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Need to Know: Redskins have a big mountain to climb to improve their record

Need to Know: Redskins have a big mountain to climb to improve their record

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 6, 24 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.

A big mountain to climb

A few weeks ago here I looked at some reasons why the Redskins could be better than we think. If you’ve been looking for the other side of that coin, reasons why the Redskins might not have a record much better than the 4-12 they posted last year, here it is.

If they do again end up with double-digit losses it won’t necessarily be due to not having improved personnel or the coaching staff. Scot McCloughan has done a good job of shoring up the team’s major weaknesses (and the hiring of McCloughan filled a major weak spot in the front office).

But the Redskins have a big mountain to climb. As Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post pointed out, the Redskins weren’t just bad last year. They were really bad.

They were outscored by 137 points, an average of 8.6 per game. Only three other teams had a worse point differential. If you look at the 15 games they played against teams not named the Jacksonville Jaguars that per-game deficit increases to 10.5 points per game. Their 12 losses came by an average of over two touchdowns (14.6 points).

The Redskins did not lose many games that they were in late. Only in the losses to the Eagles, Vikings and 49ers were they truly competitive throughout. If you want to say that they “shoulda” won those games, that’s fine. But they also “coulda” lost to the Titans, Cowboys, and Eagles.

In short, they were what their record said they were.

A tremendous improvement for the 2015 Redskins would be to cut the scoring deficit by about six points per game. If they can do that, they would be around -40 in scoring. What kind of record could that get them?

Last year the Browns were outscored by 38 and went 7-9. The Falcons were -36 in net points and went 6-10. The Panthers won the NFC South at 7-8-1 while going -35 in net points. Going back to 2013 the Bills were -49 in points and 6-10 in the standings.

So we could expect some modest improvement in their record if they can shave that scoring deficit down to a few points per game. How likely is such an improvement? It would be unusual but not unheard of. Since Joe Gibbs’ first departure from the Redskins head coaching job in 1992, they have improved by at least 85 net points from one season to the next five times. The most recent was from 2011-2012 when they went from -79 to +48, a 127-point swing in the positive direction.

That improvement lifted the Redskins from 5-11 in last place to 10-6 and the NFC East title. Rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris got the team’s offense rolling and led the turnaround. Is there a similar transformational force this time around?

Perhaps at least a partial return to form by Griffin, a revitalized rushing game featuring Morris and rookie Matt Jones and a solid defensive improvement will spur some solid improvement.

It’s possible but far from certain that they will experience the type of turnaround they have seen once every four years or so in the past 20 years. They also could be better, maybe substantially better, and still not have it show up in the "W" column. We will see if they can take a giant leap forward or if any progress is more in the form of baby steps.

Timeline

—It’s been 190 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 69 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 24; Preseason opener @ Browns 38; final cuts 61

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Redskins offseason questions: Can Kirk Cousins take the next step in 2017?

Redskins offseason questions: Can Kirk Cousins take the next step in 2017?

The good news for the 2016 Redskins was that they didn’t collapse after winning the division the previous season as has been their pattern in the past. The bad news was that they didn’t take the next step and improve from a franchise that can compete to make the playoffs into one that is playing multiple postseason games year in and year out.

That work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players. In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Rich Tandler and JP Finlay will examine the biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.

RELATED: #RedskinsTalk podcast: Is Kirk too nice?

Will Kirk Cousins take the next step in 2017?

Finlay: The better question might be what constitutes the next step for Cousins? And going one step further, will it be with the Redskins? Answering the second part first, Cousins will be the 'Skins quarterback in 2017. Taking the next step is trickier, since the passer has thrown for more than 9,000 yards in the last two seasons.

For me, Cousins can still get much better, particularly in the red zone. If the Redskins scored at the same pace they pile up yards, this team would have won 11 games in 2016. 

In 2016, Cousins ranked 3rd in the NFL in passing yards, yet outside of the Top 10 in TDs with 25. To really enter the next phase of his career, Cousins needs to lead an offense that scores more, and that means 30+ touchdowns. He can do it. 

Tandler: I don’t look at the next step for Cousins being about numbers. Sure, maybe he can throw for 5,000 yards and 30-plus touchdowns on year. But being a top quarterback is more than that.

I want to see him go into Seattle next year and rally the Redskins from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. I want to see him go into a playoff game and, unlike what happened against the Packers after the 2015 season, will the team to a win when the Redskins aren’t playing their best and when a QB like Aaron Rodgers is on the other side. I want to see him glare at a lineman who missed an assignment and correct a receiver who went the wrong way on a route.

To be sure, he has led the team to some comeback wins and he has played very well in some key games, like the division-clinching win in Philadelphia in 2015. But a top-flight quarterback can’t essentially negate one of those with a play like the season-ending pick against the Giants. Sure, any quarterback is going to have an off day. But you have to have more pluses than minuses on the ledger.

Cousins has been a starter for just two years so maybe he can develop into a top-shelf quarterback. Putting up good stats is part of the picture but he won’t be there until he elevates and motivates those around him. Maybe he can take that next step but until he does there is no way of knowing if he will. 

More offseason questions: 

What are reasonable expectations for Josh Doctson?

— Will there be a surprise salary cap cut?

— Should the Redskins defense switch to the 4-3?

— Is Spencer Long the answer at center?

— How many D-linemen do the Redskins need?

— Should the Redskins draft another QB? 

— With Sean McVay gone, will the Redskins run the ball more?

— Can Cravens handle the transition to safety? 

— Will the Redskins re-sign Pierre Garçon? 

— Will Rob Kelley be the lead running back in 2017?

— Defense in the first round?

— Will they make a change at left guard?

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN and @Rich_TandlerCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTuneshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Some good news from Redskins Park: Josh Doctson running, catching football (VIDEO)

Some good news from Redskins Park: Josh Doctson running, catching football (VIDEO)

There hasn't been much good news out of Redskins Park lately, as the team deals with pending free agency for QB Kirk Cousins and others combined with rumors of infighting among the front office. So video of 2016 first round pick Josh Doctson running and cutting comes at a great time for beleaguered 'Skins fans. 

Doctson posted the video to his Snapchat account. When he last spoke after the Washington season ended, Doctson made clear he was feeling much better and that '100 percent health' is his main goal this offseason.

His rookie year, however, was a different matter.

The receiver out of TCU missed all but the first two games of the year. Even in those games, he played a very reduced role. Drafted 22nd overall, he had just two catches all year as an obscure Achilles' injuries landed him on the injured reserve. His plight could not be figured out by a slew of doctors and specialists, and the team finally decided to sit down their prized rookie.

A breakout year in 2017 would serve Jay Gruden's squad well, as the team stands to lose DeSean Jackson and/or Pierre Garçon to free agency. It looks likely the 'Skins will lose at least one of their starting WRs, and losing both is a distinct possibility. That could result in more than 2,000 receiving yards leaving the Redskins offense, and the team will need Doctson to pick up a good chunk of that production.

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!