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NTK: Redskins by the numbers—First down rushing woes must be fixed

Jul 24, 2016, 7:56 AM EDT

Matt-Jones-tackles-vs.-Falcons Getty Images

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, July 24, four days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 196 days ago. It will be 50 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Preseason opener @ Falcons 18; Final roster cut 41; Cowboys @ Redskins 56

The Redskins by the numbers

89—The number of players on the roster after the release of Adam Hayward on Friday.

They might sign a player this week or they could want until they get to Richmond and see who passes physicals and who does not. They could shore up an area where they are short after finding out who will go on PUP.

5.0—The average gain on a first-down rushing attempt against the Redskins last year.

That was the worst performance in the league on first-down rushing defense by far. In fact, two players, Chris Ivory of the Jets and Devonta Freeman of the Falcons, had over 100 yards against Washington on first down carries alone. If the other team can hand off and have second and five on average it’s going to be a long day for the defense.

3.3—The Redskins’ average gain on first-down rushing attempts on offense.

You may be able to guess that that is the worst first-down rushing average in the league. It’s a passing league but you need to be able to run the ball better than that if you’re going to be successful.

+146—The difference in the Redskins’ point differential between 2014 and 2015.

They were outscored by 137 points in 2014 and they outscored the opposition by nine points last year. That is a remarkable turnaround, one of the best in team history. That said, not many teams that only outscore the opposition by a touchdown and a field goal over the course of a season are successful in the postseason. It’s a key stat that says while the Redskins have improved they need to hold onto their gains and advance further.

16—The number of opponents’ fumbles the Redskins recovered.

The football number crunchers tell us that fumble recoveries are not “sticky”, that the same teams don’t tend to do well in them year after year. The Redskins’ 16 recoveries last year led the league so they are not likely to do that again. However, there is plenty of room for them to get more interceptions. They had just 11 last year, tied for 22nd in the NFL. So if they miss out on half a dozen fumble recoveries they can make it up by picking up four to six more passes.

  1. garg8050 - Jul 24, 2016 at 8:23 AM

    I see them passing on 1st downs, especially early in the game, and using a lot of play action. And then starting to run the ball more on 1st downs as the game progresses and the defense loosens up. The average will definitely be higher this year. I’d also like to see the team use Thompson in the backfield on 1st and 2nd downs and use him on delayed handoffs or draw plays; again, another change of pace to keep the defense off balance.

    The play calling for the first half of the season was very conservative and predictable. That didn’t help the yards per attempt on the ground.

    I’m hopeful the defense has improved enough to get that 5.0 average down…otherwise, it won’t matter how many weapons we have on offense; they’ll be on the sidelines for most of the game.

    • redskins12thman - Jul 24, 2016 at 8:47 AM

      As long as they are unpredictable and generally successful on their run and pass plays, I don’t care when they occur. Hope to avoid 2 and 10+ situations. I hope that play action and draw plays lead to success.

      Redskins passed on Alex Collins, a late 5th round pick by the Seahawks. I didn’t see Arkansas play much last season but the guy looks like an absolute beast.

    • ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© - Jul 24, 2016 at 9:10 AM

      My 1st thought too…if we don’t get yards on 1st running, don’t be stubborn (like last year), try the pass.
      ~

      • bangkokben - Jul 24, 2016 at 9:27 AM

        After the Dallas game, they FINALLY abandoned that philosophy. I was pounding the table to abandon it since about week 8 so I feel I should finally give them credit for eventually stopping, although it did seem stiff-necked to take so long it what everyone recognized — that they sucked at running the ball and that were going to continue to do it on first down regardless. On the other hand, the Redskins were in the top three in the league on play-action passing and this undoubtedly goes hand-in-hand with their stubbornness. Finding the right balance may be tricky this year.

