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By The Numbers: Red Zone Success Is Balancing Act For Redskins

The Redskins haven't found success in the Red Zone. It's not about talent, but the play calls.

By Chuck Sapienza, special to Breaking Burgundy

The Washington Redskins left Jolly Ole England after planting a big wet one on their sister and headed into the bye with a 4-3-1 record. The Redskins are a one-half game out of the sixth and final playoff spot at the break. Opinions on this status may vary.

When you look back at the first half of the season, you can play the “what-if” game until you're blue in the face. IF the defense recovers Matthew Stafford’s late fumble and IF the referee didn’t call that phantom offensive pass interference on Pierre Garcon, the Redskins could be 6-2. But as the late GOAT Ken Beatrice used to say “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, oh what a party we would have.”

In reviewing the first eight games of 2016, there are many areas of improvement necessary if the Burgundy and Gold want to make the playoffs. The number one issue facing this team is offensive Red Zone Efficiency. Thru eight weeks, the Redskins rank 31st with a pathetic 40.6 percent of their Red Zone drives resulting in touchdowns.

That’s how a team can be so prolific at moving the football (3rd in the NFL in total offense with 410 yards per game) yet be so average at scoring points (23.3 points, 15th in the NFL). Jay Gruden’s offense is the hot chick with banged up teeth. Yes, she is a smoke show but have you seen those chicklets?

After Week Two I ripped offensive coordinator Sean McVay for killing quarterback Kirk Cousins with the lack of balance in play calling due to a lack of balance. Young Mr. McVay was so pass happy he was treating the run like Dale Lindsey treated Lavar Arrington. Beginning with their Week 3 win in New York, the Redskins offense moved toward balance (57.8% Pass to 42.2% run) -- except when it comes to the Red Zone. That's causing a majority of their problems.

Once the Redskins get inside their opponents 20, McVay reverts back to his pass happy ways. After eight weeks the Redskins have called 74 Red Zone plays. In those 74 plays, 44 passes with 30 run attempts for a 59:41 pass:run ratio. That is a horrific pass happy balance when it comes to NFL Red Zone play calling. To put that into perspective, here is the rest of the NFC East:

Dallas inside the 20   50:50 (33 pass/33 run)

Philly inside the 20    52:48 (38 pass/35 run)

NYG inside the 20      52:48 (25 pass/23 run)

The head scratcher is the Redskins ratio gets worse the closer they get to pay dirt. When inside the opponents 10-yard line the Skins have thrown 23 passes while calling 13 runs. That computes to a 64:36 pass:run ratio. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Why on earth would the Redskins pass the ball 64% of the time inside the 10 yard line? To show how out of whack that is, just take a look at the rest of the division:

Dallas inside the 10   46:54 (15 pass/21 run)

Philly inside the 10    33:67 (10 pass/20 run)

NYG inside the 10      40:60 (10 pass/15 run)

YES, the rest of the division runs the ball more than they throw when inside the 10, but not the upside down Redskins. Just to show how poor they are inside the 10, Cousins completes 26.1% (6 for 23) when attempting passes inside the opponent’s 10 yard line. Cousins is 3 of 18 (16.6%) when targeting a wide receiver or tight end inside the 10.

Want to get even more disgusted? Let’s get even closer to the goal line. When inside the 5-yard line, the Redskins have called 23 plays. Of those 23 plays they have run the ball only eight times while attempting 15 passes. In those 15 passes Cousins is 3 for 14 (one was a sack). That is 21.4%. Of the eight rushing attempts, the Redskins have scored four touchdowns. That is 50%.

Rule number one of coaching is putting your players in a position to succeed. McVay is throwing Cousins to the wolves with his disdain for running the ball in the Red Zone.  Note to Sean: The best player on your roster is left tackle Trent Williams*. Run behind him and you’ll find your backs in the end zone. 

[*UPDATE: This article posted shortly before the NFL announced a 4-game suspension for Williams.]

Richard Carlson, the author of “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, would have been a failure as an NFL coach, because the difference between being good and being great IS the small stuff. In the case of the 2016 Washington Redskins balance is the small stuff. Over the last six weeks, balance has helped this offense succeed and I believe balance is the key to success in the second half of the season. In the NFL, red zone success is a balancing act, a run first balancing act. 

Chuck Sapienza is the executive producer of the Naval Academy radio network and the former VP of Programming for ESPN980. He was also a part of the Washington Redskins Radio Network from 2009 to 2015, serving as the network's executive producer. He can be reached at SapienzaChuck@gmail.com

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