By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots (9-3) travel to the nation’s capital this weekend to take on the Washington Redskins (4-8) on Sunday afternoon. This is a matchup that doesn’t have a whole lot of history. The Pats and Skins have only met 8 times in their history with the last meeting in Foxboro during the 2007 season.
Washington is coming off a disappointing 34-19 loss where they gave up 21 points to the Jets in the fourth quarter. The Patriots had similar woes giving up 21 to Indy in the fourth quarter but held on to win 31-24.
The Patriots could win the division on Sunday with a win and a Jets loss so look for them to try to clinch the division and erase the bad taste in their mouths after a poor finish to last week. With that in mind it’s on to the matchups.
Patriots Running Game:
The Pats were expecting to be able to run effectively against a woeful Colts team last week and sputtered averaging less than 3 yards per rush. The Redskins are more of a difficult test but themselves have been somewhat inconsistent stopping the run.
One big matchup will be Matt Light against DE Stephen Bowen who is nicked up. Barry Cofield will get a lot of attention in the middle as well. The Skins have tackling machine London Fletcher in the middle who leads the league in tackles. The Patriots will try to get their OL to the second level and get to Fletcher and Perry Wiley without them making plays at the line of scrimmage.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen will have their work cut out for them again this week. The Patriots will be looking to get off to a much better start than their one possession in the first quarter last week and that starts with the running game.
Patriots Passing Game:
The Patriots passing game started slowly, heated up to the point of burning the Colts and then slowed down to very little in the fourth quarter. In other words, a very typical game against Indianapolis.
Washington has defended the pass well this year giving up only 208.8 yards per game and it all starts on the edge. The Redskins have two very good corners in DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson. They also have extremely good edge rushers in OLBs Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan who have 12.5 sacks combined. They force opposing QBs to step up to throw and as a result Cofield has eight passes defensed.
The Skins like the Patriots are dinged up at the safety position, LaRon Landry missed the game against the Jets with a groin injury and Oshiomogho Atogwe was slowed himself but played dealing with knee woes. Backup rookie DeJon Gomes and Reed Doughty were picked on by the Jets, especially in the 4th quarter.
Expect the Redskins to play man coverage and contest everything down low as Deion Branch and Wes Welker will have to fight to get off the line, I think the Skins will put the big, physical Fletcher on Rob Gronkowski with safety help over the top. That is where the Patriots Tom Brady will attack, is in the middle of the field. Gronkowski is rapidly becoming one of the best TEs in the NFL and Aaron Hernandez will slide in and out and provide matchup nightmares for Washington. With Taylor Price now gone, the next big question is, will Chad Ochocinco step up? Time will tell, but this is a prime time for that to happen.
It all comes down to the protection, if Brady gets time to throw; the Patriots have the weapons to get a lot of production from the passing game. But Matt Light with Orakpo and Nate Solder on Kerrigan will have their hands full, that is the big matchup for the Patriots on Sunday.
Redskins Running Game:
The Skins have gotten a huge boost in the ground game with the emergence of rookie Roy Helu the past two games. He got 108 yards against the Seahawks and followed that up with 100 more last week against the Jets.
The Patriots have been good at defending the run this year, Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love in the middle and Andre Carter, Rob Ninkovich and Brandon Deaderick have set the edge very nicely. Depending upon his availability we may see Dane Fletcher return this week and play some at MLB allowing Jerod Mayo to go to the WLB, but the Redskins will try to run the ball this week attacking the middle where the second level is hurting for New England.
Redskins Passing Game:
Rex Grossman has had a typical Rex Grossman type season as QB this year. He had some very good games early as the Skins raced off to a 3-1 start. He then struggled and was benched for John Beck. He then came back and was playing well until last week’s debacle against the Jets, completing 19 of 46 including a pick.
Compounding matters will be he’ll be missing his go-to receiver TE Fred Davis as well as LT Trent Williams, both gone for the remainder of the season for violating the NFL’s drug policy. Sean Locklear will step in for Williams at LT and he will be facing DE Andre Carter, who will be facing his former team for the first time. Logan Paulsen will fill in for Davis. Grossman has some good targets in former Patriots Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth as well as Santana Moss and Anthony Armstrong.
