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Need to Know: Redskins should avoid taking risks when kicking off

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Need to Know: Redskins should avoid taking risks when kicking off

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, August 29, five days before the Washington Redskins cut their roster to 53 players.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Practice 1:10; Jay Gruden news conference and player availability after practice approx. 1:15

—The Redskins last played a game that counted 232 days ago. It will be 14 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Cowboys @ Redskins 20; Browns @ Redskins 34; Redskins @ Ravens 41

The Redskins week that was

—As everyone knows by now, a touchback on a kickoff will result in the ball being put on the 25-yard line instead of the 20. There is plenty of talk that teams will pooch kicks rather than booming them for touchbacks so as not to concede the additional five yards. There are fewer touchbacks so far in the preseason. Last year 56 percent of kickoffs resulted in touchbacks; so far this preseason it’s been 40.4. This could be part strategic, part having other kicker trying out during the preseason.

—But it seems to me to be a bad strategy. In 2015, a drive that started at a team’s own 20 yard line resulted in an average of 1.7 points. A drive started at the 25 meant an average of 1.8 points.

—So why would a coach risk a possible long return, not to mention the possibility of having one of his players on the very dangerous kickoff return team getting hurt, to save, on average, a tenth of a point per drive? Remember, these coaches won’t go for it on fourth and a half yard at midfield even though the numbers say that doing so would result in more points gained that you might save by kicking off and holding the other team inside the 20.

— Some teams might try it and a few teams might make pooching kickoffs their normal way of doing things. But after a while it will become more of an occasional surprise tactic than business as usual. I don’t see it kicking off short becoming any more of a normal tactic than, say, going for two after every touchdown (even though doing that will result in scoring more points than pooching kickoffs will save).

—As far as the Redskins go, if Gruden even considers having Dustin Hopkins kick the ball short, he should have a hotline to call to talk him out of it. Last year Hopkins kicked 65.5 percent of his kickoffs for touchbacks. Through three preseason games this year he’s even better, with a touchback rate of 91.7 percent. Of 12 kickoffs, 11 have not been returned. The other one? The Falcons ran it back for a touchdown in the preseason opener. Case closed.

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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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You probably don't realize how effective Kirk Cousins is as a runner

You probably don't realize how effective Kirk Cousins is as a runner

Back at the 2012 NFL Combine, Kirk Cousins ran his 40-yard dash in 4.84 seconds.

Now, as far as QB 40-yard dashes go, that's not a bad number at all, but it's definitely not blazing, either. Defensive lineman Fletcher Cox, for example, ran his in 4.77 seconds that same year (while weighing 84 pounds heavier than the Michigan State signal caller), and 13 out of the 20 passers invited to the event topped Cousins' time.

That, plus the facts that Cousins isn't physically imposing and he clearly prefers to operate within the safe confines of the pocket, would lead you to believe that he's not much of a threat as a runner. But a stat — and this stat is far from an advanced one or a hidden one — indicates otherwise.

MORE: PLAYING OVER/UNDER ON SOME KEY KIRK COUSINS STATS

Over the last two seasons, Cousins has the third-most rushing touchdowns amongst quarterbacks. Cam Newton has 15 (not surprising), Tyrod Taylor checks in with 10 (also not surprising), and then there's Cousins, who rushed for nine scores in 2015 and 2016, which is good enough for a bronze medal on this particular podium (that's quite surprising).

Washington's starter has actually found the end zone with his legs more than peers like Andy Dalton (7), Alex Smith (7) and Aaron Rodgers (5) since taking over the primary gig in D.C., and all of those guys have reputations as runners that exceed Cousins'.

In fact, no one on the Burgundy and Gold has crossed the goal line as a ball-carrier more than the 28-year-old in the past 32 contests; Rob Kelley and Matt Jones are both three short of the man who lines up in front of them on Sundays.

Of course, Cousins isn't going to flatten defenders like Newton does, and he won't run around them like Taylor does. He also won't rip off big-gainers down the sideline when opposing team turns their back on him in man coverage.

But as the following highlights show, he hasn't just cashed in on one-yard sneaks the last couple of seasons, either:

All three of those plays were designed runs, and Cousins, while not exactly resembling Madden 2004 Michael Vickexecuted them perfectly. He doesn't really rack up yards — the numbers vary depending on which site you use, but the consensus is he's picked up about 150 total since 2015 — but Jay Gruden and Co. have developed a tremendous feel of when to use Cousins' feet instead of his arm in the red zone.

Sure, he's not going to show up on your Twitter timeline juking out a corner, and he won't scamper for much more than 10 yards at a time. But in a few games in 2017, Kirk Cousins is going to finish a drive with an impressive touchdown run instead of a throw, and that might shock you — even though it really shouldn't.

RELATED: RANKING THE REDSKINS ROSTER FROM BOTTOM TO TOP