The whimpering 3-4 Washington Redskins return home to Fed Ex Field on Sunday, to face one of the biggest surprises of the 2011 NFL season, the 6-1 San Francisco 49ers. Two teams heading in different directions, but with the same goals, earning a tough NFL win.
What a difference a year and a coach have made for the 49ers, who were a disappointing 6-10 last year under Mike Singletary. He was fired immediately following the season, and San Francisco hired Jim Harbaugh away from Stanford. He has wasted little time in proving that he can make the jump to the NFL - the 49ers are already running away from a weak NFC West, with a four game advantage or more over everyone, just seven games into the season.
The Redskins on the other hand, are reeling. After an impressive, yet now seemingly bloated, 3-1 start to the season, they have dropped their last three and have looked worse and worse in each of those three games. That futility (hopefully) culminated in an embarrassing 23-0 shutout performance in Canada against the Bills last week. The Redskins are decimated with injuries, and that has exposed their overall lack of depth; but they executed poorly on top of that as well.
The 49ers secret to offensive success is simple - run Frank Gore and then run him some more. See the key player match-up below for details, but make no bones about it, San Francisco counts on, and will be counting on, Gore to shoulder the load on Sunday. The 49ers have to rely on their 6th ranked run game, because their passing offense is the second worst in the league. At 171.4 yards per game, only the Jacksonville Jaguars are gaining fewer yards through the air than San Francisco. They are 31st in the league in passing yards, which is actually more than 50 yards per game less than the Redskins passing offense.
Alex Smith is ranked 24th overall in yardage with 1,267 yards, and that would appear to be about last for quarterbacks that have played a full compliment of games. As a barometer, Rex Grossman has just 135 yards fewer than Smith, and he hasn't played for 3 games, and didn't play that well when he did. So if you use just those numbers, it would appear that Smith has struggled; but those numbers are deceiving when you look a little deeper. Smith may have few yards, but it isn't because he's playing badly, it's because San Francisco never throws the ball. Smith has just 182 attempts through seven games, which is an average of just 26 attempts per game. His 7.0 yard per pass average is a more respectable 18th in the league, and his 63.2% completion percentage is actually good enough for 8th. So don't look at the 49ers passing offense and assume that they are ineffective, they just rely on running the ball a lot more than passing. Even with 137.6 rushing yards per game, San Fran is only putting up a shade over 300 yards per game total (309), which is 23rd in the NFL. So they haven't won six games on the strength of their offense alone.
The 49ers defense ranks 10th overall in team defense for yards allowed, but they are actually number one overall against the run. They are also 7th overall in sacks. Patrick Willis, rookie Aldon Smith and the rest of the San Fran defense will be licking their chops to get after John Beck after seeing the Bills rack up 10 sacks last week. Add to that, Carlos Rogers returns to D.C. for the first time, and he will be hungry. Rogers couldn't wait to get out of Washington at the end of 2010, slighted by the big contract DeAngelo Hall received, and feeling generally under-appreciated. He has played terrific for the 49ers this year, and will be looking to have a big day against his old team. Check the match-ups below for details on Rogers, as well as the 49ers run defense and pass rush.
Washington will be looking to Beck again this week, his third consecutive start, in the hopes that he can put on a much better show than last week. He wasn't responsible for all of the 10 sacks that he endured, but neither were the patch-work offensive line in front of him. As a matter of fact, there were a couple of sacks that were neither's fault; there just wasn't much daylight between any of the Redskins receivers and the Bills that were covering them. It took a collective effort from all to put on as bad a display as the Redskins offense put on. Beck's numbers reflect just that - while he threw for 208 yards, when you subtract the yards lost for sacks (56), that net total goes down to 152 yards, and a chunk of those came in garbage time. With the amount of line-up changes, another week of practice should help Beck and the Redskins offense improve their efficiency. Shouldn't it? See the match-ups below for more information on Beck.
Ryan Torain racked up an incredibly unremarkable 14 yards on 8 carries against the 49ers - and he led all Redskins. Roy Helu didn't even get a carry, as the Redskins ran the ball just 12 times, and 3 of those were Beck scrambles. So that's nine running plays that the Redskins called. Washington will need to be able to run the ball against San Francisco on Sunday, despite the fact that the 49ers are the league's best run stuffers. The Redskins were so unimpressed with last week's running game that they made a roster move this week, check the match-ups below for more information.