      • Trey Gregory - Jul 24, 2016 at 2:54 PM

        It’s so cliche to call football a chess match, but it’s accurate. It’s obviously ideal to do well every time you run, but you shouldn’t abandon it if it doesn’t work. That balance is still important to keep the defense honest. A run for 0 (or a loss) still accomplishes something for the offense. They have to continue running even if it doesn’t produce.

        And lulling the defense into a false sense of knowing your tendencies is important too. Some coaches (or players) will be predictable on purpose. So that they can catch the opponent off guard on an important play or series. It’s the long game. We can’t get frustrated about the immediate results.

        It’s how those plays factor later that we should judge. A 3 and out doesn’t have to be something to shake your head at. But did they run plays to test defensive vulnerabilities? And how do they adjust with that information? Did the running into a brick wall for 3 quarters set up spectacular play action passes in the fourth? And did we win? Or even better, did we lose because of those calls? Or did the other team execute better despite what we tried?

        Those are the things I’ll be keeping a close eye on this season. Gruden should have a much more dynamic gameplan with increased confidence in Cousins, the OLine, defense, and the playcalling abilities of his staff. There’s no excuse for being timid this year. But it’s fine if he wants to play a little chess.

    • mattphillipsdc - Jul 24, 2016 at 11:09 AM

      You need a rushing game even in a passing league to set up play action. For all the Cousins haters think about what he was able to accomplish with a poor run game and a defense that couldn’t stop the run, which gave Cousins fewer opportunities on offense.

  2. redskins12thman - Jul 24, 2016 at 8:35 AM

    Besides Kyshoen Jarrett and Derek Carrier, is there anyone else that we expect to go on the PUP? When do the players officially start to transfer to the PUP? Is there anyone else who is expected not to pass the physical on Wednesday (beside Carrier and Jarrett)? Lauvao, Thompson, Gallette, Riley, Reed, Doctson, Diggs, and Showers are all ready to go right?

    The 5.0 and 3.3 figures are what have had me worried since last season; I also did not like 380.6 yards per game conceded. Only four teams did worse: Saints, 49ers, Giants and Eagles. Thankfully, the Redskins had a decent “bend but not break” mentality last season and was middle of the road in terms of points conceded. Still, I would like the Skins not to give up so many yards per game to their opponents and give the offense more favorable field position.

    • redskins12thman - Jul 24, 2016 at 8:52 AM

      Left out Marshall, he’s ready to go too along with the eight other players?

    • bangkokben - Jul 24, 2016 at 9:05 AM

      Since the PUP does not count against the 90-man roster and once a player participates in practice he can’t go on the PUP, it would behoove the team to be cautious with guys like Galette and Thompson or anyone else coming off surgery. Guys like Diggs and Showers can’t afford to be injured. They’re camp bodies and their absence not only hurts their chances but gives other guys (whomever the team signs to fill their spot) a chance to make them expendable as soon as they are cleared to play.

    • Trey Gregory - Jul 25, 2016 at 3:35 AM

      @12th man, as far as the defense giving up so many passing yards: I’m sure that had a lot to do with why they signed Norman and took Fuller. McCloughan also tried to help at safety with Bruton, resigning Blackmon, and (maybe?) Cravens. I don’t know where Cravens will play but middle linebackers contribute to coverage too.

      Let’s not forget pass rush has a lot to do with coverage too. And, injuries willing, we should have a very stout group of edge rushers. If the interior can at least get a push, I think we will have a decent pass rush.

      So I think it’s safe for us to expect the pass defense to improve. You never know how it will actually work out, but they’re better equipped.

  3. pillenwerfers - Jul 24, 2016 at 9:07 AM

    My guess is that Lauvao will be heading for the PUP list. He was still in a boot during mini camp.

    • Rich Tandler - Jul 24, 2016 at 9:22 AM

      Lauvao was not in a boot at minicamp. He did not participate but he wasn’t in a boot.

