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Need to Know: What is the Redskins' plan to improve the defense?

Need to Know: What is the Redskins' plan to improve the defense?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 27, 3 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.

Question of the day

A few days a week I’ll give an in-depth answer to a question submitted by a fan on my Twitter feed, via the Real Redskins Facebook page, or in the comments section here. On Twitter address the questions to me at @Rich_TandlerCSN with the #NTK hashtag. There will be a comment thread set up on the Facebook page and if you’re asking your question here, put “for NTK” at the start of the comment.

I’ll also take your Need to Know questions via email. Hit me up rich.tandler+csn@gmail.com with “NTK” in the subject line. Just keep them relatively brief, please. 

Today's question is from Twitter, from a Redskins fan you may have heard of:

(Thanks to Dale for taking a minute to kick in a question for Need to Know about an hour before taking the track at The Brickyard.)

There have been more changes to the defense this year than any in recent memory. There will be at least five starters who are new to the team in NT Terrance Knighton, DE Stephen Paea, CB Chris Culliver, FS Dashon Goldson, and SS Jeron Johnson. There could be a sixth if Preston Smith can earn the starting role over Trent Murphy.

In addition, the coaches are almost all new. Kirk Olivadotti remains with the linebackers but Joe Barry is the new coordinator, Perry Fewell will coach the secondary and Robb Akey takes over the defensive line.

The changes were needed. We don’t need to rehash the numbers here again as we have been all offseason (108.3 opponent passer rating, 27.7 points/game, etc.). I think we can all agree the defense was bad.

Back to Dale’s question, will the defense be better this year? I think we’ve all learned over the years that different doesn’t necessarily mean better. Year after year, new players and coaches bring hope in the spring and summer but more of the same futility in the fall and winter.

On paper, the plan is to get an improved pass rush (t-21st in NFL) from the line. Outside of Jason Hatcher’s 5.5 sacks last year, the line kicked in just five. They are looking for more out of a (for now) healthy Hatcher, Knighton should be able to get some push up the middle when he’s in there and Paea had six sacks for the Bears last year. And if the line gets better pass rush that should leave spaces for Ryan Kerrigan, Murphy, and Smith to exploit.

It looks like the lion’s share of any improvement in pass defense will have to come from the pass rush. Culliver is a solid upgrade but the rest of the secondary remains suspect.

Knighton will be the huge, active run-stuffing body in the middle that the Redskins have been missing since switching to the 3-4 in 2010. His presence and an attacking one-gap system are set to be the solutions to stopping the run. In terms of raw yardage, Washington was a respectable 12th in the NFL in rushing defense but opponents did not run on them much because the weak pass defense was so inviting.

That’s how the Redskins would like to see it play out. Will it work? Maybe, but see the part above about change not always being for the better.

The challenge for Joe Barry and company will be to get the unit to gel in time for Week 1. The linebackers are the only unit returning intact (or three-quarters of it at least, pending Smith vs. Murphy). The sooner they are communicating and coordinating their stunts and other schemes, the better.

Having all of this come together by Sept. 13 is a big ask. While I think that the new players and coaches represent an upgrade, the improvement may not be immediate.

Timeline

—It’s been 211 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 48 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 3; Preseason opener @ Browns 17; final cuts 40

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Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 25, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 77 days.

Days until:

—Franchise tag contract deadline (7/17) 22
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 69

The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here are the five running backs on the Redskins’ schedule who gained the most yards in 2017. We looked at the top QBs last week.

Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys, 1,631 yards in 2016—The NFL’s leading rusher didn’t pop for a big day against the Redskins as a rookie last year. He still did plenty of damage in two games with a combined 180 yards and three touchdowns. We’ll find out in Week 8 just how much the Redskins’ rushing defense has improved.

David Johnson, Cardinals, 1,239 yards—Yeah, him again. He chewed up the Redskins in Arizona last year, picking up 84 yards rushing and another 91 yards receiving. I think I might pick Johnson over Elliott in a draft simply due to Johnson’s versatility.

LeGarrette Blount, Eagles, 1,161 yards—Blount picked up those yards with the Patriots last year and rushed for 18 touchdowns for good measure. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, 27th among qualifying running backs. It should be noted that the Eagles probably have a better offensive line than the Patriots do. It’s safe to say Blount is one dimensional; none of the top 50 in rushing yards had fewer than his seven receptions.

Mark Ingram, Saints, 1,043 yards—While Ingram had a good year, the Saints apparently weren’t overly impressed. They signed Adrian Peterson as a free agent and they drafted RB Alvin Kamara in the third round. We’ll have to see who is healthy and on the field in Week 11

Melvin Gordon, Chargers, 997 yards—The 2015 first-round pick missed the last three games and most of another one with an injury. When healthy, he was very effective. His stats projected over 16 games come to over 1,300 yards.

Best of the rest: Carlos Hyde of the 49ers just missed the top five with 988 rushing yards last year Besides Kamara, the only running backs drafted in the first three rounds the Redskins will face are Dalvin Cook (Vikings) and Kareem Hunt (Chiefs). It will be interesting to see if new Rams coach Sean McVay can revive Todd Gurley, who followed a 1,100-yard rookie season with a 4.8 per carry average by gaining 885 yards with a paltry 3.2 average in 2016. Marshawn Lynch comes to town with the Raiders after spending a year in retirement; with the Seahawks, he picked up 111, 72, and 132 on the ground against the Redskins. 

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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In case you missed it

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Kirk Cousins shows off competitive spirit, soft touch - at Jenga (VIDEO)

Kirk Cousins shows off competitive spirit, soft touch - at Jenga (VIDEO)

After NFL minicamps end in mid-June, and before the grind of training camps start in late July, players are free to have a little bit of fun and try to relax. For Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins that evidently means a game of Jenga.

Fun at Kirk's 10 year high school reunion!!!

A post shared by Julie Cousins (@juliehcousins) on

The video comes from Cousins' wife Julie, and the caption explains that the couple were attending the quarterback's 10-year high school reunion. Looks like a fun scene, and the Michigan waterfront looks even better.

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back

For anybody that has watched Cousins on the practice field or listened to him mic'd up during a Redskins game, the competitive outburst is no surprise. Cousins likes to win, period. Even at life-size Jenga during his 10-year high school reunion. 

Obviously, contract talks between Cousins' representatives and the Redskins continue, and likely will until the July 17th franchise tag deadline. Last season, Cousins threw for nearly 5,000 passing yards, completing 67 percent of his passes to go with 25 TDs and 12 INTs. He's allowed to have a little fun here and there.

<<<NFL POWER RANKINGS: WHO GOT BETTER AFTER THE DRAFT>>>

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