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Opposition Intelligence and Research, Week 10: Washington Edition

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A statistical look at Minnesota’s opponent on Sunday, the Washington Redskins

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Washington Redskins
The Vikings wide receiver group will be facing a talented cornerback group when they face the Redskins in Week 10.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Hey all! So this is a new feature that I wrote for this game that I’m hoping to continue in the future. It’s long, but it’s a (hopefully) quality statistical look at what Washington has done so far and what we can expect from them on Sunday on both sides of the ball. I did write parts of this after midnight, so please do point out any mistakes you come across. And away we go!

Mediocrity has been the name of the game for the Washington Redskins in recent years. For the last three seasons, the only season they have been above .500 after eight games was last season, and that’s only because they tied the Bengals to go 4-3-1. This year hasn’t seen much different from Washington, as they’ve gone 4-4 so far this season. The Vikings travel to Washington to their field of death to take on the ‘Skins this Sunday, so let’s take a look at how Washington’s season has gone so far. Stats come from Football Outsiders and Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.

Schedule

Seems only right to start with Washington’s schedule. Depending on how much credence you give to the stat strength of schedule, Washington has faced the toughest schedule so far this season. They’ve faced the Eagles twice (Week 1 and 7, lost Week 1 17-30 and Week 7 24-34), the Rams (beat them in LA 27-20), Kansas City (lost 20-29 in KC), Cowboys (lost 19-33 at home), Seahawks (17-14 win in Seattle), Oakland (27-10 home win) and the 49ers (26-24 win at home).

So it’s been an up-and-down season to say the least for Washington. Their two most impressive wins are easily their victories over the Rams and Seahawks, both coming on the road and in one-score games. They faced the Chiefs before the Kansas City defense and offense started sputtering, so that loss is a little understandable. They were badly outplayed by both the Eagles and Cowboys in two of their three most recent games, which leaves them an 0-3 divisional record and they just barely beat the 49ers. Basically, it’s hard to know what version of the Redskins you’re gonna get on a daily basis.

Most recent game

Washington is coming off a fairly impressive win that Vikings will remember as the game where the wheels really came off of Blair Walsh’s tenure with the Seahawks (for however much longer that lasts). As much as could be said about the Skins for hanging on for the three-point win, this was a game where the Seahawks shot themselves in the foot on a repeated basis.

The Seahawks totaled an absurd 16 penalties for 138 yards, Russell Wilson threw two picks but probably should have thrown four or five, Blair Walsh missed three field goals and the Seahawks failed to convert two separate two-point conversions. So yeah, the Skins were lucky they walked away with a win at all, because the opportunities were there for this to be a blowout loss for the Skins.

The final drive that the Tweet above mentions was a four play, 70-yard drive that took all of 35 seconds where the Redskins scored the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard run by running back Rob Kelley (more on him later). Even with that touchdown, the game still came down to the Redskins having to bat down a Hail Mary in the end zone for the victory.

Washington’s leading rusher for the game was running back Chris Thompson, who rushed four times for 20 yards. Tight end Vernon Davis led the Skins in receiving yardage with six catches for 72 yards.

So that’s a little on what the Skins have done recently. But what should the Vikings be looking for when the two teams tangle on Sunday?

Offense

Ground Game

The Washington Redskins have had an interesting time of it when trying to rush the ball so far in 2017. They’ve had games where they’ve combined to rush for 229 yards (vs. Rams in Week 2) and where they’ve failed to break 50 yards rushing (49 yards against the Cowboys in Week 8). Oh, and not a single runner of theirs has broken 80 yards in any game so far this year. So there’s more than a little collective success and failure.

Football Outsiders/PRF: Washington’s rushing game

Player Name Attempts Yards Yards per attempt Rushing touchdowns DYAR (Rank) DVOA (Rank) Fumbles
Player Name Attempts Yards Yards per attempt Rushing touchdowns DYAR (Rank) DVOA (Rank) Fumbles
Robert Kelley 58 184 3.2 3 10 (t-20) -4.6% (20) 0
Samaje Perine 57 175 3.1 0 -69 (32) -39.7% (33) 1
Chris Thompson 51 251 4.9 2 -1 (24) -9.3% (26) 1
Kirk Cousins 26 125 4.8 1 -6 (28) -18.2% (28) 3

So this is not a particularly effective ground game the Redskins have. They are 20th in attempts (205), tied for 22nd in rushing yards (789), tied for 13th in rushing touchdowns (6) and they’re 23rd in yards per attempt (3.8). Chris Thompson is currently Washington’s best running back and nearly 14 of his yards come off of one run. Kelley is their power back and is currently averaging just 3.2 yards per carry. I’m not particularly sure what role Perine has for them, but he’s not exactly been particularly effective.

