Week 2: Skinning the Birds
Coming off a close but confident win over a quality team missing their quarterback, the Redskins find themselves entering a very similar match up. The Atlanta Falcons, a high powered playoff team that won in Lambeau field in the 2002 playoffs, limps into this game injury filled at key positions. Similar to the Jets, the Falcons star player, Mike Vick, is out. Instead of getting a veteran past his prime, the Redskins will go against relatively inexperienced Doug Johnson at the Falcon QB spot. Additionally, the Vickless Falcons have sustained a number of injuries to other key players, including their number 2 wide-out Brian Finneran, starting safeties Cory Hall, and Keion Carpenter, and backup DB Todd McBride. Linebackers Sam Rogers and Will Overstreet both practiced but are questionable. If ever there was a time for the Redskins to beat the Falcons, this is it.
Both teams view this game as a potential "easy win" in an otherwise difficult front-loaded schedule. The Falcons are trying to hold down the fort until Vick is back while both teams have a solid string of tough playoff caliber teams on their schedule through November. While the second week is never a "Must win," this game is truly pivotal for two teams who might be competing for the final wild card spot come December.
The Falcons' strength on defense is the pass rush of their front seven. Anchored by defensive end Patrick Kerney, the Falcons' 3-4 defensive scheme pass rush was 4th in total sacks last year (47). On offense, they have a relatively average offensive line that does better against the run than the pass. Vick's stand in, Doug Johnson, is better on the deep ball than on shorter passes, but can be efficient if given time. Warrick Dunn is an explosive but small running back who has home run potential. Although injured and young, their receiving corps led by Peerless Price has real playmaker capabilities. The Falcons' special teams play has the potential to be dominating. They regularly expect to get better field position than their competition.
The Falcon's "weak link" is definitely their pass defense. With key injuries to their starting safeties, poor quality corner backs and linebackers that don't excel in pass coverage, the Falcons compensate by heavily relying on their blitzing and stunting packages. The Falcons know if they do not get pressure on Ramsey, the redskins will be a scoring machine.
The Redskins have one of the premier linebacking corps in the NFL and an abundance of speed at all the skilled positions. Champ Bailey anchors one of the top NFL secondaries, while the wide receiver corps is especially dangerous with two 1000+ yard speedy, solid route running receivers. Although the Redskins' offensive line had some breakdowns in pass protection last week, it has the potential to be among the best in the league. The Redskins' weak link is the defensive line. While they held up especially well against the Jets, they did not pressure the quarterback. Questions about their run stopping ability still linger.
Keys to Victory
Running Game: Both teams have question marks in their running games. The Skins let All-Pro Stephen Davis go in the hopes of relying on the relatively untested Trung Canidate and Ladell Betts. While this tandem worked wonders in the Jets game, racking up 123 yards on the ground, it remains to be seen how effective they will be over the course of the season. While Warrick Dunn has home run potential, he is not as productive on short runs and does not run well between the tackles. More worrisome for Falcons fans is 254 pound bruiser, T.J. Duckett, who has not lived up to his first round potential and regularly misses key blocks.
Because both Ramsey and DJ are still young and inexperienced, they will need a solid running game to take pressure off the quarterback position. Neither will stand up to a full game of grilling without solid running support. The team that runs better will in all likelihood also have the best passing game. If one team far exceeds the other in running game, look for them to be the victor.
Redskins Offensive Line Versus The Falcons Pass Rush: To be successful, the Redskins offensive line must contain the very formidable stunts and blitz packages that Wade Phillips, the Falcons Defensive Coordinator will throw at them. If the offensive line can limit the breakdowns, look for Ramsey to have a career passing day against a very vulnerable Falcons pass defense. Expect to see a number of dump-offs and outlet passes to the running backs and receivers to negate the pass rush. If the Falcons win this battle convincingly, expect to see a lot of Ramsey interceptions and ultimately a loss for the Redskins.
Falcons Passing Attack Versus The Redskins Defense: While Peerless Price is the Falcons' top rated receiver, the Redskins have spent more prep time gaming for Tight End Alge Crumpler, who is coming off a monster game with 5 catches for 94 yards. The Falcons will also heavily utilize Warrick Dunn in pass catching situations out of the backfield. Unfortunately, the Redskins pass defense will not benefit from a solid pass rush. Look for the Reskins to stay in man-to-man coverage with Bailey shadowing Price and Matt Bowen and company covering Crumpler. Perhaps the most pivotal match up could turn out to be Smoot on Quentin McCord, who had a breakout game late last year against the lions (7-182-TD in week 16). If Bailey and Smoot can contain Price and McCord, the Falcons will have to rely solely on Dunn and Crumpler for their offensive production.
Special Teams Play: the Falcons have the edge here, but while certainly helpful, this will not prove to be a game breaker unless the Skins self-destruct and give up the big play. The Redskins need to limit penalties and huge run backs while maintaining consistency in field position and field goals.
Penalties, Mistakes and Miscues: Like the Jets last week, the Falcons are a battle tested team that knows how to win under pressure. Look for the Falcons to play a clean game with few turnovers. If they do turn the ball over, the most likely scenario is a Doug Johnson interception to Fred Smoot, who will be covering the good, but inexperienced Quentin McCord. The Redskins execution is still sloppy both in turnovers and in penalties. To overcome this, the Redskins will need a big play from one of their many home run hitters. If the Redskins continue their sloppy play but do not get a home run or two, they will be lucky to come away with a win.
Overall, look for this to be a close game with both teams in the high teens to mid-twenties. If either team scores in the high twenties, look for them to have the win. TheHogs.net predict a 24-17 Redskins victory.
This article was released on 2003-09-13.
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