Redskins run game needs balance; Kirk Cousins needs to rebound

Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown six interceptions to just five touchdowns this season. AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

ASHBURN, Va. -- Five questions facing the Washington Redskins as they prepare for the New York Jets:

How important is this game for Kirk Cousins?

The biweekly topic. And the biweekly answer is that he’ll remain the starter regardless, so in that sense it’s not do-or-die. But, as has been stated often (and apparently missed by a certain portion of the fan base), Cousins needs to show consistency to prove he should start beyond this season. He also must respond well against a tough defense coming off another two-pick game. I can explain the interceptions all day, but the bottom line is Cousins has thrown six to only five touchdowns this season. Both those numbers have to change. The shame of it for Cousins is that he was en route to another strong finish last week against the Atlanta Falcons, which would have boosted his standing tremendously. Instead, the final pass led to more questions and screaming from certain fans who were silent a week ago. Until he becomes consistent, those skeptics will rightfully remain, which means Cousins controls the narrative. It’s not just about the interceptions, as he was off on a number of throws Sunday (similar to his outing earlier in the season vs. the Giants). But all Cousins’ struggles would eventually mean is that the Redskins would have to find another quarterback in the offseason.

How good is the Jets’ defense?

Very good -- and they return a Pro Bowl player this week in defensive end Sheldon Richardson, who was suspended for the first four games. All he did was record eight sacks last season and now will be in the rotation along with Muhammad Wilkerson and first-round pick Leonard Williams. Wilkerson already has 3.5 sacks and Williams has played well. The Jets are second in the NFL in yards per play allowed at 4.50, and they’re seventh in yards per rush allowed (3.75). That’s why the Redskins could use receiver DeSean Jackson this week -- someone who can threaten teams every play.

Why isn’t the Redskins' run game working?

It always stems from a variety of factors, as do most problems in the NFL. Against the Falcons, the tight end blocking was bad, which clearly did not help. When the Redskins snapped off long runs against St. Louis, the tight ends were a primary factor. The line is not always holding its blocks; center Kory Lichtensteiger has had some tough matchups with powerful nose tackles, but the blame is not on one guy at all. The backs need to do a better job, too, as some holes are missed. There’s also some predictability when it comes to first downs: In the first three quarters of games, when scores are closer, the Redskins have run the ball 61 times on first down and thrown 34 passes (only two teams who have played five games have attempted fewer first-down passes). The Redskins average 8.85 yards per first down-pass in the first three quarters, fifth in the NFL according to ESPN Stats & Information, compared to 3.52 yards on the ground (25th). They absolutely need to be a run-based offense, but perhaps to provide more help they need to mix in more safe throws on first down. Staying committed to the run is important, however. It does not always work, but you can’t abandon a belief -- you just have to find better ways to make it work.

Who will play this week?

We’ll get a better idea of that over the next two days in practice. Jackson was limited twice last week, then did not practice on Friday. Wednesday will be a big day to see if he can not only increase his reps but go a little faster as well. It would be surprising to see tight end Jordan Reed do anything this week. Corner Chris Culliver also has a good shot, but he didn’t even practice last week. If he’s out there Wednesday, that’s a good sign. Corner DeAngelo Hall has a chance as well. The Redskins could use one of their corners to return.

Can the defensive front duplicate its effort when it comes to applying pressure?

Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan had two sacks last week, one of which he beat a fullback and the other stemmed from the way the Redskins envisioned the rush working: with the interior collapsing the pocket. That mostly stemmed from Chris Baker and Jason Hatcher, both of whom routinely drove their men back -- and that’s something they’ll try against the Jets as well. There are times it could work, but this stat jumps out: New York has allowed only two sacks in four games. The Jets have a good offensive line.