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#HailMail: Returner, Power Running, Davis

Posted Nov 22, 2013

Welcome to Hail Mail, Week 12, where Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman answers your questions ahead of the division battle with the San Francisco at FedExField. Need an answer? Tweet @Redskins, #HailMail.

Welcome to Hail Mail, Week 12, where Redskins.com's mustache'd Brian Tinsman answers your questions ahead of the division battle with the San Francisco at FedExField. Need an answer? Tweet @Redskins, #HailMail.

What do you want to know?


Question: @Redskins #HailMail realistically, what do you think the chances are of making the playoffs?

--Luke Carter, (@CrushCarter)

Answer: I don't dabble in odds, but I will say that if the chances were bleak at 3-6, they got no better at 3-7. An oddsmaker could reasonably call this team as long-shot at this point in the year.

That's not ground-breaking analysis, so I will try to quantify the chances in a more concrete manner. Pro Football Outsiders put together an updated list of playoff percentages based on a simulation of 50,000 possibilities for the remaining six weeks of the season.

The good news is that the New York Giants (4-6) were at the bottom of the list with a .2 percent chance of making a playoff appearance with a zero percent chance of winning the division.

The bad news is that the Redskins were not listed at all, making up one-eighth of the teams left completely off the list, presumably with odds of approximately zero percent.

That could reasonably viewed as bleak odds, but I disagree with the premise that it couldn't happen. My rationale is three-fold, but begins with last season as an indication that anything is possible.

Unfortunately, the fine folks at Pro Football Outsiders update their odds page each week, making it impossible to back and check Week 11 last season. But I can tell you right now that the Redskins were once again in the bottom eight with odds of approximately zero percent. What happened? They won seven-straight to win the division and go to the playoffs.

Does that happen often in any sport, much less football? Absolutely not, and it's never something that can be reasonably counted on. But it IS still mathematically concievable to make the playoffs this season.

Secondly, of the eight teams left off the list, the Redskins are arguably the most talented and most stable situations (among Atlanta, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Minnesota, Oakland, Jacksonville, Houston).

Atlanta is dealing with a rash of injuries on offense; Tampa Bay cut their franchise quarterback and Week 1 starter; Jacksonville has no answer at quarterback; Houston and Minnesota have quarterback controversies; Oakland has a lack of playmakers and questionable health from key players; St. Louis plays in arguably the most talented division in football, which brings me to the third point.

The NFC East has been called the SEC of the NFL, but the simple fact is that all four teams are capable of a bad day and a monumental collapse. We've seen it from each and every squad so far. At 6-5, Philadelphia has the worst winning percentage of any division leader in the NFL.

Which brings me back to my first point: that anything is possible. This is a team with the talent and the personnel to make anothe run, however unlikely at this point. A 9-7 record should win this division and the Redskins don't have the scariest schedule down the stretch.

That effort needs to begin one play at a time starting with kickoff on Monday Night.


Question:


Answer: There are a number of reasons why Santana Moss hasn't gotten an extended look at punt returner this season, not the least of which is age.

Returning punts in today's NFL is traditionally considered a young man's game, where talented receivers, running backs and defensive backs cut their teeth in the NFL.

It was once a position that Moss dominated, and is likely a position he could still handle sparingly today.Once upon a time, he was one of the NFL's best, returning two punts for touchdowns as a member of the New York Jets in 2002.

The last time Moss returned punts full-time was in 2004, the year before he was traded to Washington. As a member of the Redskins, he was the top offensive weapon and therefore a protected commodity.

As a member of the Redskins, he has only returned 25 punts in nine seasons. His one return earlier this season for nine yards was his first return since 2009. He also had his first kick return since 2008.

Given the value he brings to the offense, particularly with the season-ending injury to Leonard Hankerson, the Redskins cannot afford to lose Moss due to a special teams injury.

Not to say that it would definitely happen, or couldn't happen on offense, but it's an educated risk the Redskins are not inclined to take.

The prototypical punt returner is a small shifty guy capable of avoiding contact and weaving through traffic. Nick Williams grew up idolizing Santana Moss and has worked closely with No. 89 since arriving in the offseason.

Williams had a rough start to his NFL career that makes his leash shorter moving forward. The Redskins coaching staff believes he is the right man for the job and so does Santana Moss.

If he can't, there is still a chance we could see Moss back deep to receive. With any luck, that will not be necessary.