Trent Williams probably won't go this week, but he's getting close. he did participate in practice this week, albeit in limited capacity. The fact that he's practicing at all does indicate he will be back soon, which is good news for the Redskins offense. Sean Locklear struggled in his place last week, and got no blocking help to boot. The Redskins have also said that they would move Will Montgomery back to Center when Williams returns, so at least 80% of the starting line-up would be back in place. In the meantime, Washington will have to make do with what they have, and hopefully they can improve upon last week. Can you do worse than 10 sacks?
With the Redskins offense struggling, nay, dead in it's tracks, Washington will be counting on their defense to keep them in the game on Sunday. While the unit has fallen off the last few weeks, they will need to get back on track this week to have any chance at all. Unfortunately, stopping Gore has been near impossible for anyone, even when teams know it's coming. Gore is less effective when the opposition sneaks an eighth man up into the box, so look for LaRon Landry to have a busy day. He's been near dormant since a big first game return from injury, and the Redskins could really use a 2010-like performance from him against San Francisco.
If the Redskins are going to sneak a man up into the box, then the coverage in the secondary is also going to have to be better than it has been the last two weeks. Neither DeAngelo Hall or Josh Wilson have been particularly effective of late, and while the 49ers pass offense isn't counted on for much, shutting it down and making them completely one-dimensional, will help. Oshimogho Atogwe is banged up beyond recognition, but should be able to go. Will Phillip Buchanon make his 2011 debut? Kevin Barnes struggled last week, and the secondary could use the boost.
London Fletcher stuck out like a sore thumb against the Bills, with 20 tackles, he was one of the few Redskins that showed up in Canada to play. He will be in for a tough day stopping Gore, but he is integral in the match-up. As a matter of fact, all of the Redskins linebackers will need to step up and play tough. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan will have less opportunities to do what they do best, rush the passer, by virtue of the fact that Smith might only drop back 20-25 times. Both will need to be disciplined, stay in their lanes, and be aggressive running down run plays from the backside.
If the Redskins defense can hold down the San Fran run game, and not get behind early, then they will at least have a chance to get their own running game into gear. With an offense that is so banged up, clock management and eating as much clock as you can, become as or more important than ever. The Redskins aren't going to air it out against anybody right now, so the longer they can make each drive, the more they can wear down the 49ers defense, the more of a chance they will have to win this game.
Kyle Shanahan hasn't shown much of a propensity to stick with the run, and the proof is in the results, the offense has been abysmal. Will the coaching staff take a look at the pieces they have in front of them and call a better suited game plan, or will they continue to try and force a square peg into a round hole?
Here are this week's match-ups:
Frank Gore vs Washington's run-stuffers? By Grant Paulsen
Beating the San Francisco 49ers isnít easy. Thatís why six of their seven opponents have failed. But that doesnít mean that teams donít know how to beat San Francisco. The way to stop them is easy: you have to stop the run. Executing a defensive scheme to get Frank Gore to the ground without letting him accumulate yardage is the hard part.
The 49ers run for an average of 137.6 yards per game, sixth-best in football. But only four teams actually run the ball more than San Francisco does (30.6 times per game). Theyíre going to try to pound the ball on the Redskins on Sunday. If the Redskins shut the run down they will win. If Washington canít stop the run theyíll lose.
In their last four games the 49ers have rushed 39 times for 174 yards, 29 times for 203 yards, 36 times for 213 yards and 25 times for 164 yards. The teams they played in those four games (the Browns, Lions, Bucs and Eagles) knew what was coming and still couldnít get stops.
Stuffing Gore and the 49ers rushing attack means quarterback Alex Smith has to beat you. Heís not going to beat anybody. He throws for an average of 171 yards per game (31st best in football). Iíll repeat this one more time: stop the run and you stop the 49ers.
Redskins Running Game vs 49ers defense By Andre Mitchell
If youíre one of the fans begging Kyle Shanahan to stick to the run, you may be in for another disappointing week. The 49ers are number one in the NFL at stopping the run, only allowing 73.4 yards per game on the ground. Thatís 12 less yards than the next best team (Cincinnati).
The Redskins claimed former Dallas Cowboys RB Tashard Choice off of waivers this week to hopefully add something to the run game with Tim Hightower out for the year. Ryan Torain hasnít been able to get anything going since a great performance against the Rams. A beat up offensive line hasnít helped him much either, but it may be time to see what the rookie Roy Helu can do with extended carries. No matter whom the back is this week it will be a challenging task to generate a solid ground game against the 49ers.
The 49ers boast two tackling machines at middle linebacker in their base 3-4 defense with Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Not only are the 49ers stuffing running backs in the ground game, theyíre knocking some of them out of games! Felix Jones, LeGarrette Blount and Jahvid Best have all been injured and not been able to return to the game against the 49ers.
