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Redskins hit the road looking to take 1st place

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Redskins hit the road looking to take 1st place

What: Redskins (3-3) vs. Giants (4-2)

Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Fox WTTG-5

Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live: Comcast SportsNet at noon and 4

Outlook: With Robert Griffin III under center, the Redskins almost always produce enough points. 

The problem six games into the 2012 season has been preventing them. And, once again, that figures to be challenge No. 1 for Washington’s defense as it squares off against an Eli Manning-led Giants’ team that’s coming off a convincing, 26-3 victory in San Francisco.

Manning struggled in a pair of losses to the Redskins a season ago, tossing a total of four interceptions and no touchdowns. 

So far this season, though, Manning has consistently ranked among the NFL’s top passers. The two-time Super Bowl winner has thrown for the third most yards (1,772), the seventh most touchdowns (11) and has been sacked fewer times than any other starter (4). 

But what should concern the Redskins most about Manning is this statistic: He’s also tied for the third most passing plays over 25 yards with 15.

Pass defense and susceptibility to big plays, of course, has been Washington’s weakness for much of season. In fact, the Redskins have allowed the most passing yards (1,970), the most passing first downs (97) and are tied for most passing touchdowns yielded (15). They're also tied for the seventh most passing yards allowed per play (7.9).

Cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson were instrumental in limiting the Vikings’ big plays in last week’s 38-26 victory. But they’ll be tested by Giants’ star wide receiver Victor Cruz, who is tied for second in touchdown receptions (6) and third in total receptions (43). Hakeem Nicks, meantime, returned from a three-game absence last week because of a knee injury and is expected to be closer to 100-percent against the Redskins after practicing on a Wednesday for the first time all season.

The Redskins’ strength on defense has been stopping the run. The Ryan Kerrigan and Stephen Bowen-led unit ranks 10th in yards allowed on the ground has only permitted three rushing touchdowns.

But they’ll be facing the NFL’s hottest running back in Ahmad Bradshaw, who has rushed for 200 and 116 yards, respectively, the past two weeks. He also scored twice.

As you can see, it’s likely the Redskins’ defense will have its hands full. But if it can produce another bend-but-don’t-break performance against the defending champions, and Griffin has another solid outing, it’s not unreasonable to expect a typical NFC East contest. Which is to say a nail-bitter that could turn way late.  

Here are three additional areas the team at www.csnwashington.com will be monitoring:

1- Griffin was the toast of the league last week following his 76-yard, victory-clinching run against the Vikings. For the season, he leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards (379) and, just as impressively, completion percentage (70.2).

But Sunday’s showdown will be unfamiliar territory for the rookie. His introduction to the NFC East will come on the road, against the defending Super Bowl champion quarterback and with first place in the division up for grabs.

Griffin, however, insisted that the increased stakes won’t alter his approach. 

“A couple of years ago, my Dad told me you jump the same way you jump at 6’8” that you do at 6’0,” he said, harkening back to his days as track and field star. “So for me, you always keep your preparation the same, whether it’s the Giants or anyone else.”

2- All indications are that the Redskins’ top wide receiver, Pierre Garçon, will miss his second straight game and fourth overall with a nagging foot injury. 

Fred Davis, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan have done a nice job picking up the slack, combining for 943 yards. At some point, though, the lack of an elite downfield and red zone threat will catch up with them. (The Redskins are tied for 26th in touchdown receptions with 6.)

Mike Shanahan said he hopes that rest, treatment and injections will get Garçon back on the field. But as the coach said this week, the injury is “very much a mystery.”  

3- Alfred Morris had his lowest production as a professional last Sunday, rushing for 47 yards (on 16 carries), or roughly half of his typical output, against Minnesota. 

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said the downturn was the result of a Vikings’ defense that’s been good against the run and the fact that Morris was used more on a quick-hitting plays. 

