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Need to Know: Redskins vs. Patriots a big opportunity for Cousins

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Need to Know: Redskins vs. Patriots a big opportunity for Cousins

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, November 4, four days before the Redskins visit the New England Patriots.

Five early thoughts on Redskins vs. Patriots

—After the Patriots lost left tackle Nate Solder for the season a couple of weeks ago, they flipped right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, a seven-year veteran, over to the left side. Not many coaches would make a move like that but according to Bill Belichick, Vollmer is doing fine. “He’s done a great job of making that transition over there the last couple weeks,” said Belichick. “We’ve really needed him to do that. Sebastian is one of the best teammates, a guy who always puts the team first as much as anybody we have on our team.” A mostly-effective Vollmer is probably the best option to protect Tom Brady’s blindside.

—The pass rush has been getting to Brady, with and without Solder. He has been sacked 18 times this year, 5.9 percent of his dropbacks (20th in the NFL). But if the Redskins get to him they had better sack him. Per Pro Football Focus, he’s been under pressure on 96 of his 311 dropbacks this year but when he has been able to get the pass off his passer rating is a 118.2. Yeah, that’s a lot better than most quarterbacks are when they have plenty of time to throw.

—The raw stats say that teams have had a reasonable amount of success running against the Patriots. They give up an average of 4.2 yards per carry, 21st in the NFL. The thing is, they don’t have very many rushing attempts against them, presumably because they are averaging 3 points per possession and 35 points per game on offense so the teams are trying to catch up. But if the Redskins can finish drives with touchdowns, the ground might be a promising route.

—This will be an interesting test for Kirk Cousins. He made a strong case for being the starting quarterback of the future, or at least at the start of 2016, with the comeback against the Bucs. But he could give back a lot of the capital he earned in that game if he is unable help keep the Redskins competitive. If he presses and goes on an interception binge, his stock will go down considerably. Should Cousins maintain his composure, minimize turnovers, and make proper decisions, he can add some value to his stock.

—The Redskins are 14-point underdogs. The last time they were double-digit dogs they went into Dallas on a Monday night last year and beat the Cowboys with Colt McCoy at quarterback. What’s that I smell? Is it an up—, oh, never mind. That Dallas team was a flawed group that was on a roll. These guys are better coached and better put together from the top guy on the roster down to the 53rd. A Redskins win is not impossible but it is highly unlikely.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Practice 11:35; Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins news conferences and player availability after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until: Redskins @ Patriots 4; Saints @ Redskins 11; Redskins @ Panthers 18

In case you missed it

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How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

Do the Redskins have a draft need at running back? It depends on who you ask.

Jay Gruden seems to be very happy with incumbent running back Rob Kelley. Here is what he had to say last month about the second-year back, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, last month:

“Oh, man, I love Rob Kelley,” Gruden said. “I thought he played great. You throw a rookie free agent into the fire like that and see him play and compete. Not one time did I feel like it was too big for him. Not once. That’s a hell of a thing to say for a kid out of Tulane who only had a couple of carries his senior year. He came right in, he competes on every play.”

Kelley played in 15 games last year and rushed for 704 yards and scored six touchdowns. He started the last nine games and if you project his numbers in this games out over a 16-game season you get about 1,050 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s not Ezekiel Elliott or Le’Veon Bell production but it’s good for a team that is going to rely mostly on the pass.

Gruden also praised third-down back Chris Thompson and backup Mack Brown. In a telling sign, he acknowledged that 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones is still on the roster but he didn’t have much good to say about him.

Why, then, do you see so many draft analysts listing running back as one of the team’s most urgent needs? Mark Maske, who is the Post’s national NFL writer but also a former Redskins beat reporter, has them taking Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in his mock draft. “There certainly are issues on defense for the Redskins,” writes Maske. But there also is a need at running back.”

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said that the Redskins “obviously” need a running back as his rationale for mocking Florida State’s Dalvin Cook to Washington at No. 17.

So, what is it? Is Kelley adequate for the Redskins’ needs considering they call pass plays on over 60 percent of their offensive snaps? Would they run more often if they had a back like McCaffrey or Cook? And if they did run more would the offense improve?

I think that running back is like several positions with the Redskins. If they have to get through the 2016 season with what they have they will be OK. But if there is an upgrade on the board when they are on the clock they won’t hesitate to make the pick if he’s the best player available.

We will see what happens if, say, McCaffrey is still on the board when the Redskins pick at No. 17 and top defensive targets like Rueben Foster and Haason Reddick are off the board. That will be the true test to see how committed Gruden and the rest of the organization are to Kelley, Thompson, and company. 

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When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

A four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ, Aqib Talib has a long and checkered past, which includes multiple arrests and failed PED and drug tests. The problems aren't new either, the talented cornerback was first arrested as a high school student. In college at Kansas, Talib was suspended multiple times and had multiple positive tests for marijuana use. 

Why does this matter for Redskins fans on the eve of the NFL Draft?

Despite all the trouble, Bruce Allen drafted Talib 20th overall in 2008 when the current Redskins general manager was in the same role for Tampa. While Talib's legal troubles and suspensions continued in the NFL, he also proved to be a highly capable cornerback in the pro game. 

The lesson for those trying to determine the Redskins draft board: Allen might be willing to look past red flags if a player presents good value. Talib did in 2008, and there could be opportunities for Washington in 2017.

Reuben Foster jumps to mind, as the talented Alabama linebacker will enter the league in the substance abuse program. While Foster's issues pale in comparison to other allegations about some draft prospects, players like Joe Mixon, Gareon Conley and Caleb Brantley will also present unique circumstances for NFL teams to evaluate. 

GMs are thrust into the unenviable task of determining a player's character, often in short periods of time. As 'Skins director of college scouting Scott Campbell explained, the team grades every player for their football skills first, and only later adds in character information. From Campbell's comments:

When you start to evaluate guys in the beginning, you don’t factor in the character. You don’t grade character, you grade talent. So you don’t throw away somebody early that may have some redeeming quality, or there’s a side to the story you don’t know about. You grade football players as football players first on talent, and then when it comes closer to the draft, you start weeding all that, getting more information, deciding, ‘OK, this guy’s not our kind of guy, this guy’s not a Redskin, this guy could be drafted, but good luck to him.

Thursday night the Redskins will be forced to make a determination on the right player for the team. That decision could include judging a player's character, and that could mean balancing legal or substance abuse troubles with talent and ability.

Talib is only one pick in Allen's long personnel career, but it's one worth noting. 

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