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Welcome to football, 2015 Redskins style

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Welcome to football, 2015 Redskins style

If the Redskins play 15 more games like the one they played on Sunday against the Dolphins, much of what Scot McCloughan set out to accomplish since he got put in charge of rebuilding the team back in January will be in place.

McCloughan wanted to the offense to emphasize the running game. Against Miami ran the football early, often, and successfully. The numbers were 37 carries for 161 yards, a 4.4 per carry average. They ran the ball more often than that once last year, Jay Gruden’s first as head coach. That was in their blowout 41-10 win over the Jaguars then they had 42 rushing attempts. The most they ran the ball in a competitive game was 31 times in their 20-17 Monday night win over the Cowboys.

And it was Alfred Morris, the back who was the recipient of a frequent and lavish praise by Gruden, getting the job done. He had 25 carries for 121 yards, a solid 4.8 average. And when he took a rest, Matt Jones stepped in and averaged 4.7 a pop with 28 yards on six carries.

McCloughan also set to rebuild the Redskins’ offensive line, starting the process by drafting Brandon Scherff fifth overall. Ndamukong Suh was lined up against Scherff most of the day and Suh had two tackles, zero sacks. While we’re at it, for one game Morgan Moses justified the faith shown in him by making him the starting right tackle a week into camp by keeping end Cameron Wake off of the stat sheet entirely.

In the big picture, in addition to the 4.8 average per rush, the Dolphins sacked Kirk Cousins just once. A good first effort against one of the NFL’s best defensive fronts.

Speaking of defensive fronts, the Redskins’ front seven looked good, certainly better than Miami’s heralded group. The Dolphins rushed for just 74 yards including only two in the first half. Running back Lamar Miller, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry last year, averaged 4.1 on 13 attempts. He had consecutive runs of 12 and 17 yards in the third quarter. Absent that burst he was held to 2.2 yards a pop.

Preston Smith made a big play that could have been a huge play, sacking and stripping Ryan Tannehill and then hustling about 30 yards to recover the fumble. The turnover took away a field goal chance for the Dolphins—the line of scrimmage was the Washington 22—but Cousins and company went three and out from the Miami 40.

Finally, McCloughan wants the Redskins to be physically tough. The good play up front on both sides of the ball shows that that is off to a good start. The defense delivered a number of solid hits. On offense, Pierre Garçon and Jones were particularly physical in their play.

But the problem is that this style of play does not leave much of a margin for error. The offense needs to take that Smith fumble recovery and get at least three points out of it, if not seven. Chris Culliver needs to get that third-quarter interception that may have been a pick six and was at least a first down well in the red zone. Kai Forbath can’t go wide right on a 46-yard field goal attempt. The team can’t draw 11 penalty flags for 88 yards. Cousins can’t throw two interceptions. And, most importantly, the special teams can’t continue the problems of the last two seasons by allowing a game-winning 69-yard punt return.

McCloughan knew that all of the Redskins’ problems were not going to be fixed in one offseason. In talking about what he wanted to accomplish this year he made sure to emphasize that a certain number of wins was not on his list. This could mean more close, “shoulda-woulda-coulda” losses are on the horizon.

In fact, until the Redskins can reduce the mistakes and make some key plays in clutch situations, it almost guarantees them.

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Need to Know: Redskins looking for consistency from Preston Smith

Need to Know: Redskins looking for consistency from Preston Smith

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, December 9, two days before the Washington Redskins play the Philadelphia Eagles.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Practice 12:05; Jay Gruden and news conference and open locker room after practice approx. 2:00

Days until: Panthers @ Redskins 10; Redskins @ Bears Christmas Eve 15; Giants @ Redskins, New Year’s Day 23

Injuries of note vs. Cardinals:
Out:
G Long (concussion), S Blackmon (concussion), DE Baker (ankle), G Shawn Lauvao (groin)
Limited: TE Reed (shoulder), G Scherff (ankle), DE Jean Francois (knee/foot),
Thursday injury report

Around Redskins Park

—The Redskins’ third-down defense is the worst in the NFL in a long time. They are giving up first downs on 48 percent of opponents’ third downs. Since 2002 only one team, the 2011 Chargers, has been worse over the course of a full season. The Redskins have a chance to improve in the last four games of the season. Their remaining opponents rank 15th, 22nd, 26th, and 27th in converting third downs on offense. So, while the damage is done perhaps they can avoid historically bad territory.

