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Need to Know: What will Joe Barry's Redskins defense look like?

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Need to Know: What will Joe Barry's Redskins defense look like?

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, February 4, 14 days before the Washington Redskins and the rest of the NFL assemble in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine.

Question of the day

We’re changing up the format of Need to Know for the offseason. Every day 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.

Today's question is from Twitter:

The short answer is that we aren’t sure of what the details of Joe Barry’s defense will be just yet and that’s due in part to the fact that Barry himself doesn’t know just yet. He gave Jay Gruden a broad outline of what he would like to do during the interview process but that was not shared with anyone in the media.

For one thing he doesn’t yet know who will be playing in his defense. Scot McCloughan is now looking at 2014 game film to evaluate personnel and some players will not be invited back to participate in the 2015 campaign. And certainly Barry and his defensive staff are looking at film themselves, seeing what Ryan Kerrigan can do well and what David Amerson will need to do to break out of his sophomore slump.

Barry has said that the defense will maintain a base 3-4 scheme but they will utilize multiple fronts and may actually line up in a 3-4 a minority of the snaps. This is similar to what the Redskins did last year and what most teams that have a 3-4 base defense do.

There is very little history to go on here. Barry was a defensive coordinator in Detroit for two years but head coach Rod Marinelli has a defensive background so it’s safe to say that most of the principles of that 4-3 unit were his, not Barry’s.

There has been talk that Barry will prefer more of a one-gap technique up front than the two gap that has been the staple of the Redskins’ 3-4. Generally speaking the one-gap asks the line to be more aggressive and make plays while a two-gap asks the linemen to occupy blockers and let the linebackers make the plays. Both will be used at various times and we’ll have to wait until the games start to see which one is the base defense.

I know that fans love to see the corners press rather than play an off-man technique. And perhaps once Scot McCloughan is finished drafting the large, physical “Legion of Boom” type defensive backs he wants you will see more of that. In the meantime, if Barry and Perry Fewell can do what Jim Haslett and Raheem Morris couldn’t do and teach David Amerson, Bashaud Breeland, and the other cornerbacks to play press you could see more of that. Until then, look for a lot of off-man coverage.

I know that’s not a whole lot to go on but the scheme is still a work in progress. I will see if I can get any more information about what the current thinking is when Gruden answers questions at the NFL Combine two weeks from today.

Timeline

—It’s been 38 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be about 221 days until they play another one.

Days until: NFL free agency starts 34; Redskins offseason workouts start 75; 2015 NFL Draft 86

If you have any questions about what's going on at Redskins Park, hit me up in the comments. And I'm always on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Accentuating the negative leads to positive results for Chris Thompson

Accentuating the negative leads to positive results for Chris Thompson

Some NFL players ooze confidence. They thrive on emphasizing what they do well and not speaking about weaknesses. In a game as tough and physical as pro football, some players need to feel bulletproof to survive.

Chris Thompson is not like that. He was one of the stars in the Redskins’ 27-20 win over the Rams on Sunday. He rushed three times for 77 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 29 yards. And while he enjoyed the win, he did not revel in his performance as he made a glaring mistake.

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In the third quarter, quarterback Kirk Cousins threw him a perfect pass over the middle. The speedy Thompson had nothing but green grass and white stripes in front of him. But he dropped the pass, turning what likely would have been a 62-yard touchdown into an incompletion.

That play stuck with him despite his touchdown runs of 61 and seven yards.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “On the plane ride, getting dressed after the game, this morning watching film, when I was outside at practice, I was thinking about that one play. My first thing I wanted to do when I got out there in individuals with the quarterbacks was to run that route again and catch the ball.”

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Instead of reliving his glory, he went to work to correct one mistake.

This is not a lone instance of Thompson focusing on negative plays that he made. He said that mistakes stick in his mind more than good plays. During a few minutes talking to reporters on Wednesday, he recalled going the wrong way on a choice route against the Dolphins in 2015, costing a possible touchdown, making a similar mistake against the Browns last year, and errors that led to sacks of Cousins last year and of Robert Griffin III a few years ago.

