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Redskins running the ball more but not as much as perceived

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Redskins running the ball more but not as much as perceived

There is a fine line between being perceived as pass happy and fans having confidence that you like to run and pound the football.

Jay Gruden should know. After being labeled as a coach who wanted to throw the ball too much last year, he has talked all offseason about the importance of his Redskins being able to run the football and how that would be the emphasis of the team’s offense. The perception now is that he is Ground Gruden, utilizing what is now a three-headed rushing attack with the reliable Alfred Morris, powerful rookie Matt Jones and intriguing scatback Chris Thompson. But the play calling has not been dramatically different.

Let’s look at first down plays because those calls are the least controlled by circumstances such as distance to go. The Redskins have run 54 times and passed 67 times, a 55 percent-45 percent run to pass ratio. Their play calling favors the run more than most teams; the NFL as a whole this year runs 51 percent of the time on first down and passes 49 percent.

But last year, when Gruden was supposedly throwing the ball all over the place, the Redskins ran on 53 percent of their first downs, compared to the league average of 52 percent. If this year plays out at its current pace, the Redskins will end up running the ball on 268 first-down plays compared to 248 last year. So on about 30 first-down snaps per game, the 2015 Redskins trade a run for a pass on one of them compare to last year.

Zooming out to all plays, the 2015 Redskins have run 126 times and passed 158. That’s 44 to 56 percent in favor of the pass. It’s still more run heavy than the league as a whole. So far in 2015 the NFL runs 41 percent of the time and passes 59 percent.

If the Redskins keep up their current pace, they will have just over 500 rushing attempts in 2015 compared to 402 last year. That would be about 6.4 more runs per game, about 10 percent of the plays, a significant increase. You could print up the “Ground Gruden” T-shirts if that happens.

But Gruden still has a way to go before he would be among the most run-oriented teams in the league. Although the Redskins are second in the NFL in rushing attempts with 126 they are like most of the rest of the teams in the league in that they pass more than they run. There are currently five teams—the Panthers, Bengals, Packers, Bills, and 49ers—who have more running plays than passing plays.

The reality is that the Redskins’ shift to running the ball more often, however subtle, may be related more to game scores than to a grand philosophical shift. Last year they were outscored by 137 points, about nine points per game. They lost nine games by double digits. In short, they were in a lot of passing situations.

This year they have played with the lead a lot and have faced a double-digit deficit in just one game. Those are running situations.

Game situations dictate play calls as much as a coach’s does. That’s important to keep in mind when trying to figure out what Gruden is happy to do.

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A Redskin fan's guide to the NFL Draft Combine

A Redskin fan's guide to the NFL Draft Combine

This week in Indianapolis the NFL world will converge at the Scouting Combine to watch college football players work out, sprint and lift weights in anticipation of the upcoming draft. For the Redskins front office, this draft needs to be a win.

The 2016 Draft could still yield strong results for Washington, but overall the class did not play particularly well as rookies. This year, Scot McCloughan has nine picks at his disposal, with the extra picks late in the draft in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds.

It's no secret that the 'Skins need help along the defensive line, a lot of help. That should be a major area of focus for the Redskins scouts and coaches, and that will make next Sunday arguably the most important of the week in Indianapolis. 

The combine divides players into 11 position groups, but Groups 7, 8 and 9 will matter most. Groups 7 and 8 represent defensive linemen and 9 are the linebackers. That group officially arrives on Thursday but won't work out on the field until Sunday. The days in between include interviews, psychological testing and the bench press.

Obviously the Redskins won't spend all nine picks on only defensive linemen. The team will likely invest in the offensive line as well, and that group will arrive earlier in the week and work out on Friday. Cornerbacks and safeties are the last to work out on Monday, March 6. 

With the likely departure of at least one of DeSean Jackson or Pierre Garçon, and the possible departure of both, it would make sense for the 'Skins to bring in another receiver via the draft. They work out on Saturday, and should the Redskins decide to take a quarterback in the draft, the passers will work out that day too. 

Running back could be another spot the 'Skins invest. Jay Gruden said that Robert Kelley is locked into the RB1 role, but still the team might want increased competition at the position. The backs will work out Friday.

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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Why won’t Redskins brass talk to the media at the NFL Combine?

Why won’t Redskins brass talk to the media at the NFL Combine?

The NFL has released the official schedule of when NFL coaches and executives will take the podium and address the media at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. You can find it right here but I’ll save you a click—nobody from the Redskins is scheduled to talk.

NFL teams are not required to have a representative speak at the combine but most do. This year only the Saints and Patriots are joining the Redskins in avoiding the media.

Bill Belichick never talks at the combine and I believe that the Saints have bypassed the opportunity to do so in the past. However, the Redskins head coach traditionally has gone to the podium in the past. Joe Gibbs spoke when he was in his second stint as the head coach. Mike Shanahan, as tight lipped as anyone, met with the press in Indy each of his four years as head coach. Jay Gruden has spoken during each of the three years that he has been head coach.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 3.0

And last year Scot McCloughan held a small media gaggle with local reporters in his hotel in Indianapolis.

This year the Redskins are going somewhat dark. McCloughan did not speak to reporters at the Senior Bowl (Gruden held a brief availability in Mobile), a departure from his first two years with the team. And now no Redskins representatives at the combine.

One of the problems with changing what has been a longstanding practice and going into radio silence is that it leaves people speculating. If the team doesn’t want to put any information out there that is the organization’s option. But if you choose not to fill in the blanks, the fans and media will.

So why aren’t they talking? The best bet is that they are in a delicate stage when it comes to dealing with the future of quarterback Kirk Cousins. He is a pending free agent who is likely to be hit with the franchise tag on Wednesday, the day before the combine starts. At that point, the clock will be ticking on Cousins either signing a long-term contract or getting traded to a team that is willing to meet his asking price. It’s my guess that Jay Gruden does not want to face questions about Cousins’ future.

More Redskins: #RedskinsTalk podcast: Is Kirk too nice for his own good?

Gruden is not a very good liar; his poker face needs a lot of work. Perhaps that is a good quality for a human being but not a very good attribute for someone who would need to go out and talk about Cousins as the long-term quarterback for the team, or at least the QB for the coming season, when his status may be very much in doubt.

This is not to say that there is definitely going to be a trade of Cousins worked out at the combine. But it is very possible that a deal will be discussed with Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers and any number of other quarterback-needy teams. And perhaps there is concern that Gruden will let something slip or, more likely, say a lot on the subject of Cousins by not saying anything.

Again, this is just reading the tea leaves on my part. But by going silent the Redskins are sending an invitation for people to fill in the blanks. I am just taking them up on it.

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.