On Sunday, Morris will face a Giants front that’s led by defensive ends Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre Paul and is widely considered among the NFL’s best. The unit has held four of its six opponents to a team total of 84 or fewer yards on the ground.

Morris is also contending with the reality that he’s no longer an unknown. Opponents now have six games of film to study.

That said, Kyle Shanahan is not concerned.

“He’s going to get his yards and people are going to have to commit to him,” Shanahan said. “ And when they do, it opens up other people.”

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How a simple bet between Alabama rookies Allen and Anderson could pay big dividends for Redskins

How a simple bet between Alabama rookies Allen and Anderson could pay big dividends for Redskins

The Redskins ranked at or near the bottom of the NFL in a number of defensive categories in 2016, and the first and second round selections in the 2017 Draft should help to address that.

A huge part of the Washington defensive problems stemmed from an inability to get off the field on third downs, and Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson should immediately provide a pass rush boost. In 2016, the duo combined for 18.5 sacks, 8.5 coming from Anderson and another 10 from Allen, two huge pieces for the excellent Alabama defense.

On the pro level, Anderson may actually be in position for more sacks as he's likely to play outside linebacker in the Redskins 3-4 scheme. Allen will be more of an interior presence, a natural fit for the 'Skins defensive end spot in the 3-4.

That doesn't mean the two won't compete to hit quarterbacks. 

Asked Saturday if there would be a bet between the two college teammates about who gets more sacks their rookie season, Anderson quickly responded, "definitely."

Though he was surprised by the bet, Allen wasn't going to back down from the challenge. (Full video above)

"I guess there is now, I didn't know about it 'til now," Allen said. 

As for the stakes of the bet, Allen said the pair of rookies will figure that out behind closed doors. 

"His bank account is a little longer than mine so we will have to figure something else out," Anderson said.

What's clear from hanging out with both players is their familiarity with one another will help both players transition to the NFL. Allen and Anderson said they had an emotional response when they learned they would continue to play together in Washington. 

"There's very few players that have better film or resume than this guy right here," Allen said of Anderson. 

Anderson, as the Redskins press group has quickly learned, has a certain way with words. Honest and funny, but to the point.

"I'm excited to have one of my dogs with me here," he said of Allen. 

The Redskins ranked ninth in the NFL in sacks in 2016, but will lose Trent Murphy for four games to start the year. Sacks are just one metric to measure defensive success, though an easily quantifiable and fun metric for fans.

Where Washington has to improve is on 3rd downs. In 2016, they allowed a confounding 97 third down conversions, good for 31st in the league. There's only 32 teams. What's worse? The 'Skins gave nine fourth down conversions too.

Regardless of sack totals, Allen and Anderson were brought to Washington to help this defense get off the field. Coming from the Crimson Tide, the two rookies seem up for the challenge. 

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Grading the Redskins' 2017 draft

Grading the Redskins' 2017 draft

Since we don’t know how the careers of the players picked by the Redskins yesterday will turn out we must dig in a little more to come up with a grade for the draft headed up by Bruce Allen. Here’s my assessment, feel free to leave yours in the comments.

Strategy—B

There really isn’t enough to love or to hate here. They didn’t do much wheeling and dealing while on the clock, making only a minor deal with the Vikings to move up two spots in the sixth round in exchange for moving down 10 slots in the seventh.

For the record, the trade (picks 201 and 220 from Washington to Minnesota in exchange for picks 199 and 230) was just about a wash on the Jimmy Johnson trade chart, with the Redskins giving up a statistically insignificant one point of value.

Whether center Chase Roullier, the player they traded up to draft, makes the team and has an impact or not is not going to make or break the draft but it should be noted that they gave up something of value to get him so it was a player they wanted to make sure they got as his name was still on the board.

The deals that got them up to 10 picks had already been made by Scot McCloughan on draft day last year as he added picks in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds with various trades.

