Game preview: Redskins at Raiders

Game preview: Redskins at Raiders
September 27, 2013, 9:00 am
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Raiders QB situation makes game plan tougher

What: Redskins (0-3) at Raiders (1-2)

Where: Coliseum

When: Sunday, 4:25

TV: Fox

Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live on CSN Washington: 3 and 7 p.m.

During the course of every season, teams reach a turning point, the moment where things begin to fall into place or it all begins to tear apart at the seams.

The Redskins have arrived at that moment.

The chances of making the playoffs when a team opens a season 0-3 are very small. The chances of rallying for a postseason berth after opening 0-4 are virtually non-existent. In fact, only one team – the 1992 Chargers – started 0-4 and went on to make the playoffs since AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

So, yeah, that pretty much makes Sunday’s showdown in Oaktown a ‘must-win’ for the Redskins.

And if they're going to begin a slow climb out of the deep hole they’ve dug, it’s going to have to start on defense. Here are the areas Jim Haslett’s unit must show significant improvement: 

  • Pass defense. The Redskins have yielded 999 passing yards through the season’s first three games, which ranks 30th, and 9.8 yards per pass attempt, which ranks last. The unit has also allowed more yards after the catch (605) than any other team. Fortunately for Washington, Oakland’s pass attack is among the weakest in the league. It ranks 28th with a meager 608 yards through the air and 26th in touchdowns with three. Only one Raiders’ receiver, Denarius Moore, ranks among the top 50 in receiving. There is, however, one variable. The Raiders’ dual-threat quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, might not play because of a concussion, meaning his pocket-passing backup, Matt Flynn, could get his third career NFL start. 
  • Tackling. It’s a problem that has mystified Haslett and his staff. Yet it’s one that continues to haunt the Redskins. The unit has missed 43 tackles, according That’s 12 more than any other team in the league. Proof of the unit’s poor tackling was on full display last week against the Lions. On Joique Bell’s 12-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, for example, four Redskins (London Fletcher, Perry Riley, Ryan Kerrigan and Brandon Meriweather) had a chance to stop Bell, who bowled his way into the end zone. “If one person makes one mistake in a game, you’ve got 11 mistakes and that will get you beat,” defensive end Kedric Golston said.
  • Run defense. Last season, the Redskins’ run stoppers propelled the unit to fifth-best in the league (95.8 yards per game). So far this season, they’re tied for second worst at 155 yards per. If Pryor is sidelined, as expected, that will help. But Fletcher and Co. still must contend with 26-year-old running back Darren McFadden, who rushed for 129 yards in a win over Jacksonville before behind held to just nine yards by Denver on Monday night. “We’ve been good at stopping the run since I’ve been here,” Haslett said. “That’s what this defense is built for. We got away from it the first two games. [Against the Lions] we wanted to get back to what we do best.” Indeed, the Redskins’ held Detroit to 63 yards on the ground last week. But can they build on it? 

Quarterback Robert Griffin III is starting run more and has begun to look more comfortable, while the offense he leads has, at times, appeared to be on the verge of breaking out. But none of that will matter if the defense doesn’t pull itself together.

“It’s been frustrating,” Kerrigan said. “We haven’t played the way we expected to play coming into this season defensive, especially. To give up as many points and as many yards as we have, it’s discouraging. But I saw some improvements last game and hopefully we can carry that over to this game and make even more improvements.”

Golston added: “Obviously everyone is feeling the pressure of being 0-3. But at the same token, you have core beliefs you to stay with. It’s not that it’s not working, it’s just that everybody [on defense] has to do a better job of executing.”

If they don’t, the odds will likely become too big for the Redskins to overcome.

Other areas we’ll be monitoring:

1—Injuries. Kicker Kai Forbath (groin), tight end Jordan Reed (bruised quad) and linebacker Brandon Jenkins (ankle) did not practice Thursday. Tight end Fred Davis (ankle) was limited.

If Reed (106 yards receiving, 1 touchdown) and Davis are sidelined, Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul would become the focus at tight end. “It’s always a concern,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. But “it’s the deepest position on our team because I think we have four players who we are confident in.” 

Forbath, meantime, is expected to test out his ailing kicking leg Friday or Saturday. If he’s unable to suit up for a third straight week, the team will again turn to John Potter, who was 2 for 2 on field goals vs. Detroit.

2—Griffin’s turnovers. In 15 regular season starts a year ago, RG3 turned the ball over a total of seven times (five interceptions, two lost fumbles). In only three starts this season, he’s already accumulated five turnovers (four picks, one lost fumble.) Although both Shanahans absolved Griffin of blame on the interception last week against the Lions, his fourth-quarter fumble proved to be a pivotal moment in the game.

3—Penalties. If it sounds like a broken record, that’s because it is. Last season, the Redskins were the fifth most penalized team at 7.0 per game. This season, they’re the ninth at 7.7 per. “You just have to do you job, be cognizant of the situation you’re in and don’t jump offsides,” said tackle Tyler Polumbus, who has not been flagged once in 2013. “You learn to live with a hold here and there because you’re out there competing. But you got to control the penalties that are mental.”

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