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Need to Know: What are the Redskins' strongest and weakest areas?

Need to Know: What are the Redskins' strongest and weakest areas?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 25, three days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 197 days ago. It will be 49 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Preseason opener @ Falcons 17; Final roster cut 40; Cowboys @ Redskins 55

Strengths and weaknesses

The Redskins are expected to be at least a good team and perhaps a very good one in 2016. But like most other NFL teams they have their strengths and weaknesses. Let’s take a quick look at what look the two strongest aspects of the team and at the two weakest.

Strengths

Pass catchers: The quality of this group has been a topic of discussion all over the league this offseason and now it’s time to see them start to do it on the field. There is no one star who is going to catch 115 passes or gain 1,400 receiving yards but the group is very deep. There are four receivers who should have at least 60 receptions, Pierre Garçon, Jordan Reed, DeSean Jackson, and Jamison Crowder, and two more, Josh Doctson and Vernon Davis, who won’t catch that many only because there aren’t enough footballs to go around. The group is strong, deep, and they possess diverse skill sets.

Pass rushers: This area doesn’t get talked about as much as the receivers do but they could be just as important. They have two outside linebackers, Ryan Kerrigan and Junior Galette, who are both in their late 20’s and had double-digit sack seasons in 2014. Second-year player Preston Smith led rookies with eight sacks last year and seems to be on the verge of bigger things. Chris Baker had six sacks from his defensive end spot last year. If Joe Barry can figure out how to utilize the group properly they could give the defense its signature group.

Also on the plus side: Cornerbacks

Weaknesses

Running back: I like Matt Jones’ potential but he can’t be considered a solution at running back until he actually goes out and does it. Chris Thompson is a competent third down back but he’s not a player who makes defensive coordinators stay up late every night. Keith Marshall is fast but he needs to stay on the field if he’s going to learn how to utilize it. Maybe things will look different by the time midseason rolls around but for right now this is the most suspect unit on the team.

Safety: This is a perpetual problem area for the Redskins and it’s difficult to say with any confidence that things will be better this year. Duke Ihenacho is the only safety who has started an entire season at the position. DeAngelo Hall and Will Blackmon are converted corners and David Bruton was a special teams player and occasional starter in Denver. And it’s not like there is a youth movement there either. Bruton is 29 and Blackmon and Hall are both on the far side of 30.

Also on the minus side: Inside linebackers, defensive line

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Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, April 23, four days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 10
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 31
—Training camp starts (7/27) 95
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 140

In search of someone, anyone, to stop the run

One of the areas the Redskins needed to improve last year was their rushing defense on first down. In 2015, they gave up 5.0 yards per carry on first down. That was the worst performance in the league. It’s pretty tough to play defense when a handoff makes it second and five. The Saints, who had a historically bad defense that year, were second, fiving up 4.8 yards a pop.

Well, it was no better for the Redskins defense in 2016. Again, they gave up 5.0 yards per carry on first down, again the worst performance in the league.  Remember, this is on first down, when teams are most likely to run.

The Redskins’ problems on third down were well known. They were dead last in the league allowing first downs on 46.6 percent of third-down attempts. For context, an average performance on third down is allowing about 38 percent and the best teams are around 35 percent.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, however. The Redskins weren’t very good at getting teams to third down. They allowed first downs on 33.8 percent of their opponents’ second-down plays. That put them in the bottom third of the league. Again, you don’t have to look too hard to connect the dots to link that back to the five yards per rushing play on first down. Second and five is a piece of cake most of the time.

You don’t need an advanced degree in statistical analysis to figure out that the Redskins defense isn’t going to get much better if they can’t stop teams from running the ball on first down.

It’s easy to point to the defensive line, which has not been very good, and say that the problem is there. That certainly has something to do with it. But the Redskins didn’t have a very good D-line in 2014 and they allowed 4.1 yards per first-down rushing attempt, a performance that was right at the league average.

The factor that was common in 2015 and 2016 and was different in 2014 was the defensive coordinator. It’s possible that opposing teams found a flaw to exploit in Joe Barry’s scheme that wasn’t there in Jim Haslett’s (which surely had flaws in other places).

But X’s and O’s can only get you so far. The Redskins will be looking to take a defensive lineman early and perhaps use an additional pick or two at the position later in the draft. While getting one who can rush the passer would be a plus, they need a run stuffer who can take snaps on first down and bottle up the ground game.

The focus in the draft will be on the first-round pick but, as has been discussed here many times, that pick is unlikely to be a defensive lineman. There isn’t likely to be one at 17 who would represent good value. That could mean that the Redskins’ second- or third-round pick, perhaps an interior lineman like Caleb Brantley of Florida, Larry Ogunjobi of Charlotte, or Montravius Adams of Auburn, is just as important to the team’s success as the first-round pick.

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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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 22, five days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 20
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 32
—Training camp starts (7/27) 96
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 141

The Redskins week that was

Redskins full 2017 schedule released—Even with the Caps and Wizards in full playoff mode, the DMV stops to take a look and see when the Redskins will be playing. The Thanksgiving game was surprising. It’s another working day but I worked at various places since I was 14 and last year was the first time I’ve had to work on Thanksgiving so I can’t complain too much about working two in a row. It’s a small price to pay for having the best job in the world.

Don't count out any RB for Redskins at 17—Yeah, I know that NFL teams aren’t supposed to take running backs in the first round any more. But that is one of those trends that comes and goes. In 2013 and 2014 there were no RBs taken in the first. Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott in the last couple of years began to shift the thinking. If the Redskins think that Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey can help them win games more than any other player on the board they should pull the trigger.

Rise of Patrick Mahomes could bring big payoff for Redskins—It seems likely that quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky will be taken before the Redskins pick at No. 17 goes on the clock. That means that two players in whom the Redskins might be interested will be available, pushed back by the quarter backs. Could Mahomes, out of Texas Tech, push a third player back to Washington. The buzz is that a team might grab him in the first half of the first round.

The Redskins' five best salary cap bargains for 2017—When I started pulling the numbers for this post I thought I’d find more key players with salaries of under $1 million. I only found three and one of them is the kicker. This means that they don’t have very many late-round or undrafted players who are contributing a lot of value. They need more out of players like Anthony Lanier, Matt Ioannidis and Maurice Harris. That is how a team thrives in the salary cap era. A couple of Saturday picks could make or break this draft.

Redskins mock 2.0 goes offense early, defense often—There are a lot of ways the first 16 picks of this draft can work out. It seems almost certain that everyone’s favorite first-round pick, a stud defensive lineman, won’t be a realistic option on the board. This could send things in an odd direction for the Redskins. It’s fun to do a mock and I’ll do one or two more prior to draft day but there are too many variables to think that it has a high degree of accuracy. 

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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