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Need to Know: Special teams gaffes were costly for the Redskins

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Need to Know: Special teams gaffes were costly for the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, December 9, four days before the Washington Redskins play the Bears in Chicago.

Five final thoughts on Redskins vs. Cowboys

—The more I look at Jackson’s punt return fiasco and think about the game situation the worse it gets. There are just under 2 minutes to play in a tie game. If Jackson fields the punt and runs forward he makes it to the 30, maybe even the 35 if he can dodge a tackle attempt or two. That would have left Kirk Cousins, who was playing pretty well, needing to gain about 35 yards to get into makable field goal range for Dustin Hopkins. They didn’t need a big chunk of yardage and that is what Jackson was trying to get. Maybe he wanted to make a big splash on Monday night. Maybe he felt an obligation to make a big play to justify Gruden putting him back there. In any case, it was just horrible situational football.

—It’s insane how many were on my Twitter timeline bashing Kirk Cousins after the game and yesterday. Look, folks, it’s not all about the quarterback. Cousins didn’t commit key penalties that killed drive after drive and make it difficult for the team to capitalize on three takeaways. He didn’t call 26 rushing plays despite the fact that the team was averaging just 2.8 yards per attempt. Cousins did make some bad throws and perhaps he checked down in some situations where he could have gone deeper. But he completed 71 percent of his passes, averaged a respectable 7.1 yards per attempt, didn’t turn the ball over and posted a 101.4 pass rating. I can’t look at that game, look at those numbers, and put Cousins’ performance anywhere on the list of top reasons the Redskins didn’t win.

—I was dead serious here yesterday when I said that the Redskins should abandon the run and put the last four games in Cousins’ hands. I’m old school and I think that being able to run the ball will be a vital part of this team’s long-term success. But the long term can wait. They are in a four-game sprint here to win the NFC East, which I presume they want to do. They aren’t going to get there pounding their heads against the wall running the ball. I mean, when you have second and one in the red zone and you line up with seven offensive linemen (two tackles as tight ends) and get stuffed for no gain and then in a more conventional set you run again on third and one and get his for a loss of two, what’s the point?

—Almost as galling as taking a loss despite winning the turnover battle three to one was losing while holding the opponent to just one of nine third down. Since the start of the 2012 seasons teams have converted zero or one third down conversions in a game 83 times and those teams are 14-69 (.169 winning percentage). If you add three turnovers into the criteria you get 26 games and a 2-24 record (.077).

—I gave the Redskins special teams some props here last week after they moved into the top five in the NFL in special teams DVOA. But they were as responsible for the loss as the offense or defense (saying that while recognizing that Jackson really isn’t part of the unit, just a very occasional part-time contributor). Dustin Hopkins’ missed 43-yard field goal changed the dynamic of the end of the game and the Redskins were unable to take their chances in overtime due to the kickoff return after their tying touchdown with 44 seconds left. Yes, it’s reasonable to expect Hopkins to pound the ball through the end zone but the coverage has to do a better job if he doesn’t.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Closed walkthrough; Open locker room 3:45, Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins new conferences starting at 4:10

Days until: Redskins @ Bears 4; Bills @ Redskins 11; Redskins @ Eagles 17

In case you missed it

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Redskins Playbook: After worst to first in 2016, how strong will NFC East be?

Redskins Playbook: After worst to first in 2016, how strong will NFC East be?

When the Redskins won the NFC East in 2015 with a 9-7 record, most critics dismissed the division as weak. That theory was largely proved right when the Redskins got stomped at home in the first round of the playoffs by the Wild Card Green Bay Packers.

In 2016, however, the NFC East largely looked like the best division in football, or at least among the best divisions. Dallas won 13 games and took the NFC East title, the Giants won 11 and took the NFC's top Wild Card spot. The Redskins had a chance to make the playoffs in Week 17, but unceremoniously lost and fell short.

Still, Washington won eight games and Philadelphia won seven. In fact, the NFC East was the only division in the NFL without a team that lost 10 or more games. The AFC West - a division that some would argue was tougher than the NFC East - still had the Chargers and their 5-11 record.

What does it mean for 2017? If anything the only team expected to regress would be the Cowboys, and their regression could easily still have them looking to win around 10 games. 

The Eagles have improved with young, star QB Carson Wentz. New York will be interesting, as they have some age at various spots on their roster but still feature a two-time Super Bowl winning QB in Eli Manning and one of the best defenses in the NFL.

As for Washington? The defense should be much improved. It almost has to be as the 2016 version struggled significantly. If the defense can just be average (and I'd argue it could push for Top 15) the offense should continue to move the ball well. Producing in the red zone needs to look different than last season too.

The NFC East looks like a beast yet again. It would be no surprise if both NFC Wild Cards come from the division.

Let us know what you think in the comments. 

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Need to Know:Redskins faced one of the toughest schedules in NFL in 2016

Need to Know:Redskins faced one of the toughest schedules in NFL in 2016

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 28, 16 days before the Washington Redskins start their mandatory minicamp on June 13.

Timeline

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/27) 60
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 74
—Season opener Eagles @ Redskins (9/10) 105

Note: I am on vacation this week in the Outer Banks. Need to Know will be a mix of new content and some of the most popular posts of 2017.

Redskins faced one of NFL’s toughest slates in 2016

(originally posted January 28)

As the Redskins came off their 2015 playoff season and looked towards 2016, one thing jumped out. Even before any games were played it looked like their path to a repeat playoff appearance would be difficult, more so than it was when they went 9-7 and took the NFC East title.

The 2015 schedule looked fairly easy when applying the eyeball test. They played just two games against teams that made the playoffs and those teams, the Patriots and Panthers, plus the Jets were the only teams they faced that finished the season with winning records.

The eyeball test was borne out by the numbers. According to the stat gurus at Football Outsiders the Redskins faced the 28th toughest schedule in terms of the DVOA of opposing defenses and the opposing offenses added up to the 24th most difficult.

The going was considerably tougher in 2016. The Redskins played seven games against teams that were in the playoff field. The defenses they faced stacked up as the toughest group of any NFL team. They played nine games against teams that finished in the top 11 in defensive DVOA. The offenses they faced were a little better than average, ranking 13th as a group.

While the Redskins’ season was widely regarded as a disappointment, it would be reasonable to say that given vastly improved quality of the competition that they did well in only having their record drop by half a game.

Of course, the goal is to be good enough to prosper and make the playoffs no matter what mix of teams the luck of the draw happens to put on the schedule. They will need to get there in a hurry. Awaiting the Redskins on their 2017 schedule are seven 2016 playoff teams plus one more that finished the year with a winning record.

The fortunes of NFL teams can’t always be predicted in advance, especially more than seven months before the season kicks off. But it’s safe to say that the 2017 slate will be challenging. If they are going to improve their record they are going to have to improve their level of play dramatically.

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.