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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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Need to Know: Five final thoughts on Redskins vs. Raiders

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Need to Know: Five final thoughts on Redskins vs. Raiders

 

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, September 24, eight days before the Washington Redskins play Chiefs in Kansas City.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Redskins Kickoff 7:30 CSN; Redskins vs. Raiders 8:30 NBC

Days until:

—Monday night Redskins @ Eagles (10/23) 29
—Cowboys @ Redskins (10/29) 35

Five final thoughts on Redskins vs. Raiders

—With Rob Kelley out and Jordan Reed unlikely to play, per Adam Schefter, Samaje Perine will get his first NFL start and Jeremy Sprinkle will be active for the first time. Perine got rolling as the game went on vs. the Rams. In quarters 1-3 he had 11 carries with an average of 2.2 yards per. In the fourth quarter, the rookie carried 10 times for a respectable 4.3 average. If he can get that 4.3 average all game and carry between 15 and 20 times, the Redskins will be fine on the rushing front.

—It was in Week 3 last year that Kirk Cousins got rolling. After throwing one touchdown and three interceptions in his first two games he threw two TD’s and no picks against the Giants. His pattern as the starter has been to start slowly and then pick up steam as the season gets going. Looking at the injury situation and at a Monday night game at Arrowhead Stadium looming next week, today would be a great day for him to get going. The talk in Oakland is that the Raiders will load up to stop the run and challenge Cousins to beat them through the air. Cousins will need to take them up on that challenge.

—The Redskins have four sacks in two games. It will be difficult for them to add to that total today because Raiders QB Derek Carr gets rid of the ball so quickly. The best way to get pressure on a quarterback like that is to take the shortest route. It will be important for Jonathan Allen to get some push up the middle and perhaps Greg Manusky will send Zach Brown or Mason Foster blitzing into the A-gap occasionally. The pressure is also on the secondary to make sure tackles after Carr gets those short completions to make sure they don’t turn into big plays.

—I was skeptical of the impact that Oakland RB Marshawn Lynch would have in his return at age 31 after a poor (417 yards) 2015 season followed by a season in retirement. And although there may be reasons to wonder about his durability over the course of a 16-game season, right now he’s healthy. The Redskins’ worst nightmare would be for Lynch to get 15 carries and grind out four to five yards per pop. That would set up Carr to do whatever he wants to do.

—This looked like a tough one even when it appeared that the Redskins would be at full strength on offense. If Kelley and, especially, Reed are out, the game looks to be an even more daunting task. The Washington defense is going to have to step up and force Carr to make decisions sooner than he wants to. Offensively, the Redskins are going to need to keep Carr and company off the field by controlling the clock. They did it last week against the Rams. If they can take time of possession 35 minutes to 25 again they have a chance to pull off the upset. It’s possible but I’m going to go against it happening.

Raiders 28, Redskins 21

2017 predictions record: 1-1

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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Report: Rob Kelley out vs. Raiders, Reed unlikely to play

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Report: Rob Kelley out vs. Raiders, Reed unlikely to play

The Redskins could be without two key offensive players against the Raiders tonight, according to a report.

According to ESPN, Redskins starting running back Rob Kelley (rib) is unlikely to play and that Jordan Reed (chest) is a game-time decision but it also is probable that he will sit out. Bot players were listed as questionable on the final injury report on Friday.

RELATED: CRAVENS JERSEY GIVEAWAY A BIG HIT

Kelley was having a career day against the Rams last Sunday before he left the game in the second quarter with a rib cartilage injury. He practiced on a limited basis all week.

Reed, a key target for quarterback Kirk Cousins, missed some snaps after sustaining the injury to his sternum during the game against the Rams. He was out of practice on Wednesday and limited on Thursday and Friday.

Rookie Samaje Perine saw his first NFL action last week and he likely will get his first NFL start in Kelley’s spot tonight. If Reed can’t play, Vernon Davis will start and rookie Jeremy Sprinkle, who was inactive the first two games, will be in uniform.

MORE REDSKINS: A STRONG START FOR SMITH BUT MORE IS NEEDED

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.