—Perhaps one of the reasons why the Redskins haven’t done well on third down is because Preston Smith, a player they were counting on to generate pass pressure and rack up sacks, isn't getting that done. He has 3.5 sacks on the year, two of them coming into one game. What are they looking for out of Smith? “Consistency is the truest measure of performance,” said defensive coordinator Joe Barry. “You have got to show up every single week . . . Preston is giving great effort, he’s trying. He just has got to show up in the statistic column.”

—Barry was candid in admitting that they were taken by surprise when the Cardinals snapped the ball on the fourth and one play from their own 34 in the fourth quarter. “I think everyone was a little shocked that the ball actually was snapped and they ran a play, but that’s football,” Barry said. The center’s hand is on the ball, ball is ready, the ball can be snapped, we have got to be ready to execute.” Should the season go south from here that play will be remembered as the turning point.

—Although whether or not the season goes south will largely be dependent on the play of Kirk Cousins, he doesn’t think about the pressure. “I just go about my business. I think you take it one game at a time, that’s the best way to manage it, and just enjoy the process,” he said. “We’ll see where we are in a few weeks but I can’t play the game today, I can’t play next week’s game today. All I can do today is prepare and go to practice and have a great practice, and I thought today I had a great practice and that’s a good step.”

—Jay Gruden wants to see the defense improve in two specific areas in addition to third downs. “Turnovers the last couple of weeks and red zone,” he said. “Those are three big time areas of concern . . . We’ve been lacking in all three of those categories of late.” They have had just one takeaway in their last three games and in their last five games teams have punched it into the end zone on 14 of 17 red zone opportunities (82.3%).

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A little more left arm use by Reed on this catch. #Redskins

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In case you missed it

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Redskins injury report: Three return but still plenty of question marks

Redskins injury report: Three return but still plenty of question marks

The Redskins’ injury report is looking a little better today, three days away from their game against the Eagles. 

DE Chris Baker (ankle), CB Will Blackmon (concussion), T Ty Nsekhe (ankle), C Spencer Long (concussion) didn't practice today. That is a substantial reduction of the number of players who were out of practice on Wednesday.

Going from out yesterday to limited participants today were S Donte Whitner (illness), DE Ricky Jean Francois (knee/foot), and DE Anthony Lanier (leg).

Also limited were TE Derek Carrier (knee), ILB Will Compton (hip), TE Jordan Reed (shoulder), G Brandon Scherff (ankle), and OLB Preston Smith (groin).

A player moving from out of practice to limited is no guarantee that he will be able to participate come Sunday but it’s a step in the right direction.

On area of concern is the offensive line. Three players who started against the Cardinals have not practiced this week. One was Nsekhe and he already was headed to the bench after the return of Trent Williams from suspension.

RELATED: Five Redskins who need to perform vs. Eagles

According to Jay Gruden, the line will have enough bodies even if Long, Nsekhe, and Lauvao are out. Second year guard Arie Kouandjio would start at guard and John Sullivan, who finished up after Long left the game on Sunday, would be the starting center. They could activate Kory Lichtensteiger from injured reserve to back up guard and center and Vinston Painter would be the backup tackle.

It appears that Reed is making progress from the AC joint separation he suffered in his left shoulder on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas.

“He looked good out there today,” said Gruden. “He’s still a little sore. Right now I have absolutely no idea (if he will play).”