Perhaps they deserve the most credit for a potential deal they did not make. As their first-round pick got closer and defensive lineman Jonathan Allen remained on the board it had to be tempting for them to spend a mid-round pick to jump up and grab him before anyone else could. But Gruden said that they had a number of players to choose from as the pick approached and they decided to stay put. The gamble paid off as Allen fell into their laps at pick No. 17.

Talent/fit/needs—A-

The Redskins needed to bolster their defense and they certainly gave it a go. Their first three picks were on defense as were four of their first five and six of 10 overall.

But the raw number of the picks doesn’t really tell the story; it’s the value of the picks that really matters. According to that Jimmy Johnson pick value chart, they spend 1,596 points on defense and 126 points on offense.

They hit on their biggest needs with their first two picks. They had not drafted a defensive lineman in the first round since 1997 and the neglect of the position was evident. In Allen they got a player with Pro Bowl potential in their biggest area of need.

Allen will help the pass rush from the inside and then in the second round they acquired some edge rushing ability with Ryan Anderson. It seems that this pick was strongly influenced by Scot McCloughan’s draft board. His height, weight, and combine numbers were not what a lot of teams are looking for in an edge rusher but his tough mentality and obvious love for the game are attributes that McCloughan valued.

Although Gruden expressed his confidence in Rob Kelley to be his running back it appeared to most outside observers that an upgrade was needed and they got that in Samaje Perine. You can’t have too many good corners and Bashaud Breeland is set to be a 2018 free agent so they took Fabian Moreau in the third round. They had no backup center Roullier could develop into that spot. Gruden said earlier this offseason that they needed a blocking tight end and that is what Jeremy Sprinkle is.

They didn’t hit on all their needs. With the top three inside linebackers set to be free agents next year many thought they would spend a top pick there. And although there were a few possible nose tackles on the board in the later rounds they bypassed that position. You can’t solve everything in one draft but the Redskins have now had eight drafts since converting to the 3-4 defense and they still haven’t found a solution at nose tackle.

As far as value goes, it doesn’t get much better than Allen, who was a consensus top-five talent who lasted until the 17th pick. Moreau may have been a first-round pick before tearing a pectoral muscle lifting weights during his pro day.

On the other end of the value scale, the fourth round seemed to be way too early to take safety Montae Nicholson. There is something to be said for taking a guy with good measurables who didn’t have good game tape and taking a shot at developing him. But the fourth round is too soon for taking such a chance.

Overall—B+

After their first two picks, they didn’t shy away from red flags. Moreau and Nicholson both have injuries that will keep them out of action until sometime in training camp. Sprinkle had a highly-publicized shoplifting citation that got him suspended from Arkansas’ bowl game. Seventh-round pick Josh Harvey-Clemons failed multiple drug tests during college.

They did stay away from players with histories of high-profile violent incidents like Dede Westbrook, Joe Mixon, and Caleb Brantley.

How those red-flag players turn out will be the key to this draft. It’s fine to take some chances, especially when you go into the draft with 10 picks. But you have better win more than you lose.

There were enough players taken who seem to be sure bets to be productive, if there is such a thing in the draft, to make it unlikely that the draft will be a total bust. Allen, Anderson, and Perine are clean prospects who have very high floors. Allen and Anderson may have Pro Bowl ceilings.

Given that, they seem to be assured of having a least a productive draft (again, with the caveat that nothing in the draft is certain). If Sprinkle develops into a good third tight end who can block and be a threat to catch a pass, that’s a plus. If Moreau can develop into a starter, this could be a pretty good draft. If sixth-round WR Robert Davis can contribute on special teams and be a productive fourth or fifth wide receiver, that would be another plus.

In short, the Redskins did some good work towards giving this draft a chance to be a success. Now it’s up to the coaches, to luck, and seeing how players who are projected to play well at age 22 actually perform on the field when they get older and suddenly have a six-figure salary. 

MORE REDSKINS: Clear winner from Redskins 2017 Draft?