When the mighty 9-3 New England Patriots roll into Fed Ex Field looking for their first ever win in the nation's capital, it's admittedly tough to not see it coming this Sunday against this struggling 4-8 Redskins team. Mired in both a slump, and in turmoil, after losing two of their few remaining offensive bright spots, Washington look vulnerable and in danger of a repeat of the 2007 Pats debacle. Remember that? Bill Belichek's Patriots hung 52 on the Redskins, and handed them their most lopsided loss (52-7) since the AFL-NFL merger.
Tom Brady is having an incredible year. He already has 3,916 yards passing, and with 4 games remaining, is in a position to beat Dan Marino's NFL record for yards in a season. The only thing more remarkable is that Brady doesn't even lead the league, Drew Brees does with 4,031 yards. Brady has a gaudy 105.9 rating, and comes into the match-up with 30 touchdowns already under his belt. He has managed to compensate for the fact that the New England defense is amongst the league's worst, by putting up more than 30 points per game (30.2). On about a third of Brady's completion yards, league leading wide receiver Wes Welker has been on the other end. Check the match-ups below for more information on Welker versus the Redskins secondary.
Around the goal line, the Pats rely on tight end Rob Gronkowski - he had three touchdowns last week, including his 13th receiving TD to tie Vernon Davis (2009) and Antonio Gates (2004) for the single-season NFL record for tight ends. Comparatively, the Redskins' duo of Rex Grossman and John Beck have 12 touchdown passes combined total on the season.
Not only is the Redskins offense bad, it's going to likely be worse on Sunday. Washington lost Fred Davis and Trent Williams for the remainder of the season to drug suspensions, and there is a huge drop-off in talent as the Redskins go to the bench. Williams has been playing well at left tackle since returning from an injury, and there isn't even really a natural left tackle left on the bench to take his place; an unfortunate by-product of carrying 39 receivers. Sean Locklear got the call last time Williams went down in weeks seven and eight, but struggled, and is really better suited to the right side. The Redskins do also have undrafted rookie Willie Smith to call upon, but he has never played a down of NFL football. Drawing Andre Carter versus his former team for the first time, seems an unreasonable request of the young man. You can bet that Carter will be gunning all game long for his team-leading 10th sack in his return to Fed Ex. Check the match-ups below for thoughts on this battle.
At tight end, with Davis suspended, and Chris Cooley already on the injured reserve list, Logan Paulsen and Mike Sellers may split duty. Washington did re-sign TE Dominique Byrd this week, so he could also get a few looks. The tight end has been a valuable outlet to Grossman, who has struggled to find targets elsewhere down field.
There's no sugar-coating it, Grossman was awful last week. If he can't do better than 19 for 46 this week, the Redskins won't have much of a chance. He also turned over the ball twice - once on a fumble, and once on an interception - there's no room for any stupid turnovers this week against New England.
The real key to the Redskins offensive success on Sunday, is the same as every other week - try to take time off the clock. Roy Helu had his second consecutive 100-yard game last week, with exactly 100 yards on 23 carries. He also had what could have been a costly fumble, and like Grossman, cannot afford to hurt his team by putting the ball on the ground this week.
The Redskins offense as an entire unit has to run the ball better later in games. Teams are stacking the box to make Grossman beat them, and he just hasn't been able to. The loss of Williams and Davis will only further encourage teams to employ that strategy. Washington needs to eke out some success even when the Patriots have eight men up; they need to put together sustained drives; they need to keep Tom Brady off the field as much as they can.
The New England defense is their Achilles Heel. They are ranked dead last in the NFL, allowing an astounding 412 yards per game. The 310 yards passing they give up, is also the league's worst average. Exploiting this weakness is the only hope that the Redskins have, but they need to do so with patient drives, because getting into a shootout is not the solution, despite the Pats' defensive woes. New England is vulnerable in the secondary, namely at safety where last week against the Colts, they fielded wide receiver Matthew Slater and Nate Jones who they just picked up. The Patriots nearly blew a 28-point lead against the hapless Colts, so their defense can be and is, a major liability.
On the opposite side of the field, the Redskins defense held the Seahawks and Jets to an average of 258 yards the past two weeks, but those offenses are hardly Brady and the Patriots, and their 423.8 yards of offense per game. London Fletcher had 17 tackles last week for the Redskins, to move him into the lead as the NFL's top tackler with 124. At 36 years old, he continues to defy description, and leads into battle, a front seven that has put together a very good first 12 games. Please see the match-ups below.
The Redskins ninth-ranked defense have played well enough to keep the team in most games, and did again last week, until the final five minutes when they finally folded. Ultimately, they weren't able to pressure Mark Sanchez enough, and had no sacks; that will have to change dramatically this week, if Washington is going to have any hope. The Redskins defense have not allowed a 300-yard passing game yet this year, but can they slow down Brady?
It's nice to at least hope that special teams will be important - it would mean that the game was fairly tightly contested. Sav Rocca got hurt last week and while he will go on Sunday, his net yardage has dropped off slightly the last few weeks, and keep an eye on his distances to see if the injury to his plant leg is bothering him, and/or he is fatiguing at all from a very busy season. Graham Gano rebounded nicely against the Jets going 4 for 4, and needs to continue that trend this week. Brandon Banks has been hot and cold, and could really use a hot week this Sunday. Any spark at all, is a welcome boost to the struggling Redskins offense.
