Game preview: Ravens at Redskins

Game preview: Ravens at Redskins
December 7, 2012, 8:45 am
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SportsTalk Live: Winning third down is key for Redskins

What: Ravens (9-3) at Redskins (6-6)

Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.


Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live: Comcast SportsNet noon and 4

Outlook: Since the bye week, Mike Shanahan has stressed to his team the importance of playing its best football in the second half of the season. And for three consecutive weeks, that’s exactly what the Redskins have done. 

Individuals have raised their level of play. Entire units have come together. Even the bounces are going their way after so many years of watching the opposing team benefit from them.

But if they’re going to make it four wins in a row, Robert Griffin III and his teammates must bring their ‘A’ game against AFC North-leading Baltimore. The Ravens lost 23-20 to the Steelers last week; they haven’t dropped back-to-back games since 2009.

Sunday’s contest will be the fifth installment of the ‘Battle of the Beltways,’ a rivalry that’s more about close proximity than genuine dislike between the franchises or the respective fans bases. The Ravens have won three of the four all-time meetings, claiming the most recent matchup, 24-10, at M&T Bank Stadium in 2008. A win Sunday, will clinch a fifth consecutive playoff berth for Baltimore.

The Ravens' three wins, however, came before the arrival of Griffin, whose popularity has reached new heights in recent weeks.

“As a fan of the game, you can see the intensity they play with,” Griffin said of the Ravens. “They bring it physically every game. They’ve always had great personnel, and [ball-hawking safety] Ed Reed is at the top of that defense. …It’s nothing to fear, but you definitely have to be aware.”

During the three-game winning streak, Griffin has thrown nine touchdowns, one interception and rushed for an average of 62 yards.

Helping to soften up defenses for RG3 has been hard-running tailback Alfred Morris, who averaged 104 yards and 22 carries in the victories over the Eagles, Cowboys and Giants. The Redskins are now 5-1 when the rookie gets at least 20 carries. The Ray Lewis-less Ravens’ run defense, meantime, is ranked 23rd.

The biggest breakthrough for the Redskins, though, has been the reemergence of wide receiver Pierre Garçon. A month ago, season-ending foot surgery was being contemplated. Instead, he’s learned to manage the pain and has become a game-breaker, hauling 12 passes for 192 and a pair of touchdowns the past two weeks.

All season, Washington's injury depleted defense has been the team's biggest weakness. But even it has shown signs of improvement. With the exception of a near meltdown in the second half at Cowboys Stadium, the London Fletcher-led unit’s bend-but-don’t-break mantra has been good enough the past three weeks.

On Sunday, they must contend with a deep Ravens’ offense that’s putting up 25.3 points on average (9th best). Quarterback Joe Flacco has 15 touchdowns against 8 interceptions and will look to get the ball into the hands of wide receivers Anquan Boldin (750 yards) and Torrey Smith (seven touchdowns) early and often. On the ground, running back Ray Rice (872 yards) leads the way, but his 409 receiving make him dangerous in the short passing game, as well.

“We have to play our best football to beat a team like that,” Shanahan said. “Our players are aware of how good they are.”

The winning streak has temporarily moved the Redskins out of ‘must-win’ territory. But they could be catching the Ravens at the perfect time: Baltimore hasn’t been sharp the past two games and Washington, in the words of RG3, is “ballin’ out.” If the Redskins can bank a seventh win it’ll provide a little cushion – just in case.

Here are three more areas the crew at will be monitoring:

1-The walking wounded. Tackle Trent Williams (bruised thigh) and cornerback DeAngelo Hall (ankle) were limited in practice on Thursday, while linebacker London Fletcher (ankle) was held out. Shanahan said he’s hopeful that all three will play, but the situation bears watching. Fletcher, of course, has a 236 consecutive games played streak on the line.

2-A year after turning over the ball 14 times in 16 games, the Redskins could set a franchise record for games without a turnover in a season. Currently, they have five, which is tied with the totals in 1999 and 2008.

This season, they did not record a single turnover against the Saints, Bucs, Steelers, Panthers and Eagles and have committed two or more turnovers only twice (Falcons and Giants). Griffin, meantime, has thrown only four interceptions, a year after Rex Grossman and John Beck combined to toss 24.

3-One challenge the Redskins defense will face for the remainder of the regular season is the absence of physical, third cornerback Cedric Griffin, who was suspended four games on Tuesday for using performance-enhancing drugs. Griffin was playing at a high level before he was banned and his absence means increased playing time for seldom-used rookie Richard Crawford and reserve D.J. Johnson. That's probably not good news for a secondary that ranks 31st in yards allowed (3,588) and is tied for 29th in passing touchdowns yielded (24).