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Need to Know: Preston Smith could be the key to Redskins' defense

Need to Know: Preston Smith could be the key to Redskins' defense

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, September 3, nine days before the Washington Redskins open their season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Off day, no availability

—The Redskins last played a game that counted 237 days ago. It will be nine days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Cowboys @ Redskins 15; Browns @ Redskins 29; Redskins @ Ravens 36

Stock up/stock down vs. the Bucs

—The key to the Redskins’ defense could be Preston Smith. He has been playing well ever since the start of OTAs. The second-year player gets it in terms of what it takes to prepare to be successful. If that translates onto the field he will be a player opposing offenses will have to account for on every snap. That will make the whole unit better. I’m not sure how good he will be, but I’ll predict that he gets at least one interception, a rarity for a Redskins OLB. That’s because he takes pride in working on coverage and studies it, unlike others who have viewed it as a chore.

—Last year the offensive line was pretty good in pass blocking (4.6 percent sack rate, 5th in NFL) and not very good in run blocking (3.7 yards/carry, 30th in NFL). Given a choice in 2016 I’d rather have a line that can pass block well but, of course, you want a group that can be competent in both. Rushing in the preseason is a hodgepodge of different backs and linemen with no game planning so at this point it’s hard to tell how much progress the Redskins O-line has made in the run blocking department. They should be better but time will tell.

—I’m more bullish on Matt Jones’ chances of becoming a solid running back than most. I get the knocks on him, with his NFL-low average of 3.4 yards per carry. But that stat requires some context. Alfred Morris, who ran behind the same line last year, had an average of 3.7 yards per carry. That is by far the worst of his career. His worst before that was 4.1 per carry in 2014. It’s probably not a coincidence that both backs struggled behind that offensive line (and the tight ends might as well be thrown under the same bus here). If the line gets its act together in run blocking Jones can produce. If they don’t Adrian Peterson couldn’t produce behind them.

—As the O-line struggled last year, Bill Callahan, that unit’s position coach, didn’t come under much criticism. He also is the run game coordinator and the Redskins didn’t run the ball well. There were some good reasons for giving him a pass, primarily that it was his first year on the job and it wasn’t reasonable to expect an instant turnaround. And Callahan does have a good track record. But he did inherit a Pro Bowl performer at the most important position on the line and the No. 5 overall pick in the draft went to his unit. If things don’t start to turn around at some point this season Callahan should get more scrutiny than he has.

—Things haven’t been this quiet around the quarterback position in years. Kirk Cousins came in, played his 54 snaps, and went about his business. No controversy, no noise, no injuries, just some pretty good quarterback play. That doesn’t mean that he’s Pro Bowl bound or anything but it will be an interesting experiment to see if tranquility at the position contributes to competence and winning.

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Need to Know: Another big day on the ground on tap for the Redskins?

Need to Know: Another big day on the ground on tap for the Redskins?

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, December 11, eight days before the Washington Redskins host the Carolina Panthers.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Redskins vs. Eagles 1 p.m.

Days until: Panthers @ Redskins 8; Redskins @ Bears Christmas Eve 13; Giants @ Redskins, New Year’s Day 21

Injuries of note:
Out:
G Long (concussion), S Blackmon (concussion), DE Lanier (leg)
Limited: TE Reed (shoulder), G Scherff (ankle), DE Jean Francois (knee/foot), DE Baker (ankle), G Shawn Lauvao (groin)
Final injury report

Final thoughts on Redskins vs Eagles

—The Redskins have not stopped a team in a goal to go situation since September. The Eagles are good in such situations, converting TDs 84 percent of the time. If the Redskins can get a stop and force a field goal try when the first time the Eagles get down there that would be a big psychological boost for the visitors. Or, better yet, maybe they can just not let the Eagles get any first and goal opportunities. That’s what happened when the teams played in Week 6.

—In that Week 6 meeting the Redskins rushed for 230 yards, their best performance on the ground this season by 79 yards. Matt Jones picked up 135 yards on 16 attempts, Rob Kelley had 5-59, and Chris Thompson kicked in with 9-37. It’s unlikely that Jones will be active so it will be up to Kelley to get things rolling on the ground.

—For all the talk about Kirk Cousins having the Eagles’ number, he had one of his worst statistical games of the year against them in Week 6. He completed just 52.9 percent of his passes, his lowest completion percentage of the season. Cousins also threw perhaps his worst interception of the year, a pick six that tied the game at 14 in the second quarter. The bottom line was that he made some plays and the Redskins won but he likely will have to play better this time for his team to prevail today.

—Carson Wentz has six interceptions in his last three games, including three last week against the Bengals. Josh Norman is due to get an interception, overdue, in fact. Don’t know what will happen but the chances seem good that a Redskin will get his hands on a Wentz pass today.

—We saw last week that the Redskins are not a lock to go on the road and win against a team that is desperately fighting for its playoff life. Fortunately for the Redskins, the Eagles do not have players who are the equals of David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Patrick Peterson. While plenty can go wrong I think the Redskins come away with with the win.

Redskins 28, Eagles 24

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Redskins bring former starting center back to active roster

Redskins bring former starting center back to active roster

The Redskins officially brought Kory Lichtensteiger back to the active roster, and while the move is now for depth, it could have other ramifications down the road. 

The move is on the NFL's transaction report for Saturday. To make room for Lichtensteiger, the team released defensive lineman A.J. Francis. 

Dealing with injuries up and down the line of scrimmage, Lichtensteiger's return could give the offensive front more flexibility. When Lichtensteiger got injured Week 3 and sent to the injured reserve, third-year pro Spencer Long stepped in and performed well at center. Last week in Arizona, Long sustained a concussion.

That injury opened the door for John Sullivan, who will start this week in Philadelphia with Long ruled out. Sullivan was brought in as a backup to Long once Lichtensteiger was put on IR. With Long now in the NFL concussion protocol, the Redskins need another center should Sullivan get hurt. Alas, Lichtensteiger's return from the IR. 

Left guard Shawn Lauvao also sustained an injured groin, and that's where things could get interesting. Long is capable of playing guard, as is Lichtensteiger in a pinch. Should Lauvao's injury persist, Lichtensteiger might be able to help there.

Against the Eagles, the plan certainly appears to be second-year man Arie Kouandjio starting in place of Lauvao. Kouandjio made one earlier start this season - Week 4 against Cleveland - and the results were mixed.

If Kouandjio stumbles and Lauvao needs more time, Lichtensteiger's return to the roster gives Jay Gruden and Bill Callahan more flexibility, especially when Long returns from injury.

In fact, once the team has Long, Lichtensteiger and Sullivan healthy, there could be a bit of a logjam roster-wise on the offensive line, but considering all the injuries, bumps and bruises that are part of O-line life by the last four games of the season, the Redskins staff likely won't mind figuring that out. 

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