3 questions the Redskins need to answer to return to the playoffs

WASHINGTON — In lieu of standard team previews for the Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins this year, WTOP has instead asked resident experts to discuss the only thing that really matters to fans: what it will take to get the two teams back to the playoffs.

Here’s what WTOP’s George Wallace had to say about Washington’s team:

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 26: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins warms up as head coach Jay Gruden walks past him prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles on December 26, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
The Redskins begin year four under Jay Gruden on Sunday.

A year ago, they missed the playoffs, going 8-7-1 and leading to many changes this offseason on and off the field. There are plenty of question marks surrounding this team as the 2017 regular season begins, and there are a lot of things that need to go right in order to return to the postseason after a one-year absence.

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 19: Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins stands in the huddle against the Green Bay Packers in the first half during a preseason game at FedExField on August 19, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
1) Kirk Cousins needs to lead a balanced attack on offense

Jay Gruden has made no secret about the fact that he wants to run the football and that running the football leads to success in the NFL. The Redskins’ offensive line struggled at times last season and in the preseason as well. Washington was ranked 21st in run offense last year, a little surprising seeing how the line is probably the most cohesive unit on this team, having been together for a few years now. Rob Kelley takes over the full-time starting running back position and is still learning.

Cousins has a great understanding of Gruden’s offense and should be fine despite losing offensive coordinator Sean McVay. Gruden takes over the play-calling this season.

The Redskins will be trying to replace two 1,000-yard receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon from a year ago. Second-year receiver Josh Doctson has had a hard time staying healthy and Terrell Pryor Sr. is still learning the wideout position. Both have big play capability and hope to find that chemistry with Cousins early on.

Jamison Crowder has a chance to be one of the top slot receivers in the league and, of course, tight end Jordan Reed remains a top threat as one of the best in his position in the NFL, when healthy.

If the Redskins can put all this together on offense, there’s a chance to put up some pretty good numbers.

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 10: The Baltimore Ravens offense lines up against the Washington Redskins defense during a preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium on August 10, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
2) Greg Manusky has to get a new-look defense to mesh quickly

There was nowhere to go but up for the Redskins’ defense this offseason after finishing near the bottom in almost every category in 2016. They promoted outside linebackers coach Greg Manusky to defensive coordinator and brought in a former head coach in Jim Tomsula to coach the defensive line.

Both have made a big impact on players already. Players have spoken about the way Manusky likes to play aggressive and pressure the quarterback.

The Redskins knew they had to get better personnel as well, though, so they went out and used their first-round pick on defensive end Jonathan Allen and second-round pick on outside linebacker Ryan Anderson, both from the University of Alabama.

The hope is also that Junior Galette returns to form as he takes the field for the first time as a member of the Redskins after missing each of the last two seasons with Achilles injuries. His impact on third downs could be a difference maker.

The front seven will have three new starters this year: Allen, fellow defensive end Stacy McGee and inside linebacker Zach Brown. The defensive secondary is led by D.J. Swearinger, who leads by example on and off the field. He has potential to make a huge difference, especially now that safety Su’a Cravens’ future is in doubt as he contemplates retirement.

The defense got younger and quicker this offseason and will be much improved from a year ago. Will it be good enough to carry this team? Probably not, but could keep the team in a lot of games.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 31:  Head coach Jay Gruden of the Washington Redskins looks on from the sidelines during the second quarter of an NFL preseason football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on August 31, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
3) There is no time for a slow start — the schedule won’t allow it

The Redskins have been notorious for starting slow under Jay Gruden. They have yet to win a season opener in his three seasons, and last year they started 0-2.

This season, the schedule doesn’t do them any favors, so it’s imperative they get off to a fast start or risk the chance of the season snowballing quickly. After a season opener against a division opponent in the Eagles, Washington makes one of its three trips to the West Coast. They finish September against the Raiders, a team many picked to win the AFC West followed by a Monday night road game in Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium, a place where the Redskins have never won.

There are trips to Seattle and New Orleans in November, followed by back-to-back Thursday night games against NFC East opponents.

You see where I’m going with this?

There’s no time to get your feet wet this year; come Sunday at 1 p.m., it’s time to go.

(Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 26: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins warms up as head coach Jay Gruden walks past him prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles on December 26, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 19: Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins stands in the huddle against the Green Bay Packers in the first half during a preseason game at FedExField on August 19, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 10: The Baltimore Ravens offense lines up against the Washington Redskins defense during a preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium on August 10, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 31:  Head coach Jay Gruden of the Washington Redskins looks on from the sidelines during the second quarter of an NFL preseason football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on August 31, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

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