Football Outsiders: Offensive Line

Washington's Offensive Line Adjusted line yards (Rank) Power success (Rank) Stuffed percentage (Rank) 2nd level yards (rank) Open field yards (Rank)
Washington's Offensive Line Adjusted line yards (Rank) Power success (Rank) Stuffed percentage (Rank) 2nd level yards (rank) Open field yards (Rank)
2017 3.87 (20) 54% (25) 19% (11) .98 (25) .53 (21)

Washington’s offensive line hasn’t helped them much either. They are below-average to terrible in every Football Outsiders stat except for stuffed percentage, which basically means that the offensive line has done well at keep running backs from being tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage, but has struggled to spring long runs (current longest run is 61 yards, next longest is 21 yards). Football Outsiders isn’t particularly complimentary of their running game in general, as their running game is given a grade of -19.6% DVOA, fifth-worst in the NFL.

Passing game

Washington’s passing game is similarly mediocre to its running game and the metrics have different opinions on their different units. The stats for their passing yardage is also more than a little strange. Oddly enough, the four wins of the Skins span their two most prolific passing days and their two lowest yardage passing games of the season. That’s right, their wins over the Raiders and 49ers saw Washington pass for 356 yards and 325 yards, respectively, their highest yardage totals through the air so far, and their wins over the Seahawks and the Rams saw them total 193 yards and 156 yards through the air, respectively. The four middle games between these four extremes are Washington’s losses, so their passing offense can be shut down for the most part and they can still win.

Washington Passing Game

Player Name Targets Receptions Yards Receiving touchdowns Catch % DYAR (Rank) DVOA (Rank) DPI Fumbles
Player Name Targets Receptions Yards Receiving touchdowns Catch % DYAR (Rank) DVOA (Rank) DPI Fumbles
Chris Thompson 46 35 453 3 76.10% 174 (1) 62.2% (2) 0 0
Jamison Crowder 43 28 272 0 65.10% -46 (66) -26.6% (67) 0 1
Terrelle Pryor 37 20 240 1 54.10% 23 (50) -5.0% (50) 1 for 4 yards 0
Jordan Reed 35 27 211 2 77.10% -14 (29) -13.1% (28) 0 1
Ryan Grant 33 24 254 2 72.70% 64 (N/A) 12.3% (N/A) 0 0
Vernon Davis 31 23 384 1 74.20% 69 (7) 29% (3) 0 1
Josh Doctson 22 11 189 3 50% 62 (N/A) 18.3% (N/A) 2 for 31 yards 0

So Washington’s passing offense has had different levels of efficacy this season. Their top two wide receivers by targets, Jamison Crowder and Terrelle Pryor, have been awful so far this season. The two have just four games combined with more than 50 receiving yards. Their backups, Ryan Grant and Josh Doctson, have been the more effective receivers according to Football Outsiders and they have five of Washington’s 13 receiving touchdowns on the season.

Their tight end group has also been up and down. Jordan Reed, considered by many as one of the best tight ends in the NFL (when he’s healthy) has been generally pretty bad. Vernon Davis, on the other hand, has legitimately been one of the best receiving tight ends in the NFL this season.

Running backs who can catch are where Washington makes its hay, with Football Outsider’s best receiving back in Chris Thompson in their backfield. He’s not much of a short yardage threat, but when Thompson is in the game, he’s a legitimate dual threat that’s up there with the best of the best. Thompson is Washington’s 3rd down back and neither Kelley or Perine has done much of anything out of the backfield, so there’s more than a bit of a tell; if they’re in the game, it’s either to pass block or to run the ball, not catch it (both have been targeted just ten times total for 44 yards and a touchdown).

