The Redskins could be doomed if they can’t solve offensive line woes

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It took the Eagles just 2.58 seconds, on average, to sack Cousins on Sunday. That's a problem.

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Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins was sacked four times by the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

After a loss, it’s not unusual for fans to play the blame game. In Washington, that means pointing fingers at the offensive line for its role in Sunday’s defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Right tackle Morgan Moses was the ninth-worst right tackle in Week 1 per the game charters at Pro Football Focus, allowing three sacks and two hurries in the season opener. That’s in stark contrast to last season, when Moses was ranked No. 16 out of 62 qualified lineman for his pass-blocking skills.

Right guard Brandon Scherff was PFF’s second-worst guard in the season’s opening week, allowing Cousins to be hit once and hurried three times. Both Moses and Scherff factored into Cousins’s fourth-quarter fumble, which was returned for a touchdown by Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox.

Every offensive line gives up sacks at some point. However, Cousins barely had any time in the pocket — it took the Eagles 2.58 seconds, on average, to sack Cousins on Sunday, shorter than it did on average during the 2015 (3.36 seconds) or 2016 (3.2 seconds) regular season.

Cousins was not as sharp as he has been under pressure either. His accuracy rate in these situations after accounting for dropped passes, throwaways, spiked balls, batted passes and passes where he was hit while throwing the ball was 67.1 percent in 2016 and 65.8 percent in 2015. During the loss in Week 1, it was 50 percent.

“I think the protection can be better. There’s no doubt,” Cousins told Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on Monday during his weekly segment on 106.7 The Fan. “At the same time, there are other things we can do, of trying to get the ball out quick, finding opportunities to have some quick throws, some screens, some other ways to take their pass rush, and the way they were getting after us, and try to put us in a position of strength where we’re going to use that to our advantage.”

It is absolutely unfair to compare the small sample of just one game to two full seasons, but it does point out a crucial problem from Week 1 that must be fixed for the Redskins to have any success this season.

Giving up sacks to the Eagles is no surprise — their defensive line was rated as the third best heading into the 2017 season by Pro Football Focus — but the Redskins are going to face a schedule full of potent pass rushers this season. Washington’s Week 2 opponent is the Los Angeles Rams, who have PFF’s projected fifth-best defensive line this season. The Redskins play 10 opponents whose defensive fronts are ranked in the top half of the league by PFF. Seven of those are ranked in the top 10.

Game PFF rank of defensive front seven Week 1: vs. Philadelphia Eagles 3 Week 2: at Los Angeles Rams 5 Week 3: vs. Oakland Raiders 15 Week 4: at Kansas City Chiefs 9 Week 5:  Bye Week Week 6: vs. San Francisco 49ers 32 Week 7: at Philadelphia Eagles 3 Week 8: vs. Dallas Cowboys 26 Week 9: at Seattle Seahawks 2 Week 10: vs. Minnesota Vikings 6 Week 11: at New Orleans Saints 29 Week 12: vs. New York Giants 13 Week 13: at Dallas Cowboys 26 Week 14: at Los Angeles Chargers 11 Week 15: vs. Arizona Cardinals 8 Week 16: vs. Denver Broncos 7 Week 17: at New York Giants 13

During the Rams’ Week 1 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts, their defensive line created four sacks, one hit and five hurries in addition to returning two interceptions for touchdowns, forcing a fumble and causing a safety. They pressured the Colts quarterbacks on 42 percent of dropbacks, their second-highest pressure percentage since the start of last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and the same rate that was applied by Philadelphia against Washington in Week 1. And that was without Aaron Donald, who is holding out after leading all interior defenders with 82 total sacks, hits and hurries in 2016, a mark that was also good enough for fourth among all defensive linemen. Donald will be in the lineup in Week 2 and could be a huge problem for Cousins and Washington’s passing game.

When the Rams and Redskins met in Week 2 of the 2015 season, Donald had one sack, two hurries and four stops at or behind the line of scrimmage, earning him the highest PFF rating of the week among defensive players. The Rams had four sacks and seven hurries total in the game. However, the game charters at Pro Football Focus only assigned two of those four sacks to the play of the offensive line, leaving Cousins responsible for the other two.

Cousins, like any quarterback, just isn’t the same when facing a pass rush. His passer rating drops from 110.1 in a clean pocket to 71.1 under pressure since he became the full-time starter in Washington in 2015, roughly the difference between Tom Brady and Brock Osweiler last season. That’s still a better performance under pressure than the league average (64.6 last season), but his passer rating on plays immediately following a sack is 91.5, showing that putting Cousins on the turf has lingering effects.

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Pass pressure leads to poor quarterback performance, and sacks are a momentum killer. According to Football Outsiders, slightly more than 70 percent of four-down series converted for a first down or a touchdown in 2016. However, just one out of every six offensive drives (16 percent) in which the quarterback was sacked eventually got another set of downs, making it easy to see how much the offensive line’s inability to keep pressure off Cousins stalled Washington’s offense Sunday.

An 0-2 start could be devastating to the Redskins’ postseason chances. Since 2002, the year the NFL expanded to 32 teams, realigning into eight divisions with four teams in each, there have been 123 teams that started a season 0-2; that group averaged 5.8 wins that year with just 13 of those squads making the playoffs.

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Steinberg: For bad season openers, there’s the Redskins and Browns, and then everyone else

Referee Brad Allen explains ruling on game-ending fumble TD

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