    • Trey Gregory - Jul 24, 2016 at 2:56 PM

      I think you’re thinking of Riley

  4. smotion55 - Jul 24, 2016 at 9:24 AM

    Having healthy TE’s on the field will automatically help run offense with blocking and not being so predictable in the play call, and having young players and 2nd year in defense should help to stop the run also. As bad as Pot Roast was last year, Ioannidis should come in and play better fairly soon, Ziggy Hood , Kendall Reyes, My sleeper Corey Crawford and a healthy Paea should do much better and being in system for a second year should help him just go play. With Amerson, Gallette, and how quickly Su’a Cravens can get on the field who knows turnover ratio might be even better this year.
    With a whole year and all the snaps this off season, Ota’s, Mini camp and training camp I believe Kirk is going to take the next step and play better then last year. If everything falls into place this year they could go 10 and 6 or dare I say 11 and 5, and if not 6 and 10… 8 and 8 most likely just because they have been so inconsistent since Snyder took over the team. Bad things just seem to happen with this team, So if they stay healthy for the most part this could be a whole lot of fun this year.

    • redskins12thman - Jul 24, 2016 at 9:35 AM

      Did you Norman or Bruton instead of Amerson?

    • ColoSkinsFan - Jul 24, 2016 at 9:38 AM

      Amerson? I believe he is a well paid Raider now…

    • Trey Gregory - Jul 24, 2016 at 3:02 PM

      Knighton really wasn’t that bad man. I think it’s unreasonable to expect Ioannidis (a rookie 5th round pick) to come in and play better. We might be better off keeping Golstin at NT and rotate Ioannidis through DE, or DT in 4 man fronts. It’s not a knock on Ioannidis, he’s just already underweight on top of being inexperienced.

      I wouldn’t be surprised in Paea or Francois start taking snaps at DT and performing well. I think they can line up as DTs in nickel (or Baker with one of them) and perform well. Or, if we’re going to have an undersized nose, it’s good to have a vet with power. It’s not inconceivable to think someone from this group can step up and play well while Ioannidis develops.

      • bangkokben - Jul 24, 2016 at 3:40 PM

        I hear what you’re saying about expectations for Ioannidis and who knows who will line-up there in the base package but that stat is damning of Pot Roast. He was stellar in short yardage as was the team but on first and ten, he didn’t do the job. My concern isn’t so much how the Redskins stop the run on fist down as much as how they stop the run in short-yardage. They may improve in one and fail in the other.

        • Trey Gregory - Jul 24, 2016 at 5:37 PM

          Yeah who knows who’s going to line up where? I’m just throwing out my 2 cents about how it could work. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately but I have no idea. It’s just my opinion that Paea and Francois could be more impactful than maybe some of us have been thinking. But the linebackers will have to play a big role in both short and long running distances.

          Knighton though, I can’t put all the run woes on him. I get that he’s a nose tackle, which is basically a run stuffing specialists. And I haven’t re watched any games recently to really be sure one way or the other. But I don’t remember watching any games and thinking he was awful. He’s lined up right in the middle. But teams don’t strictly run up the middle. I have a hard time blaming him for rushers getting lose on the outside. Or even some in the middle. Even though it’s a one gap scheme, Knighton was often taking on two blockers. And teams ran away from him. Think about it, why run at the only true run stuffer on the line?

          So if it’s an inside power run to the strong side. The center and RG can block the NT, the TE can block the OLB, and the LG pulls to lead the RB and probably block a middle linebacker. That leaves two guys blocking Knighton plus the LG to run interference if he gets off those two blockers. Which means someone else should have been free to make a play. His job was mostly to absorb blockers and allow others to tackle. That’s not going to show up on individual stats. And the team’s run defense can’t be put all on him. Those other guys do have to make plays.

          In fact, I was looking at a film review from Hogs Haven recently and one play vs the Saints showed Knighton doing exactly that (and still penetrating btw). But Paea screwed up his assignment and the runner got by. Knighton manhandled a double team and Paea got beat by a single blocker. That’s not on Knighton.