As for their offensive line, they have been heavily injured and have been forced to play such players as human turnstyle T.J. Clemmings at tackle. As a result, they have allowed 22 sacks on the season, 15th-most in the NFL, with 15 of those sacks coming in just the last four weeks as their offensive line has been hit with injuries. That gives them an adjusted sack rate of 7.7%, 19th in the NFL. If the Redskins want to do anything, they will be either forced to give Clemmings help or risk leaving him on an island and getting the ball out as fast as possible to negate Minnesota’s pass rush. And speaking of the player that gets the ball out quickly, let’s talk about Washington’s quarterback.

Quarterback

You wouldn’t know it because of Washington’s record, but Kirk Cousins has actually been playing okay this season.

Kirk Cousins

Player Name Comp./Att. (Comp. %) Yards TD/INT Y/A (Rank) AY/A (Rank) Quarterback rating QBR (Rank) NY/A (Rank) ANY/A (Rank) DYAR (Rank) DVOA (Rank)
Player Name Comp./Att. (Comp. %) Yards TD/INT Y/A (Rank) AY/A (Rank) Quarterback rating QBR (Rank) NY/A (Rank) ANY/A (Rank) DYAR (Rank) DVOA (Rank)
Kirk Cousins 182/268 (67.9%) 2147 13/4 8 (t-6) 8.3 (t-6) 102 60.5 (8) 6.74 (13) 7.02 365 (13) 7.9% (15)

He’s been accurate (fourth-best completion percentage in the NFL), has been getting the ball down the field and is playing at about an average level according to Football Outsiders’ metrics. Cousins has a fairly good supporting cast with a player who can catch jump balls in Doctson, athletic receiving tight ends in Davis and Reed and a talented receiving back and he’s in one of the more quarterback friendly systems under head coach Jay Gruden and Matt Cavanaugh. He’s not an easy quarterback to rattle, but he has had four games so far this season where he’s been sacked four or more times and he’s only 1-3 in those games, with the win coming last week against Seattle.

Cousins is easily the third-best quarterback the Vikings will have faced after Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees. Cousins, like most quarterbacks, is better at home than on the road. He’s got a career 67.4% completion percentage, 43 TD, has thrown four fewer picks (25 on the road, 21 at home), has a higher yards per attempt, higher adjusted yards per attempt, and a quarterback rating 6.3 points higher (98.1 at home, 91.8 on the road). So the Vikings will have their work cut out for them when facing Cousins.

Overall offensive efficiency

Both Pro Football Reference and Football Outsiders have their own ways of grading offensive efficiency. PFR does their efficiency rankings on the basis of averaging all drives out, Football Outsiders uses a per-dive focus that discards all take-a-knee drives at the end of halves.

PFR Efficiency

Organization Offensive scoring % (Rank) Offensive turnover % (Rank) Average starting field position (Rank) Average time of drive (Rank) Avg. # of plays per drive (Rank) Avg. # of yards per drive (Rank) Avg. points per drive (Rank)
Organization Offensive scoring % (Rank) Offensive turnover % (Rank) Average starting field position (Rank) Average time of drive (Rank) Avg. # of plays per drive (Rank) Avg. # of yards per drive (Rank) Avg. points per drive (Rank)
Pro Football Reference 34.8% (18) 13% (10) Own 29.5 (9) 2:39 (14) 5.55 (21) 29.4 (16) 1.87 (13)

Football Outsiders Efficiency

Organization Yards per drive (Rank) Points per drive (Rank) Avg. starting field position (Rank) Plays per drive (Rank) TOP per drive (Rank) Drive Success Rate (Rank) Touchdowns per drive (Rank) Field goals per drive (Rank) Punts per drive (Rank) 3&Outs per drive (Rank) Average field position after kickoff (Rank) Pts. per red zone drive (Rank) TDs per red zone drive (Rank) Avg. lead at the beginning of drives (Rank)
Organization Yards per drive (Rank) Points per drive (Rank) Avg. starting field position (Rank) Plays per drive (Rank) TOP per drive (Rank) Drive Success Rate (Rank) Touchdowns per drive (Rank) Field goals per drive (Rank) Punts per drive (Rank) 3&Outs per drive (Rank) Average field position after kickoff (Rank) Pts. per red zone drive (Rank) TDs per red zone drive (Rank) Avg. lead at the beginning of drives (Rank)
Football Outsiders 30.12 (17) 1.93 (13) 28.4 (13) 5.71 (19) 2:44 (13) .676 (18) .213 (11) .146 (17) .416 (17) .213 (9) 25.07 (15) 4.88 (13) .560 (14) 1.54 (7)

Like basically the entire rest of their offense, Washington’s efficiency marks are almost aggressively middle of the road. If there’s one stat they end up being good in, there’s usually a stat or two going the other way that helps balance it all out.