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Question: @Redskins Why is shanahan refusing to play reed and Davis at the same time. Those two tight ends will help out offense a lot. #HailMail

--tee buckley, (@tee_buckley)

Answer: Redskins fans have been waiting years for the dual-threat tight end set, first with Fred Davis and Chris Cooley, then with Davis and Jordan Reed.

It just doesn't seem to be in the cards.

NFL fans have witnessed the matchup problems that a pair of elite receiving tight ends can cause for an opposing defense, most notably with the New England Patriots. But keeping both tight ends involved seems to be a problem that extends farther than the greater Washington, D.C. metro area.

Take Dallas, for instance, who had Jason Witten and still spent a high draft pick on Martellus Bennett. For all of his hype, Bennett never had more than 33 receptions of 283 receiving yards in a season. He only tallied four touchdowns in four seasons in Dallas, catching none after his rookie season.

You could make the argument that Bennett is a knucklehead with too many off-the-field issues to ever get it together in Dallas. And you'd probably be right.

Another situation similar to the Washington Redskins is the Denver Broncos this season, who had veterans Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme--each with rapport with Peyton Manning--and a youngster in Julius Thomas who has stolen the show. Certainly neither Dreessen or Tamme compares to Thomas, but they are competent receivers who have combined for six receptions, 40 yards and a score vs. Thomas' 45 receptions for 590 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Not much of a dual-tight end threat.

Ultimately, if you look at the teams that do well with multiple tight ends in the passing games, it is teams that want to pass the ball first, like the New England Patriots. The Patriots have shown that they don't need a running game in order to take a team down. Tom Brady can sit back and pick a defense apart with as many short-range receivers as he can pack on the field.

The Redskins are not built like that, needing the run to set up the pass. Alfred Morris is one of the NFL's elite running backs and the coaching staff has a prerogative to keep him clean. This leads to more involvement by elite blocking tight end Logan Paulsen as well as Darrel Young on the field.

This necessarily limits the role that a pure receiving tight end can have in a game, forcing the coaching staff to pick between Davis and Jordan Reed. Reed has exploded this season, shattering the rookie tight end receiving marks and providing a reliable threat for a quarterback on the run.

Would it be ideal to have four tight ends available, two to receive, one to block and one to play special teams? Yes, absolutely, but in the numbers game to get down to 46 gameday actives, the coaching staff has been forced to make the tough decision of keeping an extra linebacker, defensive back or receiver active at the expense of Fred Davis.

The test will come this Monday Night if Jordan Reed (concussion) is cleared to play. This might be the first time since Week 4 vs. Oakland that both he and Reed are active in the same game.

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Question:

Answer: Once upon a time (not that long ago), the best passing offenses were the ones that could drop back on a seven-step drop and sling the ball 50 yards downfield. Those places still exist, but they are increasingly harder to find.

And Washington is not one of those teams.

When you look back at the team's best period of success last season, this is an offense that operated best in motion and/or with the use of deception. Pass blocking is more difficult than run blocking and the Redskins offensive linemen are not built to operate in a phone booth. The clock for Robert Griffin III in the pocket is understandably shorter than most of his counterparts.

The automatic response to this would suggest that this is a shortcoming of this offense, but it's actually one that suits this squad. Shanahan prefers smaller, more athletic linemen to operate the zone blocking scheme in the run game.

Success in the run game allows for play-action, bootleg and misdirection plays that can open up big plays in the passing game. That's how the Redskins got the majority of their deep passing game last season.

Even in situations where the Redskins don't use trickery, they still have a quarterback that is able to escape the pass rush and keep the play alive longer.

To help him, the Redskins have assembled one of the fastest receiving corps in the NFL, with playmakers like Pierre Garcon, Aldrick Robinson and Santana Moss that can get open downfield, or break out of routes in a hurry.

For a number of reasons, the Redskins have struggled to get receivers open and get on the same page with Griffin III this season. There have been times when Griffin III has missed the open target, either under duress or progression.

The solution to this problem is a coordinated effort to improve protection, improve routes and speed up progression recognition. The passing game isn't way off from success, but it is off just enough to yield frustrating results.

Unfortunately, the answer is not to switch to five- and seven-step drops. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has said in the past that such plays are virtually non-existent in the playbook because they take too long to develop.

The key to executing the offense as the gameplan is drawn up is to exstablish the running game and get in a rhythm in the passing game during the opening quarter of the game. If they are able to accomplish that, there's no reason this offense cannot be elite once again.

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