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Tuesday Take—The Road Ahead

Tuesday Take—The Road Ahead

I still don't know what the 2008 Washington Redskins are.

Are they a playoff team? Probably. They have five wins in the bank. If they get to 10, they should make it to the postseason. They have games against Detroit, Cincinnati, Seattle, Baltimore, and San Francisco. All of those are on the road, so even if they slip up once they have nine wins.

That means that they would need just one win in home games against the Steelers, Cowboys, Giants, and Eagles to get to 10. Even given the Cowboys' state of disarray, none of those is a given but it's hard to see them going 0-4 in those games.

But let's say that they sweep the games in the "easy" group (the finger-curl quotes are there, of course, because of the Rams game) and split the four home games. That gets them to 12 wins, a total they have not achieved since 1991.

If you win 12 games, you can generally expect to have at least a home playoff game and possibly a bye. But the Redskins currently trail the New York Giants in the division and the defending champions look like the best the NFC has to offer.

However, the Giants' 5-1 record has been built largely on the backs of some pretty bad teams. Since beating the Redskins, their wins have come against the Rams and 49ers, two teams who subsequently fired their coaches, the winless Bengals, who would fire their coach if they weren't too cheap to pay the balance of his contract, and the 1-6 Seattle Seahawks. Seattle's coach already has said that he will be done at the end of the season.

As I've said before, you only can beat the team that lines up in front of you so I'm not trying to devalue the Giants' record. It is fair to say, though, that the road ahead for the G-Men is much tougher than the stretch of road that they've already navigated. They have played only the one division game against the Redskins, so they have three NFC East road games left and they host the Eagles and Cowboys. They play at 5-1 Pittsburgh this Sunday. In November they play at Arizona and in December they host Carolina. Their season finale at Minnesota could be tough if the Vikings can play up to their level of talent. Only a Week 10 meeting against the Ravens in Giants Stadium could be considered a gimmie.

Are there three losses in those 10 games, a scenario that would get them into a tiebreaker set with a 12-4 Redskins team? I think so. Are there four, which would give a 12-win Redskins team the division outright? Possibly, but I doubt it.

(Note: I'm not going to go into the schedules of the Eagles and Cowboys here in the interest of brevity, but that doesn't mean that I'm writing them off as competition for the Skins. They face schedules that look more challenging than what the Redskins have ahead but less daunting that what the Giants are facing.)

The main concern, of course, is the Redskins getting to 12 wins. Clearly, they will have to play better than they have in the last two weeks in order to get there. The Redskins put together just four scoring drives against the Browns and Rams. They fumbled six times, losing four of them.

Yes, the defense has been strong but late drives by the other team led to the team having to watch late-game field goals fly through the air with the game hanging in the balance. You can't rely on the offense to kill the last two minutes in the Victory Formation every week.

Speaking of balance, a balanced offense is great but if the Smashmouth West Coast offense leads to just the aforementioned quartet of scoring drives in eight quarters it needs some tweaking. Clinton Portis spent more time in the trainer's room last week than he did on the practice field and the same scenario seems likely this week. You have to wonder what kind of shape he'll be in come December.

Fortunately, I'm not typing anything that Jim Zorn doesn't know. This isn't Norv "What We Do Works" Turner or Gibbs II. He knows full well that he'll have to score more and that's why he is resisting the notion that the Redskins are primarily a power running team.

Regardless of Zorn's play calling, I think that the Redskins are going to have to find a secret weapon on offense, someone who becomes a threat with which the opposition must deal. Think Mike Sellers in 2005. If you go back that far, think Ricky Ervins in 1991. Think of an offensive Chris Horton.

The obvious candidates here are the three second-round draft picks. Devin Thomas could become a deep threat to make the other team pay for doubling Santana Moss. Fred Davis could sneak into the secondary and haul in a few nice gains. Malcolm Kelly, if he can ever get onto the field, could become the guy to move the chains and provide a big Red-Zone target.

My dark horse to fill the new weapon role is Shaun Alexander. I don't think of him becoming a big threat as a runner but perhaps as a receiver out of the backfield. He was pretty good at it earlier in his career with Seattle, catching 59 passes for 460 yards in 2002. If he is willing to work at it over the next few weeks that might be able to find a role for the rest of the year and maybe beyond.

If the Redskins can get their scoring totals out of the teens and into the 20's and occasionally the 30's it's all there for them.

