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Redskins' defense improves to passing grade

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Redskins' defense improves to passing grade

DefenseGrade vs. Buccaneers: CComment: After Sundays too-close-for-comfort 24-22 victory in Tampa, a number of defensive players said they saw progress. After all, the team yielded 32, 31 and 38 points, respectively, in the first games of the season. Those same players, though, acknowledged that the unit's second half letdown at Raymond James Stadium left much to be desired.Indeed, the Madieu Williams-led defense limited the Buccaneers to a meager 132 yards in the first half, six first downs and a total of six points. Ryan Kerrigan and the rest of the Redskins front seven applied consistent pressure to Josh Freeman and, as a result, the quarterback never looked comfortable as he completed only 13 of 22 pass attempts for 88 yards. Freeman was also sacked once and picked off by DeAngelo Hall.The second half, however, was another story as the Redskins secondary struggled once again, proving particularly susceptible to the big play. Part of the problem, linebacker Rob Jackson said, was that Freeman was not subjected the same level of pressure he faced in the first two quarters.The rest of problem, however, was a familiar one: poor execution on the backend.The game, in fact, turned on a pair of long completions.On the first a 65-yard catch and run by Mike Williams in the third quarter the Buccaneers receiver raced past Josh Wilson down the sideline, then juked Wilson and Madieu Williams to gain another 30 yards after the catch. On the second a 54-yard yard reception by Vincent Jackson in the fourth quarter Jackson used his seven-inch height advantage to make an outstanding diving catch over Hall in the middle of the field.Both receptions set up pivotal scores for the Buccaneers as they overcame a 15-point deficit second half deficit. In all, the Redskins yielded 293 passing yards after permitting 326, 301 and 385, respectively, in Weeks 1-3. The unit allowed more than 293 yards passing only twice in 2011 and now ranks 31stwith an average of 326 passing yards against per game.You take a look at everything, Coach Mike Shanahan said Monday. Why do they make those plays? Thats what we do when we look at film. We talk about the things that we did to give up those big plays. Is it scheme? Is it personnel? Doesnt matter what it is. You have to take a look at what players do best and you have to adjust your scheme to fit your personnel.Potentially complicating matters will be overcoming the loss of safety of veteran Brandon Meriweather, who will miss a fifth game of the season after reinjuring his left knee in a pregame collision with teammate Aldrick Robinson.

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Redskins Playbook: Looking at Kirk Cousins' Week 2 hits and misses

Redskins Playbook: Looking at Kirk Cousins' Week 2 hits and misses

Kirk Cousins played better in Week 2 than he did in Week 1, but the quarterback still didn't play as well as he's proved capable in previous seasons. He finished the 27-20 win over the Rams by going 18 of 27 for 179 yards with a touchdown. Important for Cousins, after three turnovers in a Week 1 loss, he did not fumble or throw an interception in Los Angeles. 

RELATED: WEEK 2 NFL POWER RANKINGS

Digging deeper into the numbers, one trend has emerged: Cousins and the Redskins are not having much luck in the downfield passing game. Stats provided by Pro Football Focus.

  • This season, Cousins has not completed a pass longer than 20 yards in the air. Against the Eagles in Week 1, Cousins missed on five deep attempts. Against the Rams, Cousins didn't have a deep attempt. 
  • Not surprisingly, Cousins does much better when he's not under pressure. On the season, the Redskins passer is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes without pressure, and that number drops to just below 43 percent under pressure. 
  • Cousins took four sacks against the Eagles, but that number dropped in half against the Rams.
  • Against the Rams, Cousins found his greatest success throwing to his left. On attempts to his left side, he completed all five attempts. Throwing over the middle or to the right, he threw 19 passes and completed 13. Week 1 Cousins also found his best success throwing to his left. 

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Preston Smith off to a strong start but Redskins want to see more

Preston Smith off to a strong start but Redskins want to see more

The end of Preston Smith’s 2015 rookie season set high expectations for his future. The outside linebacker racked up six sacks in the final four games including three in the Redskins’ division-clinching win in Philadelphia and one that got Aaron Rodgers for a safety in their wild-card playoff game. His eight sacks led all NFL rookies

But he wasn’t the player the team hoped he would be in 2016, at least not consistently. Smith got 4.5 sacks on the year. He had some dominant games like the one against the Vikings when he got two sacks and his first career interception. But he also disappeared for weeks at a time.

This past offseason the Redskins drafted outside linebacker Ryan Anderson in the second round and they re-signed Junior Galette. You always want to have good depth at the edge rushing position but it also appeared that the organization wanted to ensure that it would have alternatives if Smith’s sophomore slump extended into his third season.

RELATED: MUST-SEE PHOTOS FROM REDSKINS' WIN IN LA

But so far, we have seen a Preston Smith who looks more like the one who finished up his rookie season than the often invisible 2016 version. He has two sacks in two games plus two quarterback hits and two hurries. While it’s very early, Smith is starting to live up to the potential he showed as a rookie.

His versatility has impressed Jay Gruden.

“I think he’s doing good against the run, number one,” he said. “That’s what we have to do. He’s got to set the point. You’ve got to set the point of attack, and he’s done a good job of that.”

Per Pro Football Focus, Smith has played 86 snaps. He has rushed the passer in most his plays, 46. But he also has defended the run 28 snaps and has dropped back into coverage 12 times. He has allowed one reception for six yards in those coverage snaps.

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The rest of Gruden’s answer to the question about Smith’s play was interesting.

And then when he’s asked to rush some, he’s done fine. I think he and Junior [Galette] had some good rushes. Junior got that critical holding call that pushed them back out of the red zone and forcing them into a field goal and obviously [Ryan] Kerrigan is doing his thing, so all three of those guys are doing a great job as far as giving a chance of pace. Preston is doing a good job. He can go inside, he can use his bull [rush] and he’s working on his get off. So I think he’s getting better and better.

Note that Gruden is nowhere near over the top in his praise of Smith. He brings in Galette and Kerrigan to turn the topic to the pass rush in general and uses words like “fine” and “good” to describe Smith’s play. Smith has been a source of frustration for the coaches as he often has relied on his natural ability rather than working to master the finer points of the job. The willingness to work on the details is often the difference between a talented player who just gets by and one who racks up 15-sack seasons, goes to Pro Bowls, and gets paid with large contracts.

Smith’s start is encouraging for the Redskins but Gruden and company are going to want to see a lot more before they dish out big compliments for him.

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.