The Redskins will be looking to move the ball in the air against the Patriots, everyone else does and should find plenty of yardage. What the Patriots need to do is take advantage of Locklear and bring a lot of pressure on Grossman from Carter and Mark Anderson and force him into mistakes.
One plus for the Pats should be having Pat Chung back at safety this week, Chung should help solidify the back end. Having Devin McCourty back for his second game after injury should help a lot in a secondary full of WRs. Look for Carter to be a disruptive force this week after being very quiet the past two games.
This is one area where the Patriots have a clear edge, in the kicking game. Stephen Gostkowski has been very reliable this year and consistently kicks off into the end zone. Graham Gano on the other hand, from the Skins has had a poor season, missing nine kicks including four which were blocked as well as a blocked extra point.
Both punters are enjoying fine seasons as Zoltan Mesko for the Patriots and former Eagle Sav Rocca have had great success this year with an over 40.5 yards net punting average. Neither return game has been setting the world on fire, Brandon Banks handles both punt returns and kickoffs for Washington and has been so-so. Julian Edelman for the Patriots has been getting better as of late but both return games need better consistency.
The Redskins are going to miss the playoffs and are just playing out the string. They led the Jets late in the fourth quarter last week before falling badly in the final minutes. If the Patriots get off to a fast start it would take the crowd out of the game and possibly put the Redskins’ Grossman in panic mode which in the past has been disastrous.
The Patriots are entering this game, with the feeling of coming off a loss after a terrible fourth quarter narrowed their win over the Colts from 31-3 to a 31-24 final. Bill Belichick will be cracking the whip all week preaching 60 minutes of football. Tom Brady, frequently picks up on Belichick’s messages in his own press conferences, pretty much summed it up on Wednesday saying “we still haven’t played a 60 minute game this season.” Look for the Patriots to try to put together a complete game this week.
This one will be a good game for the Patriots to face after the Colts 4th quarter sleepwalk. The Redskins’ Mike Shanahan is good friends with Bill Belichick but also a great competitor and expect the Redskins to pull out all the stops this week as they try to pull this one out at home.
This game will be won or lost on the edges, Matt Light and Nate Solder on offense and Andre Carter and Mark Anderson on defense will be key here. Light and Solder will need to protect Tom Brady against Orakpo and Kerrigan coming off the edge. Carter and Anderson will have plenty of opportunities to rush Grossman off the edge for the Patriots. The Skins have allowed 31 sacks and both Grossman and Beck have thrown more INTs than TDs. If the Patriots get the rush to Grossman, good things are bound to happen.
I expect the Skins will matchup Hall on Welker, that should be a tough battle for Welker but it will open things up for Branch and Hernandez on the outside. One thing that we may see more of, especially if the Redskins are starting to get a push is the screen pass which the Patriots haven’t done much of this season. Regardless, they will have a tough time defending Rob Gronkowski who is a huge target in the red zone. The Redskins however, will not make the mistake the Colts made in leaving him all alone this week.
I think Brady will have a solid but not spectacular day, but they will put pressure on the Washington offense to score enough to keep up. Grossman will pass for a lot of yardage but he will turn the ball over which the Redskins can ill afford. Patriots 31-17
Thursday Night Football:
My friend Steve the Cat (STC) and I do a weekly column of picks for the weekly slate of NFL games, well she does, and I tend to blindly throw darts at a board it seems. Tune in later this week for the complete slate. However, with that in mind…
Browns Vs Steelers:
SB- Pittsburgh is hitting their stride just in time for the playoffs, while they still trail the Ravens in their division, they are going to be a tough out in January home or away. So, the Browns should provide not much more than a speed bump this week. Steelers 34-10
STC- This should be an easy win for the Steelers. The Browns have no signs of a decent offense and these are the kind of game the Steelers love to strut their stuff. Steelers 31-3