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Playing to Win

Playing to Win

Rich Tandler is the author of Gut Check, The Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs’ Washington Redskins. Get details and order at <a href="

http://gutcheckbook.com">http://GutCheckBook.com

The Redskins have five games remaining in the NFL season. There are those who say that the team should use those remaining games to evaluate some younger players and perhaps shut down the season for the likes of Lavar Arrington to let him start rehab on his knee injury a month early. The competitive phase of the season is over, according to this line of thinking, and the few extra losses will improve the team’s draft position.

As well-intentioned as these folks are, there are just too many reasons to keep on fielding the team that gives the Redskins the best chance to win the most games.

  • The playoffs—Certainly, it’s far fetched that the Redskins could make the playoffs, but it’s very likely that an 8-8 team will make it in the NFC. So, until that ninth loss is in the right-hand column in the standings the team is playing for a playoff spot.
  • The playoff picture—This is much more grounded in reality. Of the five remaining games, four of them have potential playoff implications for the Redskins’ opponents. A loss to the Redskins will make the Giants’ road to the postseason extremely difficult. Whatever unlikely scenario the Cowboys have of making the playoffs hinges on beating Washington on December 26. A Minnesota loss to the Skins in the season finale could well force them outdoors for the first round of the playoffs. Similarly, a Redskins win over Philadelphia in two weeks might force the Eagles inside, in the Georgia Dome, for the NFC title game. The concept of integrity demands that the Redskins field their best team and give their best effort for those games.
  • Unintended consequences—As an example, one of the young players that some are suggesting should get a look is rookie tackle Jim Molinaro. Chris Samuels’ contract is getting to a rather sticky cap number (more on that later) and he may need to be replaced. So, the thinking goes, let’s see if Molinaro can get the job done so that we can see if the team would have to go out and get someone to replace Samuels or if his replacement is already on the roster. But such a move is fraught with danger. Suppose that Molinaro isn’t the guy and Patrick Ramsey takes one too many shots to his blind side and is injured and misses mini camps and some training camp while recovering. This isn’t training camp, it’s the regular season.
  • Winning breeds winning—And, on the other side of that coin, losing breeds losing. Sure, finishing at 5-11 last year got the team the fifth overall pick in the draft and Sean Taylor. But if anyone doubts that losing six of the last seven games of 2003 didn’t carry over into this season, regime change and all, you’re kidding yourself. If the Redskins lose, say, four out of these last five, nobody is going to remember how well this kid or that kid might have played. All that will be remembered is the losing and it will take that much longer to get into winning ways.
  • Learning how to win—This is related to the previous topic, but it involves more tangible aspects of the game than emotion. Before enjoying an extended period of success, a team must first figure out how to win. If you have a late lead, how do you hold on to it? If you’re trailing in the fourth quarter, what do you have to do to score to take the lead? The Redskins have too much experience in how not to finish of games this year; you can’t have too many reps in practicing the right way to do it.

Of all of the reasons to continue to make the best effort to win, the last one presented above is the most important. Gibbs’ first team, the 1981 Redskins, was essentially eliminated from playoff contention five games into the season. However, he did not choose to see what he had in the young quarterback Tom Flick and decided to leave veteran Joe Theismann in the lineup. Cornerback Joe Lavender clearly was near the end of the road (in fact he would retire in the offseason), but he still started every week because he gave the team the best chance of winning. Although the offensive line play was very shaky at times, he stuck with that no-name group of guys named Grimm, Jacoby, Bostic, May and Starke even though he had some relatively young but experienced backups.

What happened was that they rallied for some close wins and, in their last two games of the season, they built an early lead, kept the throttle open and routed the Colts and the Rams. They learned how to win, a skill that is not easily acquired mostly because opportunities to acquire it are rare. The Redskins are down to five of them this year. They can’t afford to waste a single one.

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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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