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Redskins' opponents had the green light to score in the red zone in 2016

Redskins' opponents had the green light to score in the red zone in 2016

Last week, I took a broad look at the three areas that Jay Gruden said that his team was “terrible” in during the 2016 season, issues that cost the team a chance at the playoffs.

We looked at one of those, red zone offense, earlier.

Today, it’s time to examine the problems the defense in the red zone.  

If the Redskins’ defense was going to survive the 2016 season they had to be a “bend but don’t break” unit.

They were not built to stop teams cold. It would be OK to give up some ground as long as they could force an error, get a takeaway or, at worst, make them settle for field goals more often than not.

That didn’t work out so well for the Redskins.

They were just OK in the turnover department, getting 21 takeaways to ranks 17th in the NFL in that department. Even then they were inconsistent. There were seven games where the defense forced no turnovers and a 10-game stretch where they produced only seven.

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However, it was in the red zone and in goal to go situations where the defense truly had issues. They allowed opponents to score touchdowns on 59.3 percent of their red zone trips, 26th in the league. When they let the other team get a first and goal, they got touchdowns 80 percent of the time.

Goal to go situations are a subset of the red zone so let me just point out one note on that before moving to the bigger group. The Redskins went the entire months of October and November plus a game in December without keeping an opponent from getting a touchdown in goal to go. That was 14 straight times that a first and goal was just as good as a TD.

The breakdown on the red zone numbers looks like this.

Opponents had 54 drives that had at least one play inside the Redskins 20 yard-line. They scored touchdowns on 32 of them.

How do those numbers stack up compared to the rest of the league? The team that led the NFL in red zone defense was the Giants. They faced 43 red zone drives and allowed 17 touchdowns, a 39.5 percent rate.

If the Redskins had the Giants’ red zone rate, opponents would have scored 21 touchdowns instead of the 32 that they actually did. Assuming the other team would have kicked field goals in those situations the Redskins would have allowed 44 fewer points. That difference would have moved them from 20th in the league in points allowed to 12th.

Of course, the points are meaningless without some context so let’s provide some here. The Redskins tied one game and lost three games by three or four points (including the last Giants game, which only became a nine-point loss on a last-play touchdown as the Redskins desperately tried to lateral the ball around).

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—The tie was against the Bengals, who were 4-4 in the red zone. One stop inside the 20 likely would have meant a Redskins win.

—In the first Dallas game the Cowboys were 3-5 and the Redskins lost by four. Good red zone defense could have at least sent that game into overtime.

—The Lions were 2-3 in the red zone and the Redskins lost by three.

—The Giants were 1-3 in the season finale. That’s good enough red zone D on a percentage basis but there’s no rule saying that you can’t shut the other team out in the red zone for a game. The Redskins did that only once in 2016 (Eagles went 0-7 in Week 6).

You can play with those numbers however you’d like. But if one of the losses and the tie had been wins the Redskins could have been the No. 5 seed.

What went wrong in the red zone? Washington’s opponents’ passing stats in the red zone were only slightly worse than the league average in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating. The league allowed 2.5 yards per rush on plays inside the 20 while the Redskins allowed 2.8. That’s significant but not decisive. Although nothing was glaring it added up to a fatal flaw in the Redskins’ defense.

The new defensive coordinator will have to get this figured out. The other issue that cost Joe Barry his job was the team’s problem stopping the opposition on third down. We’ll put those problems under the microscope in the next part of this series. 

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Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/RealRedskins and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

The Redskins offense performed at a high level in 2016, moving the ball well though the unit struggled in the red zone. Much of the success comes from Kirk Cousins' ability to quickly advance through his progressions and release the football before he takes too many hits.

Expect more of that in 2017, especially early in the season.

The Redskins don't face their first Top 5 sack defense until Week 9 when they travel to Seattle. From there, Cousins will face another Top 5 sack team when the Vikings visit FedEx Field in Week 10. 

After that, Washington's schedule doesn't feature a Top 5 sack defense until nearly Christmas. Unfortunately for Cousins, those two teams will come back to back in December when the Redskins host the Cardinals and the Broncos.

Sacks should not drive too much worry for Redskins fans. The Washington offensive line only allowed 23 sacks last season, two less than the Cowboys vaunted offensive line gave up on Dak Prescott. Cousins quick release and mastery of Jay Gruden's offense helps too. 

The Redskins have plenty to worry about in 2017, though facing fierce sack opponents shouldn't be too high on the list. 

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Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 25, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 77 days.

Days until:

—Franchise tag contract deadline (7/17) 22
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 69

The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here are the five running backs on the Redskins’ schedule who gained the most yards in 2017. We looked at the top QBs last week.

Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys, 1,631 yards in 2016—The NFL’s leading rusher didn’t pop for a big day against the Redskins as a rookie last year. He still did plenty of damage in two games with a combined 180 yards and three touchdowns. We’ll find out in Week 8 just how much the Redskins’ rushing defense has improved.

David Johnson, Cardinals, 1,239 yards—Yeah, him again. He chewed up the Redskins in Arizona last year, picking up 84 yards rushing and another 91 yards receiving. I think I might pick Johnson over Elliott in a draft simply due to Johnson’s versatility.

LeGarrette Blount, Eagles, 1,161 yards—Blount picked up those yards with the Patriots last year and rushed for 18 touchdowns for good measure. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, 27th among qualifying running backs. It should be noted that the Eagles probably have a better offensive line than the Patriots do. It’s safe to say Blount is one dimensional; none of the top 50 in rushing yards had fewer than his seven receptions.

Mark Ingram, Saints, 1,043 yards—While Ingram had a good year, the Saints apparently weren’t overly impressed. They signed Adrian Peterson as a free agent and they drafted RB Alvin Kamara in the third round. We’ll have to see who is healthy and on the field in Week 11

Melvin Gordon, Chargers, 997 yards—The 2015 first-round pick missed the last three games and most of another one with an injury. When healthy, he was very effective. His stats projected over 16 games come to over 1,300 yards.

Best of the rest: Carlos Hyde of the 49ers just missed the top five with 988 rushing yards last year Besides Kamara, the only running backs drafted in the first three rounds the Redskins will face are Dalvin Cook (Vikings) and Kareem Hunt (Chiefs). It will be interesting to see if new Rams coach Sean McVay can revive Todd Gurley, who followed a 1,100-yard rookie season with a 4.8 per carry average by gaining 885 yards with a paltry 3.2 average in 2016. Marshawn Lynch comes to town with the Raiders after spending a year in retirement; with the Seahawks, he picked up 111, 72, and 132 on the ground against the Redskins. 

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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