What the Redskins Must Do to Earn a Playoff Berth
The Redskins aren't in the greatest of shape right now, that much is obvious. That doesn't mean the season is over, especially in a division as unpredictable as the NFC East.
Right now, the Skins stand at 3-5 and are 2.5 games behind the first place New York Giants. With a win this week and losses by the Eagles and Cowboys, the Redskins would jump right back in to second place before their bye week.
With that said, the Redskins have a decent shot still, and there are some things the team must do to earn a much-needed playoff berth. Here, I will highlight some of the most important milestones needed to get to January.
Cut Down on the Penalties
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The amount of penalties that the Redskins have accrued this year is humiliating.
As it sits, Washington is No. 3 in the entire NFL in penalty yardage on a per-game basis at 69. Only Baltimore (70.7) and Detroit (71) have more. The most disturbing thing isn't the amount of holding calls or false starts; those happen to every team in every game. It's the personal fouls.
Way too often, the Redskins have let the opposing team get into their heads. You have to be able to keep your cool on the field in the middle of a playoff race.
It has to stop, before it costs the Redskins an ever-important divisional game, and there are five more left on the schedule.
Pray for No More Injuries
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Adam Carriker, Brian Orakpo, Roy Helu, Brandon Meriweather, Tanard Jackson, Chris Neild, Jonathan Goff, Pierre Garcon, Fred Davis. All injured.
Having no Brian Orakpo and Fred Davis for the duration of the season hurts in the worst way. Also, not having Pierre Garcon for essentially the entire season thus far has been tough, but the offense seems to have gotten by with the exception of last Sunday.
Thankfully, the offensive line has been able to stay healthy, which was a huge key coming in to this season. They haven't been spectacular, but at least we haven't had to see the backups to this point.
When Garcon does get back, he needs to stay healthy for this offense to get to the next level, and the defense has to avoid any further damage, especially in the secondary which has been the worst (statistically) in the NFL.
There are too many holes as it is, and the Redskins can not afford to have another key player miss any more significant time or else the team will have to start looking forward to 2013.
Keep Winning Turnover Battles
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If you want to know how obvious the turnover battle is in a football game, here's a stat for you: The Redskins are 3-1 (only loss against the Bengals) when they have more takeaways than giveaways in a game, 0-4 when they have fewer or an equal amount of takeaways as their opponents.
So it seems pretty simple. Win the turnover battle, win the game. The offense needs to keep hanging on to the ball to keep their banged-up (and ineffective) defense off of the field.
For the team to become a playoff team, it has to jump from the second tier in takeaways (16) to the level that the Giants and Bears are (24 and 23 takeaways, respectively). There is a reason the Giants and Bears are a combined 12-3.
Take into account the top three teams in turnover differential: Atlanta (plus-10), Chicago (plus-12) and New York (plus-13) and those teams combine to go 19-3. It's hard to lose when your offense keeps the ball. The Redskins are close at plus-seven, which is good for fourth in the conference. It's time to take it up a notch.
Keep Running the Ball Effectively
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Hand in hand with the turnover battle is the time of possession battle that keeps the defense off of the field. With that said, the Redskins are doing a good job at milking the clock with an effective running game.
The Redskins are currently second in the entire NFL in rushing yards per game with 166.3, only behind the San Francisco 49ers at 168.6.
A lot of it comes from Robert Griffin III, but Alfred Morris has had an amazing rookie campaign and is No. 3 in the league for rushing yards with 717. It really helps to take the pressure off of fellow rookie RGIII and has opened up the passing game nicely.
They have to be able to keep it rolling so that Griffin isn't under the pressure, especially when those ever-important divisional matchups come calling.
We'll see if the rookie backfield can keep up its success, but so far only the Steelers have been able to really solve them both.
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You've probably caught a Redskins game on television or in person this year if you're reading this. You have also more than likely commented about how bad the Redskins pass defense is. And you're right, they deserve every criticism they have received this year.
Now, the run defense hasn't been awful; it ranks No. 10 in the NFL in yards per game. That's pretty impressive if you consider the injuries to the defensive line and the linebackers. However, that pass defense that I, you, and everyone else that watches football have noticed, needs to step up.
In terms of yardage per game, the Redskins are dead last.
No. 32 out of a possible 32.
Any improvement would go a long way in making the Redskins a playoff contender. A jump into the mid-20's would be a welcome sight. Even the Ravens and Giants rank 24th and 26th, respectively, and they seem to be on their way to the postseason.
The secondary can't continue to give up the huge plays, and the pass-rushers can't keep letting the quarterback sit in the pocket for 10 seconds at a time without getting breathed on.
The Redskins will need to take their league-worst 314 passing yards allowed per game and get it into the 280 range to be competitive for the second half of the season.