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Need to Know: Redskins' running game caught in a bad cycle

Need to Know: Redskins' running game caught in a bad cycle

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, October 23, two days before the Washington Redskins host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Read and react

Some quotes from around Redskins Park on Thursday and my comments on them.

Jay Gruden on the Redskins’ approach to the third quarter, where they have been outscored 78-3 (counting points scored on drives that started in the third):
I think the big thing is awareness. I think awareness is letting them know that this is what the last six games have been like in the third quarter. We have had the lead five of six times and here are stats and we have to do something about it . . . then we get to halftime against Tampa Bay, hopefully it’ll be with a lead and we’ll make some, hopefully, some positive adjustments and the guys will come out ready to play.
Reaction: There is no magic wand to wave to fix the team’s third-down problems. Part of the fix would be to hold on to the ball; five of their 15 turnovers have come during the third quarter. And the defense stiffening up after a turnover would help, too; All five of the times the offense has given the ball away, the other team has turned the possession into a touchdown.

Joe Barry on one concrete step that has been taken to try to improve the third-quarter performance:
It’s been addressed, it’s been talked about. It’s been kind of a theme on the practice field. Halfway through practice, kind of cranking it up so I think it’s just one of those things. I think the worst think you can ever do anytime something is not going right is to ignore it and not talk about it. We’ve talked about it. We’ve addressed it. Now, we’ve got to play better. We’ve got to coach better.
Reaction: Cranking up the intensity halfway through practice is a good thought. It may not be a stroke of genius and it may or may not have an effect. But since there is no one thing that will cure all of the ills, it’s worth trying. I think that at some point the odds will catch up to the Redskins, they will outscore their opponents in the third quarter over the course of a few games, and everyone will declare that the problem was solved.

Gruden on the team’s running game over the last few weeks:
Yeah, it’s hard. I think the big thing in the running game, it’s OK to get one or two years every now and then. We’re not going to hit all our runs, but it’s important for us to get some hits – some 15-yarders, some 20-yarders – which we haven’t had. We haven’t had any long runs. I don’t know what our longest run is the last couple of weeks but it hasn’t been very long. It’d be nice to get a couple of those which opens up your play-action.
Reaction: For Gruden’s information, the Redskins’ longest run in the last two weeks has been nine yards, by Chris Thompson early in the third quarter of the Atlanta. Their longest run against the Jets was an eight-yard gain by Thompson just before halftime. So not only have they not broken 15 or 20 yards, they haven’t even hit double digits. The Redskins are stuck in the vicious cycle where they can’t run the ball because they can’t run the ball. An inability to gain more than a couple of yards on first down means that running on second down is not a viable option.

Barry evaluating Perry Riley’s performance since missing two games due to a calf injury:
“The thing that was a bummer was when he got hurt, he played lights out against the St. Louis Rams. He really did. I think that’s a little —  when a guy misses some time, especially with a lower extremity injury, he comes back, you’ve got to knock a little bit of rust off, so I don’t think Perry has played poorly. And we’ve had the conversation, ‘Get back to how you played against the St. Louis Rams.’ I think he had a great week of practice this week. So, I think it’s part of the deal sometimes when a guy misses time and then comes back, it takes him a little bit of time to knock some rust off… Perry has played physical. I don’t think by any means — don’t pinpoint anything on Perry Riley. We’ve all got to play better, we’ve all got to coach better, bottom line.”
Reaction: That’s kind of a long passage to plough through so let me shorten it for you—Riley has not been playing well. OK, there might be some “rust” after the injury (he missed the Giants game and the Eagles game) but he’s been back for two games and there is no reason for a guy who has been starting for coming up on four years should not be able to come back without missing a beat. In answer to a follow up question, Barry said that they were not considering moving Will Compton into the starting job. But if accountability means anything, they can’t go for too much longer without considering making a move if Riley continues to play as poorly has he has the last two games.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Practice 11:55; Jay Gruden and Sean McVay news conferences and player availability after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until: Bucs @ Redskins 2; Redskins @ Patriots 16; Saints @ Redskins 22

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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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