Now that I’ve taken a look at their offense and what it brings to the table, let’s take a look at their defense and see what it brings to the table.

Defense

Run Defense

We shall start with the running game on the other side of the ball.

Washington Run D, pt. 1

Team Attempts against (Rank) Rushing yards against (Rank) Rushing touchdowns against (Rank) Yards per attempt (Rank) Rush defense DVOA (Rank)
Team Attempts against (Rank) Rushing yards against (Rank) Rushing touchdowns against (Rank) Yards per attempt (Rank) Rush defense DVOA (Rank)
Washington 210 (15) 884 (16) 6 (18) 4.2 (22) -13.4% (13)

I would say that, like much of their offense, the initial look at their run defense is that it’s slightly below average, especially in yards per attempt allowed. Let’s take a deeper look at their run defense with a deeper dive into Football Outsiders.

Washington run D, pt. 2

Adjusted line yards (Rank) Power success (Rank) Stuffed (Rank) 2nd Level Yards (Rank) Open Field Yards (Rank)
Adjusted line yards (Rank) Power success (Rank) Stuffed (Rank) 2nd Level Yards (Rank) Open Field Yards (Rank)
4.62 (28) 73% (26) 18% (26) 1.05 (13) .32 (4)

What this table here is saying is that these stats are an indicator that the Redskins run a 3-4 defense.

A low ranking in Adjusted Line Yards with a high ranking in Open Field Yards is often an indicator of a 3-4 defensive scheme, though there are exceptions.

The Redskins are absolutely terrible up front against the run. They let teams beat them in key short yardage situations, they don’t have much talent at stopping running backs at or behind the line of scrimmage and they struggle in general to score losses. But, as Football Outsiders says when describing the 2nd level and open field stats, when they are lower that means your linebackers and secondary are very good at tackling and ball pursuit.

Pass Defense

Speaking of ball pursuit, the Redskins have (what else) a mid-range passing defense despite the large amounts of talent they have.

Washington pass D, pt. 1

Attempts/Completions/Comp. % (Rank) Passing yards against (Rank) Passing touchdowns against (Rank) Interceptions (Rank) Net yards per attempt (Rank) Passing DVOA (Rank) Adjusted sack rate (Rank)
Attempts/Completions/Comp. % (Rank) Passing yards against (Rank) Passing touchdowns against (Rank) Interceptions (Rank) Net yards per attempt (Rank) Passing DVOA (Rank) Adjusted sack rate (Rank)
165/271 (17)/~61% 1811 (16) 12 (17) 8 (9) 6.2 (18) -2.2% (11) 8% (t-11)

Pro Football Reference has Washington entering Sunday’s game with nine of their players having collected sacks, a fairly impressive number considering the depth of roster it takes to pull that off (Yes, the Vikings also have nine players with at least one sack).

Washington defenders

Player Solo tackles Assisted tackles Sacks Passes defensed
Player Solo tackles Assisted tackles Sacks Passes defensed
Ryan Kerrigan 14 8 6 1
Preston Smith 16 4 4.5 1
Matthew Ioannidis 6 8 3.5 0
Zach Brown 57 29 2.5 0
Terrell McClain 16 3 2 0
D.J. Swearinger 29 7 1 4
Junior Galette 7 2 1 1
Mason Foster 22 8 0.5 1
Kendall Fuller 20 6 0 5
Quinton Dunbar 20 2 0 7
Bashaud Breeland 18 4 0 7
Josh Norman 16 7 0 5

Talent is definitely not lacking on this Washington defense. Josh Norman is PFF’s #18 cornerback (82.8), Ryan Kerrigan is PFF’s #31 edge defender (81.4) and Zach Brown is PFF’s #15 linebacker (81.8). That doesn’t even mention corner Bashaud Breeland who is particularly talented in coverage. That said, despite all this talent, Washington remains a middle of the road defense.

