Over the past two seasons, Redskins kicker Billy Cundiff has prevented opposing teams from returning kickoffs a league-leading 84 times by booting the ball through the end zone for a touchback.On Saturday, Coach Mike Shanahan hinted that putting opposing teams at the 20-yard line will be the Redskins objective this season, rather than employing a directional kicking strategy and gambling that his stand out kick coverage unit can stop the returner short of the 20. (Last season, the Redskins kick coverage team limited opponents to 20.8 yards per return, the second best mark in the league.)Any time you can kick touchbacks, you let him kick touchbacks, Shanahan said of Cundiff on Saturday. The 20-yard line to start isnt great field position, so if you can get that done, that would be a good goal.In Wednesdays 30-3 preseason victory over Tampa Bay, Cundiff forced touchbacks on five of six kickoffs in his debut for the Redskins. Last season in Baltimore, Cundiff set an NFL record for most touchbacks in a season with 44.What you always do is look at your personnel, Shanahan said, asked if the team has changed philosophies on kickoffs. So, when you say philosophy, it all depends offense, defense or special teams what your guys can do best.
Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, July 23, four days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.
The Redskins last played a game 203 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 49 days.
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 18
—Preseason vs. Packers at FedEx Field (8/19) 27
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 41
The Redskins by the numbers
5.01—The average yards per carry against the Redskins on first down last year.
I have noted this before but I took a closer look and it’s even worse. In 2016, four running backs—Isaiah Crowell of the Browns, DeAngelo Williams of the Steelers, Jordan Howard of the Bears, and Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys—gained over 100 yards against Washington on first down alone. It took Elliott two games to get there but the other three made it in one. If the Redskins don’t get this fixed (this is the second year in a row they have been last in the league here) their defense won’t get much better.
3.85—The Redskins average offensive gain per carry on first down.
This is not a very good performance here, the average is 20th in the NFL. But it does represent a significant improvement from 2015, when they were last in the NFL at 3.3 yards per carry. One difference was negative plays. Two years ago, they had 63 first-down plays go for no gain or a loss of yards. Last year they had 48 such plays. Rob Kelley, who was fourth-best in the league as a rookie last year at gaining yardage after being contacted behind the line, can claim a lot of credit.
8—The number of opponents’ fumbles the Redskins recovered this year.
A total of 17 other teams recovered more fumbles than the Redskins did last year and their recoveries were exactly half of what they were in 2015, when they had 16, the most in the league. It wasn’t surprising that their recoveries fell. The numbers crunchers say that fumble recoveries aren’t “sticky”, meaning that there tends to be a lot of variance for each team each year. And that makes sense as a lot of recovering fumbles is the bounce of the ball. But it should be noted that the Redskins forced just 22 fumbles last year after forcing 36 in 2015. You have to get the ball on the ground to recover it and the Redskins could do a better job of forcing fumbles in 2017
In case you missed it
Back at the 2012 NFL Combine, Kirk Cousins ran his 40-yard dash in 4.84 seconds.
Now, as far as QB 40-yard dashes go, that's not a bad number at all, but it's definitely not blazing, either. Defensive lineman Fletcher Cox, for example, ran his in 4.77 seconds that same year (while weighing 84 pounds heavier than the Michigan State signal caller), and 13 out of the 20 passers invited to the event topped Cousins' time.
That, plus the facts that Cousins isn't physically imposing and he clearly prefers to operate within the safe confines of the pocket, would lead you to believe that he's not much of a threat as a runner. But a stat — and this stat is far from an advanced one or a hidden one — indicates otherwise.
Over the last two seasons, Cousins has the third-most rushing touchdowns amongst quarterbacks. Cam Newton has 15 (not surprising), Tyrod Taylor checks in with 10 (also not surprising), and then there's Cousins, who rushed for nine scores in 2015 and 2016, which is good enough for a bronze medal on this particular podium (that's quite surprising).
Washington's starter has actually found the end zone with his legs more than peers like Andy Dalton (7), Alex Smith (7) and Aaron Rodgers (5) since taking over the primary gig in D.C., and all of those guys have reputations as runners that exceed Cousins'.
In fact, no one on the Burgundy and Gold has crossed the goal line as a ball-carrier more than the 28-year-old in the past 32 contests; Rob Kelley and Matt Jones are both three short of the man who lines up in front of them on Sundays.
Of course, Cousins isn't going to flatten defenders like Newton does, and he won't run around them like Taylor does. He also won't rip off big-gainers down the sideline when opposing team turns their back on him in man coverage.
But as the following highlights show, he hasn't just cashed in on one-yard sneaks the last couple of seasons, either:
All three of those plays were designed runs, and Cousins, while not exactly resembling Madden 2004 Michael Vick, executed them perfectly. He doesn't really rack up yards — the numbers vary depending on which site you use, but the consensus is he's picked up about 150 total since 2015 — but Jay Gruden and Co. have developed a tremendous feel of when to use Cousins' feet instead of his arm in the red zone.
Sure, he's not going to show up on your Twitter timeline juking out a corner, and he won't scamper for much more than 10 yards at a time. But in a few games in 2017, Kirk Cousins is going to finish a drive with an impressive touchdown run instead of a throw, and that might shock you — even though it really shouldn't.