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The Film Don't Lie: Redskins

A weekly look at what the Washington Redskins must fix:

If the Redskins want to improve offensively, there’s an easy place to look: third downs. Now the trick is figuring out how to do a better job converting those plays into first downs. That’s been a season-long problem.

There was a glimmer of hope against Minnesota, and it’ll be interesting to see whether that was an aberration or a point of turnaround. In that loss, the Redskins converted 6 of 13 third downs for a 46 percent rate. Compare that to their season percentage of 34.9 percent, which ranks 30th in the NFL.

There’s a reason the Redskins had more success this past Sunday: fewer third-and-longs. Before that game, Washington averaged 4.5 third downs per game of 4 yards or fewer, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But against the Vikings, it had seven such plays and converted five. Another third-and-1 was stopped, but a penalty gave the Redskins a first down.

Those shorter third downs were a result of improved first-down play. It wasn’t just about the run game working better, as only two of those third-and-shorts were set up by good first-down carries. But with Robert Griffin III in the game, there are more things for a defense to worry about. His ability to run the ball on third-and-short can help, too. He carried twice on third-and-1, gaining one first down and drawing a penalty on the other. Before the Minnesota game, Washington had converted just half of the time it faced third-and-4 or less.

It’s not as if Griffin is a panacea for third downs, as the Redskins converted just 3-of-12 in his other full game this season (against Houston). They had only three third downs of third-and-4 or less (converting one). But if the Redskins continue to use all his skills, something they did not do against Houston, it should improve their ability to end up in third-and-manageable. Defenses must factor his ability to run into what they want to do in those situations.

This is not about embarking on a seven-game win streak. That’s a rare feat. This is about improving as an offense, and one way to do so is to do better in this area. Two years ago the Redskins converted 46.2 percent of their third downs during the seven-game streak, up from 28.6 percent in the first nine games. It makes a huge difference, both in terms of scoring and also in giving the defense a break.

The good news for Washington? Sunday’s opponent, Tampa Bay, allows 46.6 percent of third downs to be converted, which ranks 28th in the NFL.