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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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New #RedskinsTalk Podcast: Comparing Redskins training camp with the New England Patriots

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New #RedskinsTalk Podcast: Comparing Redskins training camp with the New England Patriots

After a poor first preseason showing and some questions about the physicality of Redskins training camp, JP Finlay talks with Patriots Insider Phil Perry from CSN New England to discuss the differences between Washington's camp and how they run things in New England.

<<CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS FROM REDSKINS TRAINING CAMP>>

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Redskins Playbook: Jay Gruden calls Ryan Grant "Mr. Consistent"

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Redskins Playbook: Jay Gruden calls Ryan Grant "Mr. Consistent"

Few Redskins players draw more heated fan reaction than Ryan Grant. In three seasons with Washington, Grant has never missed a game, but he also hasn't produced much. His career stats: 39 catches for 412 yards and two touchdowns. 

Regardless, Jay Gruden and the Redskins coaching staff appreciates Grant in a way few fans understand. Grant is able to back up both the slot and outside receivers, and knows the roles of all the players.

"He’s really strong, he’s in great shape, and he’s Mr. Consistent," Gruden said of Grant. "Everything we ask him to do he does, and he does it right."

When Jamison Crowder missed time in Richmond with a hamstring strain, Grant stepped into Crowder's slot role. When Josh Doctson hurt his hamstring and missed time, Grant stepped into his role on the outside of the offense.

Throughout camp, Grant has displayed good hands and an adept knowledge of the offense. 

"No matter where he lines up, no matter what we ask him to do, he can come in the core and block the safety, whatever we want him to do, he can run whatever route from whatever positon and he runs at the right depth, perfect angles coming out of them," Gruden said. "He’s just ‘Steady Eddie,’ and that’s why I like him. I like consistent, smart players and that’s what Ryan is."

Against the Ravens in the Redskins first preseason game, Grant hung on to a tough catch over the middle to give the team one of very few offensive sparks. The problem for fans as it relates to Grant has not been preseason play. It's been inconsistent play in regular season games. 

Gruden believes that could change this year.

"I think people may be surprised with how many balls Ryan Grant might catch. Either way, could happen, I don’t know. I can’t foresee the future there, but I would be just fine with Ryan Grant being the target of a lot of balls."

To state the obvious: Grant is definitely making the roster. Behind Terrelle Pyror, Crowder and Doctson, Grant is the Redskins fourth wideout and one of the few players on the roster that is interchangeable among the Washington receiver positions. 

Grant's career best season came in 2015 when he caught 23 balls for 268 yards and two TDs. Based on his preseason, it seems Grant could surpass those totals in 2017. Much of his early season work has been a result of injuries to Doctson and Crowder, but make no mistake, Grant has been impressive in practice. 

Will it translate to the real games? The opprotunity seems only likely to arise if the Redskins deal with injuries at the receiver spot. 

Last year, Cousins threw for nearly 5,000 yards, but DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon accounted for more than 2,000 of those yards. Doctson, Crowder and certainly Pryor are likely to be the major recepients of Cousins' aerial prowess. Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis and Chris Thompson accounted for another 1,618 yards last year.

Keep in mind, this is the last year of Grant's rookie contract. If there was ever a time to show in games what coaches have long seen and loved in practice, this would be the year. It seems only an injury would give him a major opportunity. If the situation came to pass, Gruden would have faith in Grant. 

<<CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS FROM REDSKINS TRAINING CAMP>>

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!