The Redskins can ill-afford another injury at the RB position and newcomer Tashard Choice is battling injuries from earlier this year, and won't likely see action this week. Iíd like to see some stretch run plays for Helu and get those offensive linemen out there to block those MLBís to try and get Helu to the second level of the defense; but realistically, I donít see the Redskins getting a consistent ground game going in this game.
John Beck vs SF Pass Rush By Justin Partlow
This weeks match-up has John Beck going up against the surprisingly good San Francisco pass rush. Headed by Aldon Smith, San Francisco has been able to keep QBís in check and generate turnovers. John Beck on the other hand struggled against pressure last week and was part of the reason behind Buffalo having 10 sacks (no thatís not a typo).
This week Beck has to have better pocket presence and thereís no other way to put it than that. Last week we saw Beck step up into the pass rush instead of using his mobility to his advantage. What Beck has to do this week especially on passing downs is show the pass ability the whole time to SF, and not sell off to rush too easily. Last week against Buffalo, Beck would scramble early in the play before letting some of the routes develop and that allowed Buffalo to basically tee off on him to get the sacks. Now were all the sacks his fault? No the offensive line didnít help him out either, by allowing pressure that easily. For Washington to win this week, Beck will need to make the clutch throws with pressure in his face and prove that he can be a QB in this league
Now lets go to SF. Led by 3 guys in Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith and Justin Smith, the 49ers pass rush is much improved this year with 21 sacks so far. The biggest cog has been the emergence of rookie Aldon Smith. Regarded by some as a "reach" at the time to San Francisco, heís proven doubters wrong with a huge October registering 6 sacks and playing on a different level. Washington needs to keep an eye on Smith the whole game and not allow him to come untouched at Beck, or else it could be a long game. Justin Smith has been a perfect 3-4 DE fit for them and is a good run stopper and has provided a nice pass rush as well. The other guy turning heads is Ahmad Brooks, who after being a guy who seemed to be on his way out of the league, has turned it around and been very effective as a 3-4 OLB. Now does SF have a pass rush that is tops in the game? No, but they do have a formidable duo who can generate a pass rush and make QBís uncomfortable the whole game.
This matchup comes down to two things really, can Beck feel the pass rush, and will SF generate a consistent pass rush? Sadly I like SF to win that matchup, and its only because Beck hasnít proven to be able to feel the pass rush and adjust to it. If he does it this week, heíll prove a lot of people wrong, and could help the Redskins win a big game against the 49ers.
Carlos Rogers vs Redskins Wide Receivers By Emmanual Benton
Carlos Rogers is making his first trip to Fed Ex Field as a visitor this week. Rogers vs Washington's WR's will be a highly anticipated matchup, mostly due to his 6 year tenure with the Redskins ending on a sour note. The change of scenery seems to be working well for Carlos; he's having an outstanding season thus far. He hasn't made many mistakes, and apparently has learned how to seize opportunities when footballs hit his hands.
In 7 games, Carlos Rogers has 3 interceptions. To help you understand how significant that is, here's his numbers as a Redskin:
Math isn't my subject, but it doesn't take a genius to notice Carlos averages 4 interceptions every 3 years! So priority #1, don't allow this guy to get an interception this Sunday.
The Redskins have had some injuries at the WR position, and must rely on their youth to make plays. Carlos Rogers moves around a lot, so it wouldn't be a surprise if he matches up a few times with each of Washington's receivers. After speaking to a couple of 49er fans, they informed me that Rogers is by far their best cover corner, and has become very difficult to beat. I was told the only way he's been beaten this season is when the 9ers line up in cover 2, giving receivers an oppurtunity to beat the safeties on "deep out" routes.
Washington need to utilize Leonard Hankerson and Niles Paul's, size/speed, in order to have a chance at making plays. Hankerson is coming off his first career catch for 23 yards, and hopes to add on to that, this week. It's obvious, they want to use him as a deep threat, which is needed for this matchup. Against the Panthers, Niles Paul had 2 receptions averaging 12.5 yds a catch, which shows his ability to move the chains.
This doesn't seem like a favorable matchup for the Redskins; however, with Washington forced to use their young guys in Hankerson, Paul, and Terrance Austin, their hunger and drive to prove themselves worthy of playing time, could bring a little optimism.
Special Note: You can check out the guys that make this article possible tonight on Brian Mitchell's Tailgate Show on Bmitchlive.com at 7pm. We hope you'll check out the show and let us know what you think.