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Redskins' first-down passing should produce more with improved lineup

There aren't a lot of topics that haven't yet been addressed, so as we inch to the offseason finish line, I opted for another mini-mailbag where I could go in depth on an answer. I liked this one on the Washington Redskins’ passing game so let's go.

John Keim: That’s a good question and I’m not quite sure yet how it will play out. I can tell you a few things, though, that might help. The Redskins don’t necessarily want to do just a lot of five-receiver sets, which, of course, would include tight end Jordan Reed. They’d still like to have some run-game options, even if it’s just to keep the defense off-balance a bit. So I don’t know at this time how often we’d see a lineup of Reed, Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson. That sounds like an impressive lineup, but in most situations you don’t want to give up thoughts of running the ball. So I have a hard time believing they’d go that route too much.

I do know that they want Reed to remain the focal point of the passing game, with good reason. He’s a tough matchup for any defense and he’s worked his butt off in the offseason to improve. The other thing I feel safe in saying is that, as of now, if they go to three-receiver sets it would be Garcon, Jackson and Crowder. Yes, they could go with Garcon and Doctson with Jackson in the slot, but they loved how Crowder looked this spring. it’s not just that he was catching passes, but rather the improvements they saw in his game -- getting off the line quicker, etc. Doctson will back up Garcon and Jackson. (If he plays better than one of them, he’ll take their place. But I’m not anticipating that, at least not early in the season).

One advantage Washington has is the ability to create mismatches. And I like what they can do on first downs -- my guess would be that's where we see a big change from the run/pass ratio in the past. After the first Dallas game, things changed with the play calling as they became more aggressive. Indeed, in the next three games they completed 35-of-43 passes on first-down plays. They had attempted only 40 first-down passes in the previous five games combined.

They could go with three tight ends on the field -- using Reed, Vernon Davis and Niles Paul at fullback -- with one receiver split wide. Last year, they’d use Tom Compton as part of those three-tight end sets. Which one might hurt defenses a little more -- even if Davis is no longer a top tight end? It’s a formation you might see more of on first downs, when they like to throw deep play-action passes.

Last year, the Redskins attempted 555 passes and ran the ball 429 times. A lot of that stemmed from deficits early in the season. In the second half of the season, the percentage was much closer -- 246 passes to 228 runs. Remember, that’s when they were winning and, therefore, taking more time off the clock later in games. I do believe they’ll throw more than they run even in close games; they realize that’s their strength right now. But this could change if running back Matt Jones is highly productive. But if I were them, I’d be more aggressive throwing on first downs and I do think that will be the case.