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Need to Know: Redskins culture change will take time

chris-baker-stop.png

Need to Know: Redskins culture change will take time

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, June 12, 4 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.

Question of the day

A few days a week I’ll give an in-depth answer to a question submitted by a fan on my Twitter feed, via the Real Redskins Facebook page, or in the comments section here. On Twitter address the questions to me at @Rich_TandlerCSN with the #NTK hashtag. There will be a comment thread set up on the Facebook page and if you’re asking your question here, put “for NTK” at the start of the comment.

I’ll also take your Need to Know questions via email. Hit me up rich.tandler+csn@gmail.com with “NTK” in the subject line. Just keep them relatively brief, please. 

Today's question is from Twitter:

There has been plenty of talk about a culture change around Redskins Park. That’s not uncommon for a team that has finished in last place six of the last seven years.

We’ve heard talk of culture change and similar concepts before at Redskins Park but by December that has all gone the way of the more aggressive “unleashed” defenses we have been promised over the years. Sweet sounding talk in the spring and summer tends to become vaporware when the games start counting.

The Redskins may or may not develop a winning culture. But if they don’t it won’t be because Chris “Swaggy” Baker would get a kick out of a moment on HBO’s Hard Knocks. A winning culture can incorporate characters. The Patriots can win despite Gronk’s self-promotion and other antics. In Joe Gibbs’ first era they had John Riggins and the Hogs not quite fitting the standard mold. Gibbs II made the playoffs twice and had characters like Fred Smoot and Clinton Portis.

The Redskins won’t win or lose because Baker hopes that the HBO cameras capture his dance. But they will win or lose based on whether or not Baker does things like this again:

https://twitter.com/dcsportsbog/status/541669206560100353/photo/1

This picture is from the second quarter of the Redskins’ game against the Rams last December. Ryan Kerrigan sacked quarterback Shaun Hill, forcing a fumble. Baker celebrated the sack while paying no attention to the ball that had squirted past him and was loose on the ground behind him (the ball is just to the left of the goal post on the edge of the hash mark).

While concentration during preparation is important, finishing plays is vital. Baker can have all of the dance-offs he wants to during the week as long as he plays through the whistle and doesn’t celebrate prematurely and fail to make an important play.

The question that Jay Gruden and Scot McCloughan have to ponder is whether or not a player like Baker, who likes to have fun, can be the kind of player who has laser focus on game days. Not every fun-loving player can take things seriously enough on the field. I have heard some veteran players wonder out loud of Baker goofs off too much. Players like Riggins and Gronk are few and far between.

A winning culture is not built overnight. It isn’t built during one set of OTA’s or one training camp. It takes some time. If Baker (or any of a number of other players who committed bonehead sins of commission and omission last year) gets through 2015 without prematurely celebrating a play then that’s fine. The test will be when a player does show a lack of focus or a lack of preparation. Are there consequences? Is the player back in 2016?

So, let’s check back in a year or so on this. If we get through 12 months and the Redskins have players who can have fun off the field while being deadly serious between the white lines on Sundays we might have a culture change starting to brew. If we see a lack of focus on the field tolerated or even rewarded with increased playing time or a new contract, things are back to square one.

Timeline

—It’s been 166 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 93 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins minicamp starts 4; Redskins training camp starts 48; Preseason opener @ Browns 62

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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Redskins Playbook: After worst to first in 2016, how strong will NFC East be?

Redskins Playbook: After worst to first in 2016, how strong will NFC East be?

When the Redskins won the NFC East in 2015 with a 9-7 record, most critics dismissed the division as weak. That theory was largely proved right when the Redskins got stomped at home in the first round of the playoffs by the Wild Card Green Bay Packers.

In 2016, however, the NFC East largely looked like the best division in football, or at least among the best divisions. Dallas won 13 games and took the NFC East title, the Giants won 11 and took the NFC's top Wild Card spot. The Redskins had a chance to make the playoffs in Week 17, but unceremoniously lost and fell short.

Still, Washington won eight games and Philadelphia won seven. In fact, the NFC East was the only division in the NFL without a team that lost 10 or more games. The AFC West - a division that some would argue was tougher than the NFC East - still had the Chargers and their 5-11 record.

What does it mean for 2017? If anything the only team expected to regress would be the Cowboys, and their regression could easily still have them looking to win around 10 games. 

The Eagles have improved with young, star QB Carson Wentz. New York will be interesting, as they have some age at various spots on their roster but still feature a two-time Super Bowl winning QB in Eli Manning and one of the best defenses in the NFL.

As for Washington? The defense should be much improved. It almost has to be as the 2016 version struggled significantly. If the defense can just be average (and I'd argue it could push for Top 15) the offense should continue to move the ball well. Producing in the red zone needs to look different than last season too.

The NFC East looks like a beast yet again. It would be no surprise if both NFC Wild Cards come from the division.

Let us know what you think in the comments. 

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Need to Know:Redskins faced one of the toughest schedules in NFL in 2016

Need to Know:Redskins faced one of the toughest schedules in NFL in 2016

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 28, 16 days before the Washington Redskins start their mandatory minicamp on June 13.

Timeline

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/27) 60
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 74
—Season opener Eagles @ Redskins (9/10) 105

Note: I am on vacation this week in the Outer Banks. Need to Know will be a mix of new content and some of the most popular posts of 2017.

Redskins faced one of NFL’s toughest slates in 2016

(originally posted January 28)

As the Redskins came off their 2015 playoff season and looked towards 2016, one thing jumped out. Even before any games were played it looked like their path to a repeat playoff appearance would be difficult, more so than it was when they went 9-7 and took the NFC East title.

The 2015 schedule looked fairly easy when applying the eyeball test. They played just two games against teams that made the playoffs and those teams, the Patriots and Panthers, plus the Jets were the only teams they faced that finished the season with winning records.

The eyeball test was borne out by the numbers. According to the stat gurus at Football Outsiders the Redskins faced the 28th toughest schedule in terms of the DVOA of opposing defenses and the opposing offenses added up to the 24th most difficult.

The going was considerably tougher in 2016. The Redskins played seven games against teams that were in the playoff field. The defenses they faced stacked up as the toughest group of any NFL team. They played nine games against teams that finished in the top 11 in defensive DVOA. The offenses they faced were a little better than average, ranking 13th as a group.

While the Redskins’ season was widely regarded as a disappointment, it would be reasonable to say that given vastly improved quality of the competition that they did well in only having their record drop by half a game.

Of course, the goal is to be good enough to prosper and make the playoffs no matter what mix of teams the luck of the draw happens to put on the schedule. They will need to get there in a hurry. Awaiting the Redskins on their 2017 schedule are seven 2016 playoff teams plus one more that finished the year with a winning record.

The fortunes of NFL teams can’t always be predicted in advance, especially more than seven months before the season kicks off. But it’s safe to say that the 2017 slate will be challenging. If they are going to improve their record they are going to have to improve their level of play dramatically.

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.