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Need to Know: What should we expect from the Redskins' running game this year?

Need to Know: What should we expect from the Redskins' running game this year?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 20, 10 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 comes from Twitter:

I’ve spent a lot of time this offseason looking at various aspects of the running game but Raj’s question here gives me a good opportunity to step back and look at the big picture, how I expect the various parts to fit together. So here we go:

After saying shortly before the start of the 2014 seasons that running the ball was what the Redskins did best, Jay Gruden didn’t call a whole lot of runs. The Redskins were 19th in the NFL in rushing attempts with 401. To put that in context, the Seahawks led the league 525 rushing attempts, ahead of the Cowboys (508) and Jets (507).

I think that Gruden perhaps intended to call more than 25 runs per game but between his natural inclination to pass first and a defense that was giving up points at a pace of almost a touchdown per quarter (27.4 points/game), it just didn’t happen. The defense should be improved and the presence of Bill Callahan on the sideline will nudge Gruden towards keeping the ball on the ground a bit more. If they add four or five runs per game that will get them up in the area of 450-475 rushing attempts.

Who will carry the ball? Gruden has assured us on multiple occasions that Alfred Morris is still the workhorse running back so until I see something different I’ll believe him. Morris carried 265 times last year so let’s say stays right around in that area. Rookie Matt Jones should get the 40 carries that the departed Roy Helu had last year and then some, perhaps 100 total.

The wild card is quarterback rushing attempts. We’re not going to see a return to 2012 when Robert Griffin III ran the ball 120 times. But if Griffin starts at least a dozen games or so he should get more than the 61 rushing attempts the three quarterbacks combined for in 2014. I’d say something around the 86 he had in 13 games in 2013.

So what will it add up to? Last year they averaged 4.2 yards per rushing attempt, 15th in the NFL. The Redskins averaged 105.7 yards per game, 19th in the league. How much better can they be? Adding a half a yard to their average per rush is a fairly ambitious goal but between the addition of Callahan, a new right side of the line, and more power running, it’s possible. We’ll use 4.7 yards per carry to figure things here while recognizing that 4.5 would represent a solid improvement.

Some quick math tells us that if the Redskins run the ball 475 times and average 4.7 yards a pop over 16 games they will average 140 yards on the ground per game. Last year that would have been fourth in the NFL, behind Seattle (173 per game), Dallas (147), and the Jets (142).

How about if they run 450 times and average 4.5? That would still represent a good improvement up to 126 yards per game, which would have been eighth in the NFL in 2014.

Somewhere between 125 and 140 yards per game is the upside prediction and I think their performance will trend that way. But some things must go right—the defense has to be improved and not just different to keep the team in running situations, Griffin or whoever the quarterback is needs to play well enough to keep teams from stacking the box, and the right side of the line needs to gel in a hurry both in run blocking and in pass protection. Things not going according to the preseason plan has been the norm for this franchise. We will see how it all shakes out but it does seem that the intention is to run more often and run better.

Timeline

—It’s been 204 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 55 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 10; Preseason opener @ Browns 24; final cuts 47

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Jay Gruden wants DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon back, but 'won't blink' if they're gone

Jay Gruden wants DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon back, but 'won't blink' if they're gone

The Redskins face the very real prospect of losing receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon via free agency. Head coach Jay Gruden wants both players back, but is prepared to roll with the guys on the team if Jackson and Garçon depart. 

"Obviously DeSean and Pierre had great years. 1,000 yards each. Those are going to be hard to replace," Gruden said to reporters in Indianapolis. 

It's still possible the Redskins keep both Jackson and Garçon, or keep one of the two, just as both players could leave the organization. In his comments, it seemed like Gruden does not expect one or both guys to be back, and that the team will move on without them. That could mean losing Jackson's 1,005 receiving yards or Garçon's 1,041. 

"Coach the guys that we have. Free agency you’re never going to be able to sign everybody you want as a coach," he said. "I’d like to have Alshon Jeffery, Pierre and DeSean. Heck, give them all to me. I know that's not going to happen."

Gruden tends to joke often speaking with the media, and clearly the prospect of signing Jeffery, a star wideout for the Bears that will hit free agency next week, along with Jackson and Garçon isn't going to happen. The receiver market in free agency will be interesting to watch, as a number of top options will be available. Jeffery, Jackson, Garçon along with Cleveland's Terrelle Pryor and younger prospects like Kenny Stills and Kenny Britt. 

Asked if it was "necessary" to bring at least one of Garçon or Jackson back, Gruden bristled. 

"Would never say necessary. I’d love to have them both back, I'd love to have one back. If we are unfortunate enough to lose them both, I'm not gonna blink."

The coach explained the team has a good crop of young pass catchers already on the roster. 

"I do feel very good about Jamison Crowder, Ryan Grant, Josh Doctson. I love the fact that Mo Harris got a lot of work in, he’s gonna develop."

The coach should feel good about the young receivers, their development is part of his job. Crowder looks like a future star in the slot. Still, Jackson and Garçon accounted for more than 40 percent of Kirk Cousins' passing yards in 2016. That's a lot of yardage to lose. 

Of course, Doctson's development will be a major theme this offseason. A first-round pick in 2016, the Redskins got next to nothing from him as a rookie as he dealt with an Achilles injury. A healthy 6-foot-2 Doctson could offset some of the lost productivity that would come with the departure of Jackson or Garçon.

And then there is always free agency. It's entirely possible Washington could sign another, perhaps cheaper, wideout on the marketplace should they lose two the same way. Gruden said the team has 'other free agents' the team could pursue.

"We have Plan B's and Plan C's ready to go," Gruden said. 

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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The Redskins aren't willing to trade Kirk Cousins unless they are

The Redskins aren't willing to trade Kirk Cousins unless they are

Shortly after Kirk Cousins got the exclusive franchise tag from the Redskins on Saturday, two sort of conflicting reports. One, from Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, was that Cousins “is not going anywhere” and a trade is essentially off the table. Mike Florio of Pro Football talk, quoting “a source familiar with the dynamics of the situation” reported that the Redskins would have to be “blown away” by a trade offer in order to pull the trigger on a deal.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 4.0

On the face of it, the reports conflict. One says that Cousins is available, the other says that he isn’t. But that valuation of them assumes the sources for these reports were intent on putting out the truth. The fact is that Cousins is very much available for the right offer.

A conversation along the lines of this one could well take place in Indianapolis this week:

“How much do you want for your house?”

“It’s not for sale.”

“No, really, how much do you want.”

“Really, it’s not for sale.”

“I’ll give you $50,000 over whatever it gets appraised for.”

“Sold!”

In short, you don’t need to have a “for sale” sign up in front of something to sell it. In fact, sometimes it’s better to act as though you have no intention of selling whatever it is. That can intrigue potential buyers even more.

The analogy falters a bit as it seems that the Redskins are unlikely to get a premium over whatever Cousins’ valuation on the open market might be. The receiving team will have to give the QB a massive contract. In addition, a team that wants Cousins is likely to be able to get him with no compensation in a year, when Cousins is likely to be an unfettered free agent. But you get the idea.

More Redskins: What happens next with Cousins?

The message from the Redskins is, don’t come at us with a couple of mid rounders. There is some point where the compensation for giving up Cousins a year earlier than they might have to isn’t enough. It literally would be better to rent Cousins for one more season than get, say, a third-round pick with a 2018 fifth thrown in.

That being said, they are not going to get the RG3 type haul—three firsts and a second—in exchange for Cousins. The likely would accept something south of that in exchange for Cousins’ rights.

So, he’s not available at any price—unless the price is right.

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.