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Red zone and third down improvement will be hard to come by for Redskins' offense

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Red zone and third down improvement will be hard to come by for Redskins' offense

The Redskins did a good job of improving in some key areas last year. In 2014 they were woeful when it came to converting third downs with a rate of 31.5 percent, 30th in the NFL. Last year they converted 43.5 percent of third downs, fifth in the league. And after getting TDs on 47.9 percent of their red zone chances in Jay Gruden’s first year as their head coach (ranked 26th) they found the end zone on 58.3 percent of their red zone trips in 2015 (8th).

The improvement in those two areas went a long way towards helping the Redskins go from scoring 18.8 points per game (26th) to 24.2 (10th), and, more importantly, from four wins and another NFC East last place finish to 9-7 and a division title.

The Redskins players and coaches have let it be known that they are not satisfied with the fourth seed in the playoffs and their one-and-done experience there. One issue they will face in improving their win total and playoff outcome is that they grabbed low-hanging fruit on third downs and in the red zone. They don’t have much room to improve in those key areas.

Let’s look at the red zone production. In 2014 they scored 23 touchdowns on the 48 drives where they reached the opponents’ 20 yard line. Last year they have just one more trip to the red zone but they pushed it into the end zone 30 times. That’s about an extra touchdown scored every other game, a significant jump.

But they can’t expect to add many more points by adding to their efficiency in the red zone. The best red zone teams in the league average about a 70 percent success rate. If the Redskins have a 70 percent rate this year and have the same number of red zone trips they will score four more touchdowns, about one a month. While more scoring is never a bad thing and if the additional points are well timed they can make a difference, four more TDs are not going to get the Redskins where they want to be.

It’s a similar dynamic with third downs. The Saints led the league in conversions at 47.7 percent. If the Redskins had converted at that rate they would have had nine additional first downs. Again, potentially helpful at the right time but spread out over 16 games it's not enough to propel the Redskins into Super Bowl contention.

Any substantial red zone and third down improvement is going to have to come from a defense that ranked 13th and 12th in those two areas, respectively.

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#RedskinsTalk Podcast Episode 40 - Seriously, when will the Redskins pick a coordinator?

#RedskinsTalk Podcast Episode 40 - Seriously, when will the Redskins pick a coordinator?

As the Redskins settle into the offseason without both an offensive and defensive coordinator, JP Finlay and Rich Tandler debate who will get the jobs, and when they will be announced. 

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Redskins defensive coordinator resume: Jason Tarver

Redskins defensive coordinator resume: Jason Tarver

The Redskins have interviewed some high-profile candidates for their open defensive coordinator position. When it was reported that they will meet with former Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, the reaction among the fans was, “Who?”

Let’s take a look at what Tarver’s qualifications are to get the job of running the Redskins’ defense.

Before becoming a coordinator: At the age of 22, Tarver took a coaching job at West Valley College in California, and did that while earning his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Santa Clara. After that he was a graduate assistant at UCLA for three years before getting into the NFL in 2001, when the 49ers hired him as a quality control coach. Tarver worked his way up to outside linebackers coach in 2005 and did that job until 2010, when he was let go went Mike Singletary was fired as the head coach. After a year as the defensive coordinator at Stanford, Dennis Allen hired Tarver to run the Raiders defense in 2012.

More Redskins: Early first-round draft possibilities

Note: If you want more complete stats on Tarver’s defenses check out his page on Pro Football Reference. DVOA stats via Football Outsiders. A negative DVOA percentage is better than a positive number. Zero is average.

For players, * designates Pro Bowl selection, + designates first-team All-Pro

2012 Raiders (4-12)

Rankings: Yards 5,672 (18th), points 443 (28th), takeaways 19 (26th), 3rd down 39.1% (20th), DVOA 12.5% 29th
Notable players: DT Richard Seymour, DE Lamarr Houston

It should be noted that Allen had a defensive background so he had a hand in these numbers. This team just wasn’t very good as indicated by the fact that Seymour, at age 33, was one of their best defensive players.

2013 Raiders (4-12)

Rankings: Yards 5,918 (22nd), points 453 (29th), takeaways 22 (21st), 3rd down 43.1% (28th), DVOA 10.3% (26th)
Notable players: S Charles Woodson

They did make an effort to shore up the defense by bringing back Woodson and drafting cornerback D.J. Hayden in the first round. But Hayden only played in eight games and Woodson could only contribute so much at age 37. The pass defense struggled, ranking 29th in DVOA.

Related: Redskins offensive coordinator resume: Matt Cavanaugh

2014 Raiders (3-13)

Rankings: 5,721 (21st), points 452 (32nd), takeaways 14 (30th), 3rd down 38.5% (14th), DVOA 6.3% (26th)
Notable players: LB Khalil Mack, S Woodson

Allen was fired after an 0-4 start and Tony Sparano took over as interim head coach the rest of the way. Sparano has an offensive background so perhaps Tarver is more fully accountable for these results than those in other seasons. They did draft Mack with the fifth overall pick but his impact as a rookie was limited as recorded four sacks. Hayden again missed half of the season and, again, the defense was near the bottom of the NFL.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/RealRedskins and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.