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Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, April 23, four days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 10
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 31
—Training camp starts (7/27) 95
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 140

In search of someone, anyone, to stop the run

One of the areas the Redskins needed to improve last year was their rushing defense on first down. In 2015, they gave up 5.0 yards per carry on first down. That was the worst performance in the league. It’s pretty tough to play defense when a handoff makes it second and five. The Saints, who had a historically bad defense that year, were second, fiving up 4.8 yards a pop.

Well, it was no better for the Redskins defense in 2016. Again, they gave up 5.0 yards per carry on first down, again the worst performance in the league.  Remember, this is on first down, when teams are most likely to run.

The Redskins’ problems on third down were well known. They were dead last in the league allowing first downs on 46.6 percent of third-down attempts. For context, an average performance on third down is allowing about 38 percent and the best teams are around 35 percent.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, however. The Redskins weren’t very good at getting teams to third down. They allowed first downs on 33.8 percent of their opponents’ second-down plays. That put them in the bottom third of the league. Again, you don’t have to look too hard to connect the dots to link that back to the five yards per rushing play on first down. Second and five is a piece of cake most of the time.

You don’t need an advanced degree in statistical analysis to figure out that the Redskins defense isn’t going to get much better if they can’t stop teams from running the ball on first down.

It’s easy to point to the defensive line, which has not been very good, and say that the problem is there. That certainly has something to do with it. But the Redskins didn’t have a very good D-line in 2014 and they allowed 4.1 yards per first-down rushing attempt, a performance that was right at the league average.

The factor that was common in 2015 and 2016 and was different in 2014 was the defensive coordinator. It’s possible that opposing teams found a flaw to exploit in Joe Barry’s scheme that wasn’t there in Jim Haslett’s (which surely had flaws in other places).

But X’s and O’s can only get you so far. The Redskins will be looking to take a defensive lineman early and perhaps use an additional pick or two at the position later in the draft. While getting one who can rush the passer would be a plus, they need a run stuffer who can take snaps on first down and bottle up the ground game.

The focus in the draft will be on the first-round pick but, as has been discussed here many times, that pick is unlikely to be a defensive lineman. There isn’t likely to be one at 17 who would represent good value. That could mean that the Redskins’ second- or third-round pick, perhaps an interior lineman like Caleb Brantley of Florida, Larry Ogunjobi of Charlotte, or Montravius Adams of Auburn, is just as important to the team’s success as the first-round pick.

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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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 22, five days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 20
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 32
—Training camp starts (7/27) 96
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 141

The Redskins week that was

Redskins full 2017 schedule released—Even with the Caps and Wizards in full playoff mode, the DMV stops to take a look and see when the Redskins will be playing. The Thanksgiving game was surprising. It’s another working day but I worked at various places since I was 14 and last year was the first time I’ve had to work on Thanksgiving so I can’t complain too much about working two in a row. It’s a small price to pay for having the best job in the world.

Don't count out any RB for Redskins at 17—Yeah, I know that NFL teams aren’t supposed to take running backs in the first round any more. But that is one of those trends that comes and goes. In 2013 and 2014 there were no RBs taken in the first. Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott in the last couple of years began to shift the thinking. If the Redskins think that Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey can help them win games more than any other player on the board they should pull the trigger.

Rise of Patrick Mahomes could bring big payoff for Redskins—It seems likely that quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky will be taken before the Redskins pick at No. 17 goes on the clock. That means that two players in whom the Redskins might be interested will be available, pushed back by the quarter backs. Could Mahomes, out of Texas Tech, push a third player back to Washington. The buzz is that a team might grab him in the first half of the first round.

The Redskins' five best salary cap bargains for 2017—When I started pulling the numbers for this post I thought I’d find more key players with salaries of under $1 million. I only found three and one of them is the kicker. This means that they don’t have very many late-round or undrafted players who are contributing a lot of value. They need more out of players like Anthony Lanier, Matt Ioannidis and Maurice Harris. That is how a team thrives in the salary cap era. A couple of Saturday picks could make or break this draft.

Redskins mock 2.0 goes offense early, defense often—There are a lot of ways the first 16 picks of this draft can work out. It seems almost certain that everyone’s favorite first-round pick, a stud defensive lineman, won’t be a realistic option on the board. This could send things in an odd direction for the Redskins. It’s fun to do a mock and I’ll do one or two more prior to draft day but there are too many variables to think that it has a high degree of accuracy. 

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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