According to FiveThirtyEight’s forecast, which is based on 100,000 simulations of the season, the Redskins should finish last in the NFC East with between five and six wins, giving them a 10 percent chance at a playoff spot. They have just a 5 percent chance at finishing the regular season with a winning record.
But fear not! The last time the Redskins started 0-2 with two home losses, they finished 10-6. So, yes, I am saying there is a chance. But if they are going to maximize that opportunity, here are three things they must do starting in Week 3 against the New York Giants.
Get better at scoring in the red zone
The Redskins’ offense is not great, but it isn’t a disaster, either. The unit ranks second in yards per drive and is in a four-way tie for second-most red-zone scoring attempts per game (five). But Washington is just 15th in points per drive, indicating it is having trouble scoring from inside the 20-yard line.
Part of the problem is trying to force a fade route to rookie Josh Doctson or tight end Jordan Reed, a play that failed all three times the team attempted it Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
Not only are the receivers not catching the ball, but quarterback Kirk Cousins has not been helping his own cause. He has attempted the second-most passes in the red-zone (17) but completed just five along with two red-zone interceptions so far this season — the most in the NFL.
That’s in stark contrast to last season, when he was 50 for 79 for 345 yards and 22 touchdowns with zero interceptions inside the 20-yard line.
This is also where a weak running game hurts your franchise. Only the Indianapolis Colts (4 of 19, 21 percent) have run a lower percentage of rushing plays in the red zone than Washington (5 of 17, 23 percent).
Stop opponents on third down
Washington’s defense ranks last in points allowed per drive (3.25) and 27th in yards allowed per game (408.5) because opponents have the ball for 3:18 on average thanks to a robust 57.7 percent conversion rate allowed on third downs, the worst in the NFL.
Pass defense is the problem here. On third downs this season, opponents have needed an average of 6.7 yards for the first down and have produced 8.7 thought the air. On running plays, opponents have needed an average of 7.4 yards but only gotten seven.
That might be what prompted the coaching staff to have high-priced cornerback Josh Norman start following the other team’s best wide receiver on the field.
Aside from the lack of traveling, there isn’t much to quibble with Norman’s performance. He allowed catches on three of his eight targets in coverage for 40 yards and no touchdowns, and he kept Cowboys receivers from making any receptions Sunday.
Keep protecting the quarterback
The Redskins are bad at many things, but so far, protecting their quarterback isn’t one of them. The game charters at Pro Football Focus have assigned just one sack, two hits and 11 hurries to their offensive line, making this the fourth-best pass-blocking unit in the NFL.
Left tackle Trent Williams, the best player of the group, is one of five tackles in the NFL who have allowed no more than one quarterback pressure (sack, hit or hurry) despite playing at least half their team’s passing snaps.
Stopping the Giants’ pass rush shouldn’t be too difficult — it’s ranked 19th by Pro Football Focus — but starting in Week 6, the Redskins play a stretch of games against some of the better defensive teams. That run begins with with the Philadelphia Eagles, for whom defensive end Brandon Graham has nine total pressures so far this season, including six stops at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Two weeks after that, it is Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins and the Cincinatti Bengals, who helped the team rank 12th in adjusted sack rate (7 percent) last season.
Then after the bye week in Week 9, the Redskins take on the Minnesota Vikings, who are tied for fourth in sacks this season (seven) with Washington’s Week 10 opponent, the Green Bay Packers.
Keeping Cousins clean in the pocket has obvious benefits. His career passer rating drops from 97 to 71.8 under pressure, which is roughly the difference in performance over his past two seasons (101.6 rating in 2015, 78.5 in 2016).