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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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Redskins 2017 depth chart preview: Defensive line

Redskins 2017 depth chart preview: Defensive line

Over the next few weeks, Rich Tandler will take a position-by-position look at the Redskins’ 2017 depth chart as the team enjoys some R&R ahead of training camp. Some positions are easy to handicap. Others have moving parts and, thus, are more complex. So, who’s in? And who’s in trouble?

Up today…

Position: Defensive line

On the roster: Jonathan Allen, Stacy McGee, Terrell McClain, Ziggy Hood, Anthony Lanier, Phil Taylor, Matt Ioannidis, Joey Mbu, A.J. Francis, Ondre Pipkins, Brandon Banks

Locks: Allen, McGee, McClain, Hood, Lanier

Allen still has plenty to learn. Don’t expect him to dominate from Week 1 on. But he will be a good one, both against the run and rushing the passer.

Maybe, just maybe, the Redskins signed a player on the rise in McGee. Despite missing seven games last year (a red flag, to be sure), he forced the first two fumbles of his career and had 2.5 sack after getting just half a sack in his first three seasons combined. He’s just 27 and perhaps the Redskins can get a good, productive, multi-year run out of a defensive line free agent signee. They are due, that’s for sure.

McClain is the more experienced of the two free agent D-linemen. He also posted career bests in forced fumbles (2) and sacks (2.5). The seven-year veteran stayed healthy last year but he missed 14 games in 2015 so that is something to keep an eye on. He will turn 29 next month.

RELATED: 3 Redskins who are up, 3 down

Hood seemed to be on the bubble all last offseason but the struggles of free agents Stephen Paea and Kendall Reyes opened the door for him. He played out of position at nose tackle for much of the season and he struggled. If things work out as they should he will be a rotational D-lineman, a role better suited to his skill set.

The coaches seem to be very pumped up about Lanier, in part because he pumped iron all offseason. He was listed at 270 pounds last year. Jim Tomsula said that he is now up to 291, a proper weight for a 3-4 defensive end. He will play some in the 3-4 but it’s likely that most of his snaps come lined up inside with Allen when the Redskins go into nickel.

On the bubble: Taylor, Ioannidis, Mbu, Francis, Pipkins

The fact that there are so many on the bubble is a result of the huge question mark that remains at nose tackle. All four of these players are candidates to make it if they can perform when the pads go on in Richmond and when the preseason starts up. Yes, even undrafted free agent Pipkins.

The best-case scenario is that Taylor stays healthy and has enough skill left to make the team and start at NT. Injuries have derailed his career after he had a couple of promising seasons as a first-round draft pick of the Browns. He hasn’t played a snap since 2014 so the 335-pounder is far from a slam dunk solution at nose.

MORE REDSKINS: Redskins 53-man roster projection, defense

Ioannidis was a fifth-round pick last year who was released in the cut to 53, signed to the practice squad, then later promoted to the active roster. The Temple product played sparingly, baby steps, really. The final tally was just 103 snaps, more than 16 in a game just once. He needs to step up in training camp to make the team.

Their resumes say that Mbu and Francis should be competing to stay on the practice squad, where both spent time last year. But the nose tackle situation opens the door for them. They may be more long shots than bubble players but opportunity is there.

Long shots: Banks

If you put down the odds that all 90 players under contract have of making the 53-man roster, Banks just might be the longest shot. He’s undersized at 285 pounds and he’s an undrafted rookie out of Charlotte. But he is under contract and he will be in camp, giving him a better shot than the guys who are at home wishing they were in camp.  

Redskins 2017 depth chart previews: Offensive tackle | Wide receiver | Interior O-line

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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Redskins Playbook: One stat where Rob Kelley is way better than Ezekiel Elliott

Redskins Playbook: One stat where Rob Kelley is way better than Ezekiel Elliott

The point here is not to suggest Robert Kelley is a better running back than Ezekiel Elliott. Both players were rookies last season, Elliott drafted in the top five out of Ohio State and Kelley undrafted out of Tulane. 

Elliott led the NFL in rushing, gaining more than 1,600 yards and averaging more than 5 yards-per-carry. Kelley did not take over the Redskins No. 1 RB job until mid-season, and while he didn't even rush for 1,000 yards, he gained 700 yards in nine starts and averaged more than 4 YPC.

There was one stat, however, where Kelley stood out. Pro Football Focus provides the baseline.

The statistic stands out for Jordan Howard, a star rookie runner for the Bears. Howard ran for more than 1,300 yards last season on 252 carries to get to his 40 misses. 

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back

Elliott's run totals were much, much higher. The Cowboys star ran the ball 322 times, resulting in 36 missed tackles. Kelley ran the ball just 168 times, and made 35 defenders miss. 

Using basic math, Elliott made a defender miss about every 8.9 carries. Kelley made a defender miss about every 4.8 carries. 

Redskins coaches talked repeatedly about Kelley's vision and ability to make defenders miss as a big part of his ascension to the top running back spot. Ends up, they were right. 

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