Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, July 2, 28 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.
When the Redskins do something poorly, they don’t mess around.
In 2013 when they had some bad special teams play, they were historically bad. Football Outsiders has been tracking special teams data since 1989. Of all the teams since then only one, the 2000 Buffalo Bills had worse special teams play than the 2013 Redskins.
Last year’s team improved the special teams from awful to merely bad but they did reach historic depths in a different important category. The folks at FO tell us that only three teams since 1990 have been as bad as the 2014 Redskins were on third downs. One of those teams was the 2002 expansion Texans so they should get a pass. For the record, the other two were the 2004 Bears and the 1992 Seahawks.
FO takes more into account here than the simple conversion percentage, which was 31.5 percent, 30th in the NFL in 2014. Although the post doesn’t specify, FO metrics generally take into account the quality of the opponent, success rate compared to the rest of the league, and other such factors.
When Jay Gruden and company were asked about third down problems the usual response was that they had too far to go on third down, that they needed to be in third and shorter yardage more often. But on the average third down Washington had 7.5 yards to go; the league average was 7.3 to go. That’s a difference of about seven inches, not enough to say that the Redskins were considerably worse off. The Bucs had 8.6 yards to go on their average third down and they managed to convert 38.4 percent of the time, a conversion rate nearly 25 percent better than Washington’s.
In this post, Mike Tanier looks at some of the issues with the Redskins offense in general, including the third-down problem. He breaks down the failed third down attempts. I won’t go into all of them here (the post is well worth your time to read) but one that caught my eye was 35 pass completions that did not gain enough to make a first down. Fans of all teams get frustrated when their team throws short of the sticks (the average NFL team had 27 third-down completions that didn’t result in a first) but the problem seemed to be particularly acute with the Redskins. Passes like Colt McCoy’s one-yard completion to Jordan Reed on third and two in the fourth quarter in Dallas are plays you just don’t see many other teams make.
So while it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a shorter distance to go on third down, giving yourself a chance to convert by being just a touch more aggressive would help as well. As Tanier wrote in the article, "If you don't have a seven-yard pass in your playbook for 3rd-and-medium, then frankly, you don't have an NFL offense."
It seems likely that the Redskins will improve on third down this year if only because, as was the case with special teams after the 2013 debacle, there is nowhere to go but up.
—It’s been 186 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 73 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.
—Days until: Redskins training camp starts 28; Preseason opener @ Browns 42; final cuts 65
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