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Need to Know: Should the Redskins pass more on first down in 2016?

Need to Know: Should the Redskins pass more on first down in 2016?

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, May 25, 64 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond.

Timeline

At Redskins Park: OTA practice open to media 11:30; players available after practice; Jay Gruden news conference approx. 1:30.

—The Redskins last played a game 136 days ago. It will be 110 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 64; Preseason opener @ Falcons 78; Final roster cut 101

Pass more on first down?

There was plenty of debate over the course of the season that the Redskins should “pound the rock” more in first down. But the numbers indicate that they may have run on first down more than they should have.

Kirk Cousins (the only player to attempt a first-down pass in 2015) dropped back to pass 207 times on first down. He completed 145 passes for 1770 yards and he was sacked nine times for 75 yards in losses. On average the Redskins gained 8.2 yards per pass on first down.

They ran the ball on first more often than they threw, 238 times (53.5% of first-downs snaps). Those runs gained 781 yards, or 3.3 per play. You don’t have to be a math wizard to figure out that they gained well over twice as many yards by passing on first down than they did by running.

In case you’re wondering about turnover factor, Cousins threw two interceptions on first down and there were no fumbles in first-down running plays. Perhaps a valid reason for running on first but you'd have a hard time convincing me that turning it over on less than on percent of the passes should be much of a deterrent considering the yardage differential on first down.

Those numbers show us all game situations including some when the other team might be in a prevent defense and giving the Redskins the 10-yard passes while playing to prevent the deeper balls. So let’s narrow it down a bit and try to find “normal” situations.

Let’s look at how effective the plays are when you the game is competitive. When the game was within 10 points either way in 2015, the Redskins ran considerably more on first down, 166 times (56.8%), than they passed, 126 times (43.2%). But they averaged 3.3 yards per rushing play and 9.3 per passing play. Why not flip flop the play selection and pass more like 60 percent of the time? Looking at the numbers, you can legitimately ask why they should run on first down at all.

Of course, these numbers don’t tell the whole story. A team has to have a certain degree of unpredictability so the defense can’t stack up to stop the play. But if I’m Jay Gruden I am spending some time figuring out the minimum number of times I can run the ball on first down and still have the opposing defense honor it.

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Redskins 2017 position outlook: Defensive line

Redskins 2017 position outlook: Defensive line

With the season opener fast approaching, it’s time to put the Redskins’ depth chart under the microscope. Over the coming days, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

Defensive line

Starters: Jonathan Allen, Stacy McGee, Phil Taylor
Other roster locks: Terrell McClain, Ziggy Hood, Anthony Lanier
On the bubble: Matt Ioannidis, A.J. Francis, Joey Mbu

How the defensive line compares:

To the 2016 Redskins: The addition of Allen is a boost but the losses of Chris Baker (free agent) and Ricky Jean Francois (released) can’t be overlooked. Second-year players Lanier and Ioannidis should improve and Hood will be a rotational player instead of a starter, a role better suited to his ability. Andi new defensive line coach Jim Tomsula will get the most out of them. The key to improvement will be McClain and McGee. If the two free agents live up to their contracts the line should be better than it was last year. If not, they will struggle again. Slightly better

To the rest of the NFL: But let’s not mistake an improved Redskins D-line for one of the better units in the league. While it’s tough to compare a 3-4 line to a 4-3 front, it still would be quite a leap for the Redskins to move from the bottom of the pack to the lower middle. Tomsula inherited a multi-year rebuild; one draft pick and a couple of free agents are not going to transform the line into a force. Bottom third

RELATED: 2017 OUTLOOK: WIDE RECEIVER

2017 outlook

Biggest upside: Since I used his name in conjunction with that of Dave Butz above, that has to be Allen. He has both the physical ability and the mental makeup to be a very, very good one.

Most to prove: Nearly every player on the line has something to prove but only Phil Taylor has been out of football for the last two years. He has worked his way up from a brief retirement to a futures contract with the Redskins to a roster long shot to a probable starter. But he still only has 21 preseason snaps under his belt and he has a long way to go before he reestablishes himself as a legitimate NFL player.

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Rookie watch: The only rookie with a realistic shot at making the roster is Allen. His Nick Saban-Alabama background has him well prepared to handle the scrutiny that comes with being a top draft pick and the expectations that come with playing in a place like Washington.

Bottom line: The best-case scenario here is that Taylor anchors the line in the middle, Allen’s learning curve is short, Lanier contributes six sacks in a nickel role, and the rest of the players make up a good rotation. Anything more would be a big bonus. Anything less would be back to being one of the worst defenses against the run.

Quote-unquote

Jay Gruden on Phil Taylor:

Well, I’ll tell you, I was in Cincinnati for three years when he was at Cleveland and I know what a force he can be at nose. He was tough to deal with, he really was. We had him for a workout, and I didn’t even know he was on the streets. His knee looked better. He was in good shape. He had a whole offseason and did some good things. I think his body is finally back to where he feels really good. He’s moving around, he’s active, he’s strong, so I like where he is right now. He’s just got to continue to maintain it.

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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Long's injury gives Redskins' backup center Roullier an opportunity

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Associated Press

Long's injury gives Redskins' backup center Roullier an opportunity

Let’s be clear here.

The Redskins’ loss of center Spencer Long for two weeks due to a knee injury is not a good development.

Long is going into his second year as the starter and he still has a lot to learn. Although he should be back for the games that count, he could have benefitted from the 30 or so snaps he would have taken against the Bengals in the team’s third preseason game this Sunday.

Also, the Redskins’ offensive line has struggled this preseason, especially when blocking for the run.

Another half with the full starting unit playing together would have helped them work on those problems. The third preseason game is supposed to be a dress rehearsal and it’s tough to have one of those if you don’t have all your lead actors.

RELATED: COULD REDSKINS PURSUE RETIRED JETS' CENTER?

However, in the NFL one’s player’s bad fortune can be an opportunity for another. Chase Roullier was a sixth-round pick of the Redskins. With Kory Lichtensteiger retired and John Sullivan departed to Rams, Roullier became the backup center by default. While many expected the Redskins to make a move for a veteran backup center, they have kept Roullier running with the second-team offense through OTAs, minicamp, training camp, and the first two preseason games.

He was a bit shaky against the Ravens in the first preseason game but he was solid against the Packers on Saturday. It should be noted that Roullier will be facing the Bengals’ defensive starters on Saturday, not backups and players whose names will soon appear on the waiver wire as he was in the first two games.

MORE REDSKINS: REDSKINS-PACKERS MUST-SEE PHOTOS

The competition that Roullier will face, however, is one of the upsides here. If the Redskins need their backup center during the season, their opponent is not going to pull its starter and line up a reserve player against him. He will be facing starters. The Redskins organization should have a pretty good idea of what they have in Roullier after a half against the Bengals’ front-line players.

Again, it would be better if Long was there for the line to work on its game. But the Redskins will have a chance to make the best of a bad situation by finding out if they are set at backup center or if they will need to pull the trigger on finding a veteran option.

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.