        • bangkokben - Jul 24, 2016 at 8:37 PM

          “I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately but I have no idea. It’s just my opinion that Paea and Francois could be more impactful than maybe some of us have been thinking.” Agreed. RJF was solid last year and Paea was paid to play significantly. They should be factors. {side note: It’s Jean Francois, Ricky like Wasserman Schultz, Debbie. Just like it isn’t Debbie Schultz; it isn’t Ricky Francois. I know I can be pedantic and tell you this because you don’t have a thin skin and you work with this stuff. Even so, apologies in advance.}

          “Knighton though, I can’t put all the run woes on him.” Not all the run woes but specifically these. He was brought in to play nose in the base defense. The primary time to run the base D is on first down. He was specifically brought in to shut the run down on first down. As far as outside runs and fuzzy memory. you have a point; but I specifically remember going into the Atlanta game wondering how our “highly” ranked run defense would do against Kyle Shanahan’s outside zone scheme. Then during the game, I wondered if Atlanta gave the blue print to run against “us” or if it was simply an aberration. Turned out to be the blue print — which was basically use Pot Roast’s big body as an extra blocker and seal off the back side.

          Net yard rushing
          74 Dolphins
          67 Rams
          84 Giants
          87 Eagles
          176 Falcons

          Then it was all down hill. Knighton missed the next (Jets) game — I believe — with the cluster headaches. First four games: 3.9 yards per carry but finished the year at 4.8.

          As for the long runs, their mostly on the back 7 or 8. The line is supposed to beat their match-up. Lot’s of new faces back there so we will see. Bottom line, we’re all for improvement and are curious how the staff solves this issue.

  5. Eli - Jul 24, 2016 at 10:56 AM

    Giving up 5 yards per carry on first down is quite simply an astonishing number, and certainly tempers my expectations. The Skins as an organization are absolutely moving in the right direction, but the run defense is a screaming area of concern. Given the salary cap no team will be ever again be without some area of weakness or two. But the very good coaching staffs find a way to limit their weak areas.

    • garg8050 - Jul 24, 2016 at 11:24 AM

      Agreed. With a better secondary, I fully expect Barry to put 8 in the box consistently on 1st down to help against the run. That would also mean more man-to-man coverage, especially on the early downs. I think Breeland and Norman will be up to that challenge.

      If we’re able to consistently get pressure on the QB with our “front” 4 or 5 (whatever combination of JG, Kerrigan, Smith, Baker +/- Murphy who want to consider), that will be a HUGE upgrade from last year. The ‘Skins haven’t had a consistent pass rush from the front 4 since the days of Mann and Manley. Obviously, I don’t expect this group to be at that level just yet, but a consistent pass rush without having to blitz will only give our secondary even more chances to make big plays….goes hand in hand.

  6. kenlinkins - Jul 24, 2016 at 3:56 PM

    In about 20 days, the Redskins will play their first preseason game and we fans will get our first look at the base defense the Redskins will use for 2016. How will the DC use his new found CB talent / depth, can the system provide a pass rush, which players will be able to get to that point without being beat up or hurt, can the ILB hold their own against the run and will the defense be playing a “down Hill” attacking style. I want to watch those one on one battles all over the field and see who just might be able to have a break out year and become a play maker! IMO that is what this team now requires, PLAY MAKERS, guys who MAKE good things happen. I am not going to try and name them, I just want to see them preform and start showing up on Aug 11th. IMO there have been many changes on defense for 2016 so there is a good chance a few of this guys will break out of the pack and maybe this is year one of a new team spirt on defense that will win a few games for the Redskins in 2016!

    • redskins12thman - Jul 24, 2016 at 9:20 PM

      For preseason games is this the general rule of thumb:

      Game #1 – Starters play first quarter
      Game #2 – Starters play first half
      Game #3 – Starters play first three quarters
      Game #4 – Starters play first quarter

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