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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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Redskins Playbook: After worst to first in 2016, how strong will NFC East be?

Redskins Playbook: After worst to first in 2016, how strong will NFC East be?

When the Redskins won the NFC East in 2015 with a 9-7 record, most critics dismissed the division as weak. That theory was largely proved right when the Redskins got stomped at home in the first round of the playoffs by the Wild Card Green Bay Packers.

In 2016, however, the NFC East largely looked like the best division in football, or at least among the best divisions. Dallas won 13 games and took the NFC East title, the Giants won 11 and took the NFC's top Wild Card spot. The Redskins had a chance to make the playoffs in Week 17, but unceremoniously lost and fell short.

Still, Washington won eight games and Philadelphia won seven. In fact, the NFC East was the only division in the NFL without a team that lost 10 or more games. The AFC West - a division that some would argue was tougher than the NFC East - still had the Chargers and their 5-11 record.

What does it mean for 2017? If anything the only team expected to regress would be the Cowboys, and their regression could easily still have them looking to win around 10 games. 

The Eagles have improved with young, star QB Carson Wentz. New York will be interesting, as they have some age at various spots on their roster but still feature a two-time Super Bowl winning QB in Eli Manning and one of the best defenses in the NFL.

As for Washington? The defense should be much improved. It almost has to be as the 2016 version struggled significantly. If the defense can just be average (and I'd argue it could push for Top 15) the offense should continue to move the ball well. Producing in the red zone needs to look different than last season too.

The NFC East looks like a beast yet again. It would be no surprise if both NFC Wild Cards come from the division.

Let us know what you think in the comments. 

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Need to Know:Redskins faced one of the toughest schedules in NFL in 2016

Need to Know:Redskins faced one of the toughest schedules in NFL in 2016

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 28, 16 days before the Washington Redskins start their mandatory minicamp on June 13.

Timeline

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/27) 60
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 74
—Season opener Eagles @ Redskins (9/10) 105

Note: I am on vacation this week in the Outer Banks. Need to Know will be a mix of new content and some of the most popular posts of 2017.

Redskins faced one of NFL’s toughest slates in 2016

(originally posted January 28)

As the Redskins came off their 2015 playoff season and looked towards 2016, one thing jumped out. Even before any games were played it looked like their path to a repeat playoff appearance would be difficult, more so than it was when they went 9-7 and took the NFC East title.

The 2015 schedule looked fairly easy when applying the eyeball test. They played just two games against teams that made the playoffs and those teams, the Patriots and Panthers, plus the Jets were the only teams they faced that finished the season with winning records.

The eyeball test was borne out by the numbers. According to the stat gurus at Football Outsiders the Redskins faced the 28th toughest schedule in terms of the DVOA of opposing defenses and the opposing offenses added up to the 24th most difficult.

The going was considerably tougher in 2016. The Redskins played seven games against teams that were in the playoff field. The defenses they faced stacked up as the toughest group of any NFL team. They played nine games against teams that finished in the top 11 in defensive DVOA. The offenses they faced were a little better than average, ranking 13th as a group.

While the Redskins’ season was widely regarded as a disappointment, it would be reasonable to say that given vastly improved quality of the competition that they did well in only having their record drop by half a game.

Of course, the goal is to be good enough to prosper and make the playoffs no matter what mix of teams the luck of the draw happens to put on the schedule. They will need to get there in a hurry. Awaiting the Redskins on their 2017 schedule are seven 2016 playoff teams plus one more that finished the year with a winning record.

The fortunes of NFL teams can’t always be predicted in advance, especially more than seven months before the season kicks off. But it’s safe to say that the 2017 slate will be challenging. If they are going to improve their record they are going to have to improve their level of play dramatically.

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.