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"Inside the Numbers" - Redskins at Chiefs

September 29, 2017
The Washington Redskins head to Kansas City and Arrowhead Stadium for Monday Night Football before their bye week and wrap up the first 25% of their season.

The Redskins have never won in Kansas City and haven’t faired very well against the Chiefs as a whole. Two of the uglier losses for the franchise have come against the Chiefs. Remember in 2009 under Jim Zorn? Yuk. Or perhaps you remember one of those glorious December Sundays in 2013?

You remember, when Mike Shanahan and Robert Griffin were lobbing bombs at each other? And then “Big Red” Andy Reid and the Chiefs detonated FedExField in the snow.

Andy Reid KCThat was so four years ago. Now the Redskins go to one of probably the two loudest environments in the NFL, in prime-time, with sixty minutes in between them and a joyous vacation.

Let’s go “Inside the Numbers” for this important tilt.

I – Bye, Bye (For Now)!

The Redskins will hit the bye week after Monday Night Football, regardless of the result, for the third time in six seasons after week four. Will they be (3-1) and the talk of the NFL world or the more likely scenario of (2-2)?

In 2013, that same year in which Washington got snowed under by the Chiefs in December, 45 -10, the Redskins were (1-3) at the break, temporarily saving their season with a win over the Oakland Raiders in Oakland. They also opened up that year with a bad home loss to the Eagles, much like this year. Washington lost their first game out of the bye and finished a meager (3-13)

In 2011, the Redskins bye also came after week four but followed a win in St. Louis and a (3-1) start under Mike Shanahan. They went on to lose six games in a row after the bye and finished (5-11) overall.

In other words, to avoid recent the trend of recent history, even a win on Monday would not guarantee season-long success but it sure would be nice. The Redskins are a combined (10 – 25) including this year in seasons in which they have had a bye after week four in the Bruce Allen era.

II – Mr. Monday Night?

Kirk Cousins has been simply dominant on Sunday Night Football the last two seasons and appearances for the Redskins quarterback. 

A combined (46 – 60) for 740 yards, 6 touchdowns, no interceptions for Cousins on NBC’s showcase.

As for Monday Night Football – Cousins has been fairly good statistically in his career but numbers and stats don’t always tell the whole story despite this space being dedicated to going “Inside the Numbers.”

Here’s Cousins by the game in his “Monday Night Football” career, with the notation that this is the first time in his career that he’ll be the quarterback for MNF on the road in his career. His Thursday Night Football appearances have been quite poor, so hopefully Cousins can reverse some history here.

2016 vs. Pittsburgh: (30 – 43, 69.8% ), 329 passing yards, 7.65 YPA, 0 TD, 2 INT, O sacks, 72.7 rating.

2016 vs. Carolina: (32 – 47, 68.1%), 315 passing yards, 6.70 YPA, 0 TD, INT, 1 sack, 77.9 rating.

2015 vs. Dallas: (22 – 31, 71 %) 219 passing yards, 7.06 YPA, 1 TD, O INT, 3 sacks, 101.4 rating.

2014 vs. Seattle (21-36, 58.3%), 283 passing yards, 7.86 YPA, 2 TD, O INT, 1 sack, 102.0 rating

Kirk Cousins MNF totals: 4 games, all at home, (105 -157. 66.8%), 1,146 passing yards, 7.29 YPA, 3 TD, 3 INT, 5 sacks.

Cousins’ yardage numbers are pretty good from last year, but quite honestly, the Redskins offense largely stunk in those games because they had no early success running and certainly had no commitment to it. As a result, when you are passing 40 + times, most quarterback will pile up some empty calories. As the 0:3 touchdown to interception ratio will attest, Cousins and the Redskins offense needs to be a lot better in many areas at Arrowhead.

III - Born to Run?

The Redskins resurgent running game is certainly a key factor in why they are on a two-game winning streak, but clearly not the only factor.

While a swarming defense and some great third-down throws from Cousins last to multiple receivers last week were huge keys, so was patience with the run game, despite not having a ton of success statistically.

An area that some Redskins fans and my radio colleagues, Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier at 106.7 The FAN like to talk about is how little success the Redskins have on first-down when they try and run the ball.

As we broke down in this space  after  the season opener, that was true in 2015  but better in 2016 and so far, much better in 2017. Let’s look.

Last week against Oakland, the Redskins ran the ball ten times for 49 yards (10-49, 4.9 avg.) on first down in the first half. In the second half, with a large lead, they ran it (11 – 44, 4.0 avg.) for a total of (21 – 93, 4.43 avg.). Not great, but certainly a good effort.

