could stay upright, the Redskins were pretty efficient passing the ball. They average 8.2 yards per attempt, fourth in the NFL and better than renowned passing teams like the Broncos, Colts, and Saints. But when you factor in sacks the Redskins averaged just 6.7 yards, 12th in the NFL. An improved offensive line will certainly help but backs and tight ends need to do their part in pass protection and the quarterbacks need to get rid of the ball.

Opponent passer rating—Passer rating is far from a perfect way to gauge a pass defense but when it’s as bad as the Redskins’ was last year it means something. Quarterbacks had a field day against the Redskins last year. They compiled a passer rating of 108.3, the worst in the NFL by a healthy margin. To put it in perspective, the average QB that faced the Redskins had a better rating than Ben Roethlisberger 103.3 passer rating) or Peyton Manning (101.5). You can blame the defensive backs if you want and they deserve their share of it but it takes a total team effort to put up numbers that bad.

Third down conversions—This is not any secret to Redskins fans but it’s important to point out that they aren’t that far away from being decent in this category. They would need about one more third-down conversion per game to be average and just a few more per month on top of that to be in the top 10. The best offenses in the NFL fail to convert on third down over half of the time. It's really a matter of timing and converting that third down when you really need it.

Defensive yards per play—They gave up 5.85 yards per play, 27th in the NFL. Washington actually did pretty well on first down, giving up 4.96 yards per play, fourth best in the NFL. But on second down they were 31st yielding 6.47 yards per play and they were 29th on third down, giving up 6.77. To compare, the Seahawks had the best third-down defense, giving up just 4.19 yards per play.

Timeline

—It’s been 179 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 80 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 35; Preseason opener @ Browns 49; final cuts 72

If you have any questions about what's going on at Redskins Park, hit me up in the comments. And I'm always on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Accentuating the negative leads to positive results for Chris Thompson

Accentuating the negative leads to positive results for Chris Thompson

Some NFL players ooze confidence. They thrive on emphasizing what they do well and not speaking about weaknesses. In a game as tough and physical as pro football, some players need to feel bulletproof to survive.

Chris Thompson is not like that. He was one of the stars in the Redskins’ 27-20 win over the Rams on Sunday. He rushed three times for 77 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 29 yards. And while he enjoyed the win, he did not revel in his performance as he made a glaring mistake.

RELATED: JAY GRUDEN NOT INCREASING THOMPSON'S WORKLOAD

In the third quarter, quarterback Kirk Cousins threw him a perfect pass over the middle. The speedy Thompson had nothing but green grass and white stripes in front of him. But he dropped the pass, turning what likely would have been a 62-yard touchdown into an incompletion.

That play stuck with him despite his touchdown runs of 61 and seven yards.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “On the plane ride, getting dressed after the game, this morning watching film, when I was outside at practice, I was thinking about that one play. My first thing I wanted to do when I got out there in individuals with the quarterbacks was to run that route again and catch the ball.”

FANTASY: TO START CHRIS THOMPSON OR NOT?

Instead of reliving his glory, he went to work to correct one mistake.

This is not a lone instance of Thompson focusing on negative plays that he made. He said that mistakes stick in his mind more than good plays. During a few minutes talking to reporters on Wednesday, he recalled going the wrong way on a choice route against the Dolphins in 2015, costing a possible touchdown, making a similar mistake against the Browns last year, and errors that led to sacks of Cousins last year and of Robert Griffin III a few years ago.

“All of those things that I look back at that I did wrong, it helped me become a better player this year,” said Thompson. “I’ve been able to go back and look at that and see what went wrong and fix it now. As of late as I’ve become more confident in what I’m doing and more confident in my abilities I’m able to play better.”

Whatever Thompson is doing to become a better player is working. He signed a two-year contract extension earlier this month. Jay Gruden sings his praises whenever he’s asked about him. His teammates almost universally admire and respect him. In his fifth NFL season, many analysts around the league are starting to recognize him as a main cog in the Redskins’ offense.

It is unlikely that he will change his approach.

“I had to mess up a lot in order to get where I am now,” he said. Thompson will continue to perfect his game by putting his imperfect moments under the microscope. 

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Redskins Playbook: Cousins, Gruden remain quite confident in offense. Maybe they're right

Redskins Playbook: Cousins, Gruden remain quite confident in offense. Maybe they're right

One of the best offenses in 2016, the Redskins early returns so far in 2017 rank somewhere between underwhelming and underachieving. That does not mean good games aren't coming in the future, however, at least according to head coach Jay Gruden and quarterback Kirk Cousins. 

"I would like to think that as the year goes on the offense gets better and better," Cousins said Wednesday. "Hopefully we take those steps going forward and we just hit our stride and play much better than we have the first two weeks."

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In the first two games of the season, a loss at home to the Eagles in Week 1 and a win in Los Angeles over the Rams, Cousins hasn't played particularly well. Against Philadelphia, he played poorly, accounting for three turnovers and completing just 57 percent of his passes. In LA, he showed progress. No turnovers and his completion percentage jumped up nearly 10 points. 

More importantly, Cousins shined on the final drive of the game, going 3 for 3 and throwing the game-winning touchdown. It was that drive, and a number of near misses in both games, that has Gruden optimistic. 

The coach called the Redskins passing game "very, very close" to hitting on all cylinders.

"There is a lot we can improve on in the passing game, from Kirk to the routes to the protection. It’s a work in progress, but we will get there," Gruden said Monday. "We have total faith that we will get it done and his numbers will get better."

Considered in a certain way, he's right. 

In Week 1, the Redskins offensive line struggled and Cousins was sacked four times. The run game got nothing going, generating just 64 yards on the ground. Cousins was able to throw for 240 yards, and despite all the turnovers, the offense still had a chance to steal a win late in the fourth quarter. 

In Week 2, the Redskins line blocked better and the run game produced at a high level. Cousins' yardage total was quite low, only 179 yards, but a big gainer got dropped and a few other opportunities were missed. 

Cousins supporters will scream about passes being dropped in Weeks 1 and 2. Cousins detractors will scream about passes missed in Weeks 1 and 2.

READ MORE: KIRK COUSINS' HITS AND MISSES FROM WEEK 2

The truth is likely in the middle. There is a solid baseline of production from Cousins from the last two seasons, and clearly Gruden expects that to come. Perhaps Week 3 against Oakland will be the opportunity. 

"We’re just going to keep sticking with the plan, getting these guys open the best way we can and hopefully we give Kirk the protection and he sees the throws and makes the throws," Gruden said. "But we’re right there, really. I like the group that we have."

The 2016 Redskins finished third in the league in total yards gained. Obviously the team lost a ton of production with the exits of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. Don't discount that, or the departure of former offensive coordinator Sean McVay. 

Despite all that, Cousins still has weapons. And talent. He knows he can be better, and knows he needs to be better.

"We have still done some really good things the first two weeks and have moved the ball, but I think there is more in the tank there that we have got to bring out,” Cousins said. 

To beat the Raiders, the Redskins will need to bring everything out of the tank. That likely means a 300-yard passing game from Cousins along with multiple touchdowns. 

The quarterback and the coach think the offense is ready, and close to a breakout game. Maybe they're right. 

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