Defensive efficiency

Washington’s defensive efficiency is a little more below-average than the rest of the team I’ve covered to this point and I’ll be once again using both Pro Football Reference and Football Outsiders to look at the team’s efficiency.

PFR defensive efficiency

Organization Scoring % (Rank) Turnover % (Rank) Avg. defensive starting field position (Rank) Avg. drive time allowed (Rank) Plays allowed per drive (Rank) Yards allowed per drive (Rank) Avg. points per drive (Rank)
Organization Scoring % (Rank) Turnover % (Rank) Avg. defensive starting field position (Rank) Avg. drive time allowed (Rank) Plays allowed per drive (Rank) Yards allowed per drive (Rank) Avg. points per drive (Rank)
Pro Football Reference 35.8% (12) 12.6% (12) Own 30.6 (29) 2:29 (9) 5.6 (13) 28.1 (15) 1.83 (18)

So the numbers in this table are slightly deceiving. The 35.8% of drives that end in scoring for the Redskins defense is actually 12th-worst in the NFL, not 12th-best. Though that stat is flipped around, the average defensive starting position ranking is not, so the Vikings should be able to score some points on the Redskins and do so off of shorter fields than usual. Turnover percentage is read the way it’s listed, so the Redskins do in fact take the ball away fairly often, something I’ll be discussing in just a little while.

Football Outsiders defensive efficiency

Organization Yards per drive allowed (Rank) Points per drive allowed (Rank) LOS per drive (Rank) Plays allowed per drive (Rank) Time of possession allowed per drive (Rank) Drive Success Rate against (Rank) Touchdowns allowed per drive (Rank) Field goals allowed per drive (Rank) Punts per drive (Rank) 3&Outs forced per drive Points allowed per red zone trip (Rank) Touchdowns allowed per red zone trip (Rank)
Organization Yards per drive allowed (Rank) Points per drive allowed (Rank) LOS per drive (Rank) Plays allowed per drive (Rank) Time of possession allowed per drive (Rank) Drive Success Rate against (Rank) Touchdowns allowed per drive (Rank) Field goals allowed per drive (Rank) Punts per drive (Rank) 3&Outs forced per drive Points allowed per red zone trip (Rank) Touchdowns allowed per red zone trip (Rank)
Football Outsiders 27.84 (11) 1.91 (19) 30.52 (30) 5.74 (15) 2:35 (13) .677 (16) .198 (16) .176 (23) .396 (22) .242 (19) 5.21 (28) .583 (22)

Football Outsiders has a few good insights as well into what has caused the mediocrity of the Redskins defense. FO confirms that the Redskins do allow their opponents good starting positions which has tended to cost them. They allow an average amount of touchdowns but a higher-than-average number of field goals, which usually implies a defense that toughens up when the opposing team reaches the red zone. The opposite is actually true here, as Washington is fifth-worst in points allowed when teams reach the red zone and allows the 11th-most touchdowns to teams when they reach the red zone.

They force a slightly below-average number of 3 and outs and have the 11th-fewest punts per drive forced. So Washington’s defense, at least by these numbers, is largely a bend but don’t break defense that has issues in preventing touchdowns in key situations (something backed up by their rankings in defensive line power success. What has been the driving force in keeping Washington from being a better offensive and defensive team despite the players they have? Turnovers.

Turnovers

Turnovers are something that can separate an average team from the top of the league teams. The best teams in the NFL have an offense that suppresses turnovers and an opportunistic defense that forces plenty of turnovers to give its offense a better chance. The Redskins, owners of a -2 mark in the take/give column, are an average team because of their turnover issues. Fumbles especially have given Washington issues, as you will see in the chart below.

Washington turnovers

Side of ball Interceptions (Rank) Fumbles (Rank) Give/take (PFR) Turnover % (Rank) (FO) Turnovers per drive Interceptions per drive (Rank) Fumbles per drive (Rank)
Side of ball Interceptions (Rank) Fumbles (Rank) Give/take (PFR) Turnover % (Rank) (FO) Turnovers per drive Interceptions per drive (Rank) Fumbles per drive (Rank)
Offense 4 (5) 10 (32) 14 giveaways 13% (10) .124 (20) .045 (6) .079 (32)
Defense 8 (9) 4 (18) 12 takeaways 12.6% (12) .132 (13) .088 (9) .044 (16)

The fumbling stat is a little surprising, because Washington has one of the higher catch percentages in the NFL; they have seven different players who have caught more than 70% of their targets this season (Vikings have just three: CJ Ham, Jet and Murray). According to Pro Football Reference, the Redskins have fumbled 20 times this season, which means they have are splitting fumble recoveries 50/50 with their opponents so far.

