There and back again

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Christmas is less than a week away, which means the NFL playoffs are right around the corner. As week 15 comes to a close, the Washington Redskins find themselves in a familiar place: desperately needing a win to keep treading on the fringes playoff race.

Their record is an uninspiring 7-5-1, but they currently hold the second wild-card thanks to an early gift from their division-rival Dallas. The Cowboys eked out a close game against Tampa Bay, who is also vying for a playoff berth. Here is a look at the NFC playoff picture, as of today:

Division Leaders:
Dallas 12-2
Seattle 9-4-1
Atlanta 9-5
Detroit 9-5

Wild Card:
-New York 10-4
-Washington 7-5-1

Tampa Bay 8-6
Green Bay 8-6
Minnesota 7-7

The Giants, with ten wins, are almost a lock to get in, leaving just one spot for four teams. The Redskins, because of their tie, are in a unique place. Basically, if they win out, they’re in. Lose – even once – and it’s going to be a long winter in the nation’s capital.

This is a familiar scenario for Skins fans; Washington has needed December miracles to secure a playoff berth its last few times around the block. For example, in 2012, they were dead in the water at 3-6 before ripping off seven straight victories. In 2007, they snuck in by winning the last four.

On one hand, you could say the team is experienced, having become accustomed to such slim margin for error. But, while this option is certainly better than say, being a Browns fan, you’re stuck with the maddening-feeling of running in place.

Each year, training camp opens with the mantra that these Redskins are different; they’ve put the past behind them and are ready to ascend to that coveted, next level.

This year’s version was supposed to feature a high-powered offense and an improved defense. And, while it’s true that Washington has the tools it needs, they still haven’t figured out how to be truly-elite.

In other words, to quote the Talking Heads, it’s “the same as it ever was.”

However, as Boston said, “it’s more than a feeling.” There is a trend, which the statistics bear out. Check out these defensive stats from the past three seasons (Gruden’s entire Redskins tenure):

Rushing yards against per game

2016
112.8 (4.5/ypc), 22nd

2015
122.6 (4.8/ypc), 26th

2014
107.6 (4.1/ypc), 12th

Passing yards against per game

2016
258/g, 24th

2015
258, 25th

2014
249, 24th

Defensive penalty yards

2016
867*, 29th

2015
955, 27th

2014
1,164, 31st

*through thirteen games

Opponent third-down conversion percentage

2016
48.2%, 31st

2015
37.7%, 12th

2014
43%, 24th

As you can see, there aren’t many encouraging-trends, defensively. But, how has the offense progressed, over that same time span?

Points per game

2016
25.4 (10th)

2015
23.9 (11th)

2014
18.8 (26th)

Rushing yards per game

2016
109.3 (14th)

2015
97.1 (20th)

2014
105.7 (19th)

Yards per carry

2016
4.5 (7th)

2015
3.7 (29th)

2014
4.2 (14th)

Passing yards per game

2016
302.8 (2nd)

2015
256.8 (10th)

2014
252.9 (12th)

So, there have been some positive advances on the offensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, one stat continues to be their bugaboo:

Red Zone Scoring Percentage

2016
44.9%, 30th

2015
58.49%, 11th

2014
47.92%, 27th

The 2015 numbers were mostly a product of Jordan Reed both staying healthy and breaking out. This year, he’s been banged-up, and they have yet to find a viable solution. Their inconsistency in this category has undermined their gaudy ball-movement numbers, and puts more pressure on the leaky defense.

The Redskins close out the season with games against the Panthers, Bears and Giants. The first two are non-contenders who have struggled this season. The Giants are a dangerous team, but may have little to play for, by the time week 17 rolls around.

All three games are winnable, and the Skins will have to prevail, if they hope to advance to the playoffs.

Same as it ever was.

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