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Need to Know: Redskins' season reaches a tipping point

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Need to Know: Redskins' season reaches a tipping point

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, October 20, five days before the Washington Redskins host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tandler's Tuesday Take Two: The Redskins’ season is reaching a tipping point

For the first four weeks of the season, all seemed to be going pretty well for the Redskins. They were 2-2 and accomplishing their preseason goals of being able to run the ball and stop the run. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was not lighting the league on fire but he looked like at least a competent game manager with whom the Redskins could have at least some limited success. So little was expected of the Redskins that they were being called a pleasant, if modest, surprise team.

But then the last two games happened. The Redskins didn’t look bad overall in Atlanta but their ability to run ball well came to a grinding halt (51 yards rushing) and they couldn’t stop the run (Devonta Freeman, 153 yards rushing). And Cousins was wobbly with his accuracy most of the day and threw two interceptions, the second of which was returned for the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

That was bad, the Jets game was worse. The Redskins gained only 34 yards on the ground while New York’s Chris Ivory rolled for 146. Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick almost outgained the Redskins as a team, scrambling for 31 yards. Cousins again threw two picks, including one that set up a momentum-changing touchdown in the third quarter.

Now the Redskins are 2-4. Next up they host the Tampa Bay Bucs, a team that beat them 27-7 at FedEx last year in a game that was not even as close as the 20-point margin would indicate. The Redskins take their bye week after that. In November they have two road trips to play the unbeaten Patriots and Panthers. In between those games they play at home against the Saints, who are also scuffling at 2-4 but they have a major advantage at quarterback with Drew Brees. After the road trip they face the Giants, who are shaping up to be the class of the division.

I wrote last week that the Redskins are more a middle of the pack team than one of the bottom feeders and one injury-hampered loss to the Jets doesn’t necessarily change that. But they are coming to a stretch of the schedule where they are facing teams who are clearly better. That is why Jay Gruden declared that this game against the Bucs is a “code red”, as in one they must win.

If they don’t win this Sunday and you figure that the game in New England is a sure loss, that would put the Redskins at 2-6 at midseason and working on a four-game losing streak. A year ago they were 3-5 after eight games and on a two-game winning streak. While Scot McCloughan didn’t necessarily thing that the Redskins would contend for the playoffs this year, he, Bruce Allen, and Dan Snyder were certainly looking for some degree of improvement. Being in what looks like a sinking ship certainly wouldn’t look like improvement.

One game won or lost won’t necessarily change the ultimate fates of Gruden, Cousins, and other players and coaches. But there will be a big difference in the feel around Redskins Park between going into the bye with a win and going in with three straight losses and a near-certain fourth looming their first week back.

A convincing win would be better but perhaps we shouldn’t look for more than baby steps from this team, especially given that they are still likely to have some injured front-line players out against the Bucs.

In any case, Gruden certainly seems to be rallying the troops harder in this one than he has in any of his previous 22 games as a head coach. “Code red” is not a card you want to play often because eventually you lose credibility. But it’s out there this week and we will see how the Redskins respond.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Player meetings, no media availability

Days until: Bucs @ Redskins 5; Redskins @ Patriots 19; Saints @ Redskins 25

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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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