Overall, the Redskins only passed six times on first down and Cousins was (5-6, 99) including the 52-yard touchdown throw-and catch by Josh Doctson.

So, in a one-sided game for most of the way, Washington ran the ball 21 times on first down and only threw it six times, which is somewhat expected. However, not having Robert Kelley (they also were without Jordan Reed) makes these numbers a bit more interesting.

Overall, because of a poor 2015 in this area (31 st in the NFL), the Redskins are still overall not great on first-down runs in the Kirk Cousins (full-time starting) era. In 35 games, Washington has run the ball 523 times on first down and averaged only a combined 3.60 yards per attempt. They’ve generated a new first down on 11.3% of those rushes and scored 12 touchdowns, according to ProFootballReference.com.

The league average over that same span is 4.09 yards per first down rush attempt and the Redskins are again, at 3.60, which ranks them ahead of just Detroit (# 32, 3.54), Denver (# 31, 3.59) and Indianapolis (# 30, 3.59). All of those teams have also had significantly lower attempts in this area, so the Redskins average is more weighted on a larger sample size.

However, if we isolate 2016 and 2017 where the Redskins clearly are better, but a smaller 19 game sample size, Washington is averaging 3.86 yards per attempt on 285 first-down rushing attempts . The Redskins, compared to the rest of the NFL, rank 21st in first-down rushing average over that span, per ProFootballReference.com. Some teams have played 18 games (Tampa/Miami) in that span and some have played 20 (Chicago/Green Bay) but the Redskins, like most, have played 19 contests. 

In that same span (35 games), the Redskins have passed 469 times on first-down plays and averaged 7.81 yards per play. They’ve generated a new first down 30.5% of the time and scored 17 touchdowns, while turning it over 17 times and being sacked 17 times.

IV – Back to Back & (a belly to belly!)

The above reference is a small tribute to Yankees radio announcer John Sterling’s call when New York hits back-to-back homeruns. It’s silly, but whatever.

The Redskins take a two-game winning streak with them to the “Chiefs Kingdom” and with that, accomplished something over the last two weeks that they had not done since weeks one and two of the 2015 season. That’s run the ball more times than dropping back to pass in two consecutive times.

The last time was the first two games of the Kirk Cousins era and the first two starts of what is now 35 in a row. Washington ran the ball 39 times out of 68 plays (57.3%) in Los Angeles against the Rams and 34 times out 65 plays (52.3%) against Oakland.

Back in the NFC East title year of 2015, Washington hosted Miami and the then St. Louis Rams to open the season consecutively and went (1-1). Against the Dolphins, they ran 37 of 69 offensive plays (53.6%) and the following week, went 37 runs out of 66 offensive plays (56%).

Back in that division-winning season, the Redskins actually ran the ball more than passed it in five separate games. The Miami and Rams games, along with the Saints, Giants and at Cowboys to end the season. They were (4-1) in these games.

In 2014, Jay Gruden’s first year, the Redskins ran it more than they threw the ball three times. Wins against Jacksonville and Philadelphia and a loss in San Francisco.

In 2016, they were a 50/50 split in Philadelphia and ran it more in a huge blowout win at Chicago, but that was it.

So the raw numbers look like this: When the Redskins run the ball more than they pass it, by final count, they are (9-2). Certainly those numbers suggest success and commitment, but as my critics would point out, yes it is easier and more effective to run the ball when you have a lead.

I got all of that, but my overall point is this: When the Redskins abandon the run, they have very little chance, regardless of success or failure with the run. There’s three games that you can point to in the Gruden era where they’ve had some level success and little or no commitment/success in running.

The season and job saving win against Tampa in 2015, the division clinching win in Philadelphia that year and last Thanksgiving in Dallas. The Redskins are obviously (2-1) in those games, but I would point out that because they were down early and quickly against Tampa, they didn’t really have much of a chance to run. Although, on their first touchdown drive of the comeback, Washington did get the drive started with a couple of key runs. 

In the championship win against Philadelphia, the Redskins properly and successfully attacked a meager secondary of the Eagles and in the Thanksgiving loss at Dallas, the Redskins tried to run it a bit early before quickly giving up. They did move the football all day long but failed to put points on the board for the better part of the first three quarters.

The bottom-line is this: Kirk Cousins is not Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Joe Montana. He can’t and should not be asked to drop back 40 plus times and be effective. Every once in a while? Yes. All the time? No. 

Chris Russell has covered the Washington Redskins for eight seasons for multiple media outlets and was a part of the Redskins Radio Network broadcast team for five years. He covers the Redskins, Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade for Monumental Sports Network (www.DCHotRead.com).  Listen to Chris on Washington D.C.'s # 1 sports radio station, 106.7 The FAN      


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