It's hard to look at Sunday's match-up and see much of a chance for the Redskins, but that's why they play the games. New England has never beat Washington in Washington, it's the only city left with that distinction for the Pats, which would mean a whole lot more if this wasn't just their third ever game in D.C.
Here are this week's key head-to-head match-ups:
WR Wes Welker vs Redskins Secondary By Andre Mitchell
This obviously will be a key match-up to focus on simply because Wes Welker is… well, Wes Welker. The guy only leads the NFL in receptions with 93 and leads the NFL in receiving yards by almost 200 yards. He's been Tom Brady's security blanket for years. The Redskins secondary that faces him will be a much different secondary than the one that faced him 4 years ago when he torched them on underneath routes with 9 receptions. Not much has changed in the way the Patriots use Welker since then, he makes his living on short passes and turning them into long gains. He also leads the NFL in yards after the catch with 574.
The Redskins secondary absolutely can't afford to play 10 yards off of Welker; this is noteworthy also because Welker leads the NFL in first downs this year with 59. Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall has a knack for play far off the receiver. Their best bet is to have Wilson or Hall play up and be physical with Welker all game and make the other receivers beat them. While the Redskins haven't been good in a lot of areas this year, they rank top 10 in pass defense. Despite the nagging injuries to both safeties, they are holding up quite well. Whoever gets the assignment of Welker will have a tough task but they must stay focused because Brady will look for him a lot, so the CB will have to consistently play physical with him and make him uncomfortable all game.
LT Sean Locklear vs DE Andre Carter By Emmanual Benton
With Trent Williams suspended for the remainder of the season, Sean Locklear will start at Left Tackle this week for the Washington Redskins. Unfortunately, Locklear has to face one of the better pass rushers in the league this season, Andre Carter. New England's stud Defensive End spent 5 years of his career in Washington, and had a few exceptional, pro bowl caliber seasons. However, with the Redskins switch to a 3-4 alignment last season, Carter was out of position and forced to play OLB. He was unable to do what he does best. His long arms, and combination of speed/power makes it difficult for offensive tackles to contain him. His burst off the line is outstanding, and in New England he's been able to utilize his talents.
Washington's veteran tackle, Sean Locklear will have a hard time containing Carter... Especially when Carter decides to bull rush, as opposed to using his speed. Locklear is athletic enough to keep Carter from bursting through the line, however, all Carter is going to do is utilize his long arms to set Locklear up for the bull rush. I'm sure the Redskins will attempt to "chip" Carter with another player in order to slow him down, but Locklear must keep his feet/leverage, or it's going to be a long day.
I believe this game will be won on the edges. If the Redskins are able to keep Carter out the backfield, they'll have a chance to move the ball on this 32nd ranked Defense.
Redskins Front Seven vs Patriots Offensive Line By: Justin Partlow
Heading into this week's matchup, the Washington Redskins front 7 has been playing very well this year. With the constant pressure applied by the DL and OLB's Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, Washington's defense has been a calling card the whole year. This week Washington will need to get constant pressure on Tom Brady and that Patriots Offens,e in order to have a chance to win. New England's OL has been playing better this year and it has led to Brady having a top-notch season.
Lets get to the Redskins Front 7 first. The 2 main guys behind the surge in sacks this year are obviously the two OLB's Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan has now gotten to the point that teams are respecting him to the point of double-teaming him on occasions. This then leads to 1v1 matchups for the rest of the DL and any blitzing LB's. Orakpo the last few weeks as well has shown an improvement in coverage. This is critical for him as he's trying to become a more complete player. Also let's talk about the play of LB Perry Riley. The man is a football player who makes plays. He finally broke through to the starting lineup and has made the most of his opportunities. Finally you have the DL of Carriker, Bowen, and Cofield, which has shown the ability to create pressure and not make it easy for opposing offensive lines. This Washington Front 7 under Haslett is playing very well and has the chance to have a major impact on the final score, and to do what they have to do to get constant pressure on Brady. If they allow Brady to sit back in the pocket and pick apart the zone and man coverage schemes this could be one long game.
The Patriots OL have been playing well enough to allow Brady to have probably the 2nd best season of his life. They are opening up holes for Green-Ellis to get TD's in the red zone. They are pass blocking. The addition of Nate Solder on the OL has helped a lot. Matt Light is hitting the twilight of his career now and has become a bit of a liability for them, but still is a solid player. The interior OL with Mankins is always going to be a good point for them. What they have to do this week vs Washington is not allow that DL to get pressure on Brady. If they can start to get pressure with just 3 guys, then you are going to open up the playbook for Jim Haslett. He will then become more creative and in an essence cause confusion for Tom Brady. If the Pats OL can keep the pressure off of Brady, then this can very well be a field day for him.
So who wins? I like the Redskins Front 7 to win this matchup as the game wears on. The Redskins' CBs will need to play very good coverage though, as Brady can still make the big plays with pressure in his face.