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If Kirk Stays, It's Time for the Redskins to Play Fast!

January 27, 2017
Jay Gruden said something very interesting the other day in Mobile. 

What garnered most of the headlines was his belief that Kirk Cousins will be back, although it was far from a guarantee.  I suppose it was a good sign.

In other words, I’ll believe it when I see it. Make no mistake, the Redskins control most of the conversation here.

Some will have you believe that Kirk Cousins has a choice to make. Theoretically he does, if the Redskins make a fair and legitimate offer before March 1 st. They never did last year and so far have not even engaged in long-term contract talks for some unknown reason. 

Knowing how some officials behind the scenes feel and the way they operate – I would say there’s almost no chance of that multi-year deal happening, and the Redskins are in a position where they can (and perhaps are trying) to make Cousins look greedy.

At least that was my sense and belief, based on the comments Bruce Allen made on both SIRIUSXM and to reporters in Mobile. 

Back to Gruden, who told reporters, including my colleague at 106.7 the FAN, Brian McNally, “we totally anticipate Kirk coming back to the Washington Redskins.”

Anticipate is a key word. I anticipate that I am going to lose more weight in 2017. The problem? I must actually do the work. Same thing for the Redskins. They have the power to control the situation and make sure that Cousins returns. We’ve outlined all the different options the team has and that Cousins has in a previous detailed post.

The part of the statement from Gruden that stuck out to me was this: “We’re excited about parlaying two very good years as a starting quarterback with a third year and just continue to watch him grow.”

Sounds like typical coach-speak, right? But it’s huge. And it’s very important, if Cousins is indeed back with the Skins in 2017, which for this column, we’ll assume he will be.

This is what excites me a bit. Maybe I’m just a football nerd and looking for something here, but I think this will make you happy, too.

How can Cousins grow in 2017? Of course, he could throw for over 5,000 yards and that would ideally be great, as long as it is done in the right context. He fell just short this year, as did the Redskins as a team and Cousins was a critical part of that failure.

Many want to blame the Redskin woes solely or primarily on the defense, but that of course is not fair considering the struggles of the offense in huge chunks of games down the stretch, a period that I would define as the final six games starting on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas.

The Redskins need more out of Cousins and the offense and that is undeniable. It might be harder to replicate the near 5,000 yard mark or certainly over it in 2017, because it’s very likely that DeSean Jackson will not return and it is possible that Pierre Garcon won’t return, as well.

So what realistic ways can Cousins get better?

He can improve in the red zone as we all know. In 2015, he was terrific. In 2016, the Redskins struggled in so many ways and that ultimately cost them the season.

Think of it like this. The Redskins offense was a well-oiled machine for the most part that would crank out plenty of production under normal operating circumstances. However, when asked to perform under a hard deadline and to do more, the machine jammed up and didn’t crank out the production it needed to.

How can the Redskins improve in the red zone? Throw more touchdown passes! Duh! Of course, that’s how Cousins and the Skins can and will improve and it would certainly help if they get anything out of Josh Doctson, who had an injury-filled rookie season and contributed next to nothing.

Doctson’s health and production is extremely important, regardless of what happens to anybody else but especially if Jackson leaves as expected and exponentially if Garcon also leaves. 

Of course, they could actually try to run the football more in the red zone. It’s something they have a fundamental aversion to, on a consistent basis.

All of that is a huge part of the puzzle, but there’s something that I think the Redskins have barely scratched the surface on, that they could do a much better job of in 2017 and beyond.

Washington must use the no-huddle/tempo offense more to their advantage moving forward.

It just did not happen enough for my liking in 2016.

Let’s start with the reasons why many teams and coaching staffs do not like to use a tempo offense all the time. Multiple play-calls, confusion and the physical/mental toll it takes on players all present issues.

Coaches want to control more and react more to what they are seeing from high-above and down on the sideline. The prevailing thought is this: It’s hard enough to execute one play at a normal pace the way it is designed than to run multiple plays in a rapid fashion and expect perfection.

I got all of that. But that’s what practice and OTA’s along with a long training camp is for. Not to mention preseason games. Work on it. Get better at it. Do it more. Make it a part of your offense but not your entire offense.

The Redskins would occasionally use tempo to start a drive in 2016 after a first down completion, they would hurry-up to the line and snap a play much quicker than normal. However, they would throttle it back after that, unless they were in desperation mode.

Quite honestly, as everybody knows, they didn’t exactly handle clock and game management situations very well, especially at the end of the first half in several games and then even in the final game of the season in both the late second quarter and the fourth.

If you practice and install more during the off-season and have a tempo offense be a more regular part of how you go about your business, I can almost guarantee you that you will be better at two-minute situations.

You also have a greater chance of catching the opposing defense off-guard and without the ability to substitute on a regular basis  and make adjustments in series.

Watch how the New England Patriots do this with Tom Brady in the Super Bowl next Sunday. If you watched the Green Bay Packers with Aaron Rodgers, you should have been able to see the immense benefits.

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Kirk Cousins is smart enough and now experienced enough. You have a younger, more athletic offensive line. Jay Gruden is going to be calling plays again. And now you have a new quarterbacks coach in Kevin O’Connell.

The first thing that Gruden said about O’Connell when he was asked on “Redskins Nation” Monday was this, “He’s been in Chip Kelly’s system (no huddle system), so he’s got experience there,” Gruden said. “He’s been with New England so he’s got a little bit of background that I like. He’s been in a no-huddle system, Bill Belichick’s system (shorter, tempo passing game).”

This got my attention, because I was critical of the Redskins offense not using tempo earlier in the year, specifically against Pittsburgh and Dallas when the offense was struggling to open the season. The Redskins scored touchdowns twice in the opening two weeks when they used tempo in a non-traditional spot. When they dictated to the defense, it worked.

That doesn’t mean it is always going to work. It certainly does not mean that I want the Redskins to run tempo/no-huddle the entire game, because then you get what happened to Kelly in Philadelphia. His offense was on the field for about 25-27 minutes per game on average and his defense was gassed because they had to play a lot more.

It was fine when they were putting up 28 plus points per game in Philadelphia, but it caught up to them and exposed them when the offense would go three-and-out or commit turnovers in quick fashion. The defense would have to go right back to work and would be much less effective.

What I want is the Redskins to use tempo and no-huddle MORE than they have. If it’s about 5% of the offensive snaps now, I want 15-20%. Maybe more, depending on how it is working and game conditions. You can adjust as you go along.

This would be a huge step in the right direction for the Redskins. A chance for them to dictate terms. It’s what you can do with a veteran quarterback who has started 32 games in a row.

You can’t do it with Colt McCoy, Nate Sudfeld or a rookie. So if the Redskins want to improve on offense in 2017 – they have one decision they must make (bring back Cousins) and one strategic, philosophical evolution that only a smart, veteran operator can process.

Do it now and I promise your offense will be more of what you want it to be and NEED it to be. 

Chris Russell has covered the Washington Redskins for six seasons for multiple media outlets and was a part of the Redskins Radio Network broadcast team for the last five. He covers the Redskins for Monumental Network (www.DCHotRead.com), WashingtonTimes.com, BreakingBurgundy.com & Warpath Magazine. Listen to Chris on Washington D.C.'s # 1 sports radio station, 106.7 The FAN    


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