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State of the Redskins: Breeland the bright spot on a struggling defense

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State of the Redskins: Breeland the bright spot on a struggling defense

Here is where the Redskins stand in Week 7 of the NFL season.

Record: 2-4, T-4th in NFC East
vs. NFC East: 1-1
vs. NFC: 2-2
vs. AFC: 0-2
Home: 2-1
Away: 0-3

Key numbers changes from 2014-2015

 

Rankings (through Sunday’s games)

Offense (yards/game): 337.8 (25th)
Defense (yards/game): 340.7 (8th)
Passer rating offense: 77.0 (31st)
Opp passer rating: 93.4 (20th )
Yards/rush attempt: 3.9 (24th)
Opp. yards/rush attempt:
 4.6 (25th)
DVOA through Week 4 (Football Outsiders): -2.8% (15th)

Top three storylines:

Running game stuck in neutral—One bad rushing game could be a fluke. A second starts a trend. Three in four games is a problem. The Redskins were supposed to be a tough running team but they have mustered a total of just 85 yards rushing in their last two games. They have failed to run for over 100 yards in three of their last four games. Yes, teams are emphasizing stopping the run but missed blocks aren’t helping the situation.

Opponents running wild—Again, we have the makings of a trend as Devonta Freeman and Chris Ivory have left tire tracks over, around, and through the Redskins’ rushing defense in the last few weeks. They had better to ready for the Bucs’ Doug Martin, who could lay a buck and a quarter on them in a heartbeat.

Breeland shining—The bright spot on the team in the past couple of weeks has been the play of CB Bashaud Breeland. He had a late interception against the Falcons that could have clinched the game. Against the Jets he had three first-half takeaways that kept the Redskins in the game. He’s not flawless in coverage but he has been the team’s best playmaker on either side of the ball for the past two weeks.

Next three games

Sunday vs. Bucs (2-3)—Jameis Winston is struggling from time to time but he has had some good moments in his rookie season. The Bucs D can get after the quarterback and Doug Martin is enjoying a career revival. It should be remembered that the Bucs were on a five-game losing skid last year when they came into FedEx Field and enjoyed one of their few 2014 bright spots with a 27-7 win over the Redskins. Jay Gruden has declared this game to be a “code red”, must-win game.

November 8 @ Patriots (5-0)—After the bye, the Redskins travel to Foxborough to play the Patriots. I hear that they have managed to avoid the post-Super Bowl hangover and are pretty good again this year.

November 15 vs. Saints (2-4)—The Saints have struggled with Drew Brees suffering from arm problems and a defense that can’t stop anybody. But they did manage to knock off the undefeated Falcons last Thursday and are likely to be fighting for their playoff lives when they come to FedEx Field.

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How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

Do the Redskins have a draft need at running back? It depends on who you ask.

Jay Gruden seems to be very happy with incumbent running back Rob Kelley. Here is what he had to say last month about the second-year back, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, last month:

“Oh, man, I love Rob Kelley,” Gruden said. “I thought he played great. You throw a rookie free agent into the fire like that and see him play and compete. Not one time did I feel like it was too big for him. Not once. That’s a hell of a thing to say for a kid out of Tulane who only had a couple of carries his senior year. He came right in, he competes on every play.”

Kelley played in 15 games last year and rushed for 704 yards and scored six touchdowns. He started the last nine games and if you project his numbers in this games out over a 16-game season you get about 1,050 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s not Ezekiel Elliott or Le’Veon Bell production but it’s good for a team that is going to rely mostly on the pass.

Gruden also praised third-down back Chris Thompson and backup Mack Brown. In a telling sign, he acknowledged that 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones is still on the roster but he didn’t have much good to say about him.

Why, then, do you see so many draft analysts listing running back as one of the team’s most urgent needs? Mark Maske, who is the Post’s national NFL writer but also a former Redskins beat reporter, has them taking Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in his mock draft. “There certainly are issues on defense for the Redskins,” writes Maske. But there also is a need at running back.”

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said that the Redskins “obviously” need a running back as his rationale for mocking Florida State’s Dalvin Cook to Washington at No. 17.

So, what is it? Is Kelley adequate for the Redskins’ needs considering they call pass plays on over 60 percent of their offensive snaps? Would they run more often if they had a back like McCaffrey or Cook? And if they did run more would the offense improve?

I think that running back is like several positions with the Redskins. If they have to get through the 2016 season with what they have they will be OK. But if there is an upgrade on the board when they are on the clock they won’t hesitate to make the pick if he’s the best player available.

We will see what happens if, say, McCaffrey is still on the board when the Redskins pick at No. 17 and top defensive targets like Rueben Foster and Haason Reddick are off the board. That will be the true test to see how committed Gruden and the rest of the organization are to Kelley, Thompson, and company. 

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When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

A four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ, Aqib Talib has a long and checkered past, which includes multiple arrests and failed PED and drug tests. The problems aren't new either, the talented cornerback was first arrested as a high school student. In college at Kansas, Talib was suspended multiple times and had multiple positive tests for marijuana use. 

Why does this matter for Redskins fans on the eve of the NFL Draft?

Despite all the trouble, Bruce Allen drafted Talib 20th overall in 2008 when the current Redskins general manager was in the same role for Tampa. While Talib's legal troubles and suspensions continued in the NFL, he also proved to be a highly capable cornerback in the pro game. 

The lesson for those trying to determine the Redskins draft board: Allen might be willing to look past red flags if a player presents good value. Talib did in 2008, and there could be opportunities for Washington in 2017.

Reuben Foster jumps to mind, as the talented Alabama linebacker will enter the league in the substance abuse program. While Foster's issues pale in comparison to other allegations about some draft prospects, players like Joe Mixon, Gareon Conley and Caleb Brantley will also present unique circumstances for NFL teams to evaluate. 

GMs are thrust into the unenviable task of determining a player's character, often in short periods of time. As 'Skins director of college scouting Scott Campbell explained, the team grades every player for their football skills first, and only later adds in character information. From Campbell's comments:

When you start to evaluate guys in the beginning, you don’t factor in the character. You don’t grade character, you grade talent. So you don’t throw away somebody early that may have some redeeming quality, or there’s a side to the story you don’t know about. You grade football players as football players first on talent, and then when it comes closer to the draft, you start weeding all that, getting more information, deciding, ‘OK, this guy’s not our kind of guy, this guy’s not a Redskin, this guy could be drafted, but good luck to him.

Thursday night the Redskins will be forced to make a determination on the right player for the team. That decision could include judging a player's character, and that could mean balancing legal or substance abuse troubles with talent and ability.

Talib is only one pick in Allen's long personnel career, but it's one worth noting. 

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