Sports

Redskins trying to 'finish strong' as they have before

ASHBURN, Va. — In every workout, game and season, Kirk Cousins and his Washington Redskins teammates aim to "start fast and finish strong."

That start fast thing didn't work out so well, as the Redskins opened 0-2. But they know all about finishing strong.

Even though the urgency isn't the same at 6-4-1, Washington is trying to put another December run together to make the playoffs as it did in 2012 and 2015.

The Redskins are in a playoff position with five weeks left, but facing the desperate Arizona Cardinals (4-6-1) on Sunday has them thinking about what it takes to win and get in down the stretch.

"They are who we were," linebacker Will Compton said. "We just know we're going to get their best shot, whatever that is.

"We know they're more desperate, so to say, than us, but at the same time we're desperate as well as in if we want to continue to control our own destiny, we've got to win out."

The Redskins were 3-6 in 2012 before running the table to win the NFC East, and they won four of five last season to capture the division again and render Week 17 meaningless.

It might take the same kind of success this time because they're chasing the New York Giants and trying to fend off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, Cardinals, Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams.

Washington faces four of those teams — Arizona, Philadelphia, Carolina and New York — and is in the driver's seat as long as it keeps winning.

"We have an opportunity with five games to go to finish strong," Cousins said. "I've always believed that people may forget how you start, but they always remember how you finish, and what a great opportunity for us."

Given the Redskins' prolific offence , they probably should have more than six wins.

But they have the fourth-worst red zone offence in the NFL, converting 43.5 per cent of chances for touchdowns, and the third-worst red zone defence , allowing opponents to score touchdowns on 67.6 per cent of their opportunities.

Coach Jay Gruden called those glaring weaknesses team, execution and schematic problems.

"Execution has got to be at a premium down there," Gruden said Wednesday. "Offensively, tight windows, you're going to have to make some tight-window throws and some great catches and break a tackle because there are going to be some free hitters in the hole down in the red zone.

"So, No. 1 we've got to check out our execution, and No. 2, we've got to check out our scheme and just continue to keep working."

Receiver DeSean Jackson, who practiced Wednesday despite continuing to be bothered by a rotator cuff injury in his left shoulder, said fixing the red zone inefficiency is a "daily grind" the offence has to go through.

Gruden and offensive co-ordinator Sean McVay might also need to mix up the play-calling, especially with tight end Jordan Reed's status in doubt because of a sprained left shoulder.

"Completing in the red zone and the opportunities and the chances we have trying to score as many points as possible and not walking away in positions leaving field goals," Jackson said.

"As you see in the game on Thursday (at Dallas), if we could've come out in the red zone a lot better, we would probably been in a different situation in that game."

Red zone failures cost the Redskins in a 31-26 loss to the Cowboys, but they weren't displeased with the performance.

Cousins is on pace to shatter his franchise record for passing yards, rookie running back Robert Kelley has shown an ability to adjust to defences and cornerback Josh Norman and members of the secondary are ready for a big challenge against Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals.

"I like the fact that it feels like we're ascending," Gruden said. "I know we lost last week, but I feel like we're playing good football right now. ... We feel good where we're at. We just have to go out and execute and get the tough wins on the road."

NOTES: Reed didn't practice, but Gruden said the tight end's injury won't require surgery. ... DL Anthony Lanier (lower leg) did not practice Wednesday, and DE Ricky Jean Francois (knee), LT Ty Nsekhe (ankle), RG Brandon Scherff (ankle) and LB Terence Garvin (shoulder) were limited.

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