Kirk Cousins and Jamison Crowder in particular have been having ball security issues. Cousins has fumbled nine times so far this season and has lost four of those fumbles, so strip-sacks should absolutely be in play for any and all Minnesota pass rushers this Sunday.

Let’s move onto the final side of the ball, the only one yet to be covered: special teams.

Special Teams

Washington has had the unlucky fortune of having to replace their kicker partway through their season. Their starting kicker, Dustin Hopkins, suffered a torn hip muscle during Washington’s win over the 49ers and the Skins brought in second-year kicker Nick Rose to fill in.

Washington kickers

Player 0-19 FGA/FGM 20-29 FGA/FGM 30-39 FGA/FGM 40-49 FGA/FGM 50+ FGA/FGM
Player 0-19 FGA/FGM 20-29 FGA/FGM 30-39 FGA/FGM 40-49 FGA/FGM 50+ FGA/FGM
Dustin Hopkins 1/1 4/4 1/1 3/3 0/2
Nick Rose 0 2/2 1/2 1/1 0

Rose has done okay to replace Hopkins in his limited chances, and his one miss thus far was on a blocked field goal that the Cowboys almost took to the house. He has also yet to attempt a field goal of longer than 50 yards, so his ability (or lack thereof) to kick from distance could certainly be a wild factor in Sunday’s matchup.

ESPN: Washington punter

Player Punts (Rank) Punt yards (Rank) Longest punt (Rank) Average punt (Rank) Net punt length (Rank) Blocked punts (Rank) Punts inside the 20 (Rank) Touchbacks (Rank) Fair catches (Rank) Punts returned (Rank) Punt return yardage (Rank) Punt return avg. yards
Player Punts (Rank) Punt yards (Rank) Longest punt (Rank) Average punt (Rank) Net punt length (Rank) Blocked punts (Rank) Punts inside the 20 (Rank) Touchbacks (Rank) Fair catches (Rank) Punts returned (Rank) Punt return yardage (Rank) Punt return avg. yards
Tress Way 37 (t-18) 1636 (19) 62 (t-15) 44.2 (26) 38.5 (29) 0 (t-1) 14 (t-16) 3 (t-6) 12 (t-7) 17 (16) 153 (11) 9 (12)

As for Washington’s punting game, Tress Way is basically a replacement-level punter in the NFL. Or at least he plays like one in Washington’s punting game. He’s not particularly great at much, but he’s also not bad at much. While average punt length is subjective in so many ways, the net punting stat is one of the few important stats in the punting game. It takes into account how many yards you punted and takes away the yardage your opponent returned your punt for. If you have a low net punt length, that’s usually an indicator that your punting game can give up returns on occasion. As Way’s punts have apparently allowed opponents the 11th-most return yardage in the league, that’s more or less borne out.

Overall there’s not a whole lot to take away from Washington’s special teams game. They aren’t anywhere near as good as Baltimore’s was and their punting team is capable of giving up some longer returns. Look for Marcus Sherels to be nice and aggressive on Sunday to try and take advantage of that.

Conclusion

This is an aggressively average Washington Redskins team the Vikings will be playing on Sunday. Their record may be just 4-4, but they have shown themselves capable of stymieing quality teams like the Seahawks and Rams. Injuries will play a huge part in this game, and if Washington’s offensive line remains as beat up as they have over the last few games, the Vikings will have a great shot to eliminate Washington’s running game entirely and focus on the passing game.

I think prognosticators are right to call this a 50/50 game, but if the Vikings can play clean (aka limit penalties), they don’t turn the ball over and they take advantage of Washington’s ball security issues, they should be able to escape FedEx Field with a win on Sunday.

Stat sites used:

Washington Redskins PFR

Football Outsiders (multiple sites on the site)