“All of those things that I look back at that I did wrong, it helped me become a better player this year,” said Thompson. “I’ve been able to go back and look at that and see what went wrong and fix it now. As of late as I’ve become more confident in what I’m doing and more confident in my abilities I’m able to play better.”

Whatever Thompson is doing to become a better player is working. He signed a two-year contract extension earlier this month. Jay Gruden sings his praises whenever he’s asked about him. His teammates almost universally admire and respect him. In his fifth NFL season, many analysts around the league are starting to recognize him as a main cog in the Redskins’ offense.

It is unlikely that he will change his approach.

“I had to mess up a lot in order to get where I am now,” he said. Thompson will continue to perfect his game by putting his imperfect moments under the microscope. 

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Redskins Playbook: Cousins, Gruden remain quite confident in offense. Maybe they're right

Redskins Playbook: Cousins, Gruden remain quite confident in offense. Maybe they're right

One of the best offenses in 2016, the Redskins early returns so far in 2017 rank somewhere between underwhelming and underachieving. That does not mean good games aren't coming in the future, however, at least according to head coach Jay Gruden and quarterback Kirk Cousins. 

"I would like to think that as the year goes on the offense gets better and better," Cousins said Wednesday. "Hopefully we take those steps going forward and we just hit our stride and play much better than we have the first two weeks."

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In the first two games of the season, a loss at home to the Eagles in Week 1 and a win in Los Angeles over the Rams, Cousins hasn't played particularly well. Against Philadelphia, he played poorly, accounting for three turnovers and completing just 57 percent of his passes. In LA, he showed progress. No turnovers and his completion percentage jumped up nearly 10 points. 

More importantly, Cousins shined on the final drive of the game, going 3 for 3 and throwing the game-winning touchdown. It was that drive, and a number of near misses in both games, that has Gruden optimistic. 

The coach called the Redskins passing game "very, very close" to hitting on all cylinders.

"There is a lot we can improve on in the passing game, from Kirk to the routes to the protection. It’s a work in progress, but we will get there," Gruden said Monday. "We have total faith that we will get it done and his numbers will get better."

Considered in a certain way, he's right. 

In Week 1, the Redskins offensive line struggled and Cousins was sacked four times. The run game got nothing going, generating just 64 yards on the ground. Cousins was able to throw for 240 yards, and despite all the turnovers, the offense still had a chance to steal a win late in the fourth quarter. 

In Week 2, the Redskins line blocked better and the run game produced at a high level. Cousins' yardage total was quite low, only 179 yards, but a big gainer got dropped and a few other opportunities were missed. 

Cousins supporters will scream about passes being dropped in Weeks 1 and 2. Cousins detractors will scream about passes missed in Weeks 1 and 2.

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The truth is likely in the middle. There is a solid baseline of production from Cousins from the last two seasons, and clearly Gruden expects that to come. Perhaps Week 3 against Oakland will be the opportunity. 

"We’re just going to keep sticking with the plan, getting these guys open the best way we can and hopefully we give Kirk the protection and he sees the throws and makes the throws," Gruden said. "But we’re right there, really. I like the group that we have."

The 2016 Redskins finished third in the league in total yards gained. Obviously the team lost a ton of production with the exits of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. Don't discount that, or the departure of former offensive coordinator Sean McVay. 

Despite all that, Cousins still has weapons. And talent. He knows he can be better, and knows he needs to be better.

"We have still done some really good things the first two weeks and have moved the ball, but I think there is more in the tank there that we have got to bring out,” Cousins said. 

To beat the Raiders, the Redskins will need to bring everything out of the tank. That likely means a 300-yard passing game from Cousins along with multiple touchdowns. 

The quarterback and the coach think the offense is ready, and close to a breakout game. Maybe they're right. 

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