Preview: Redskins vs. Chargers

Preview: Redskins vs. Chargers
November 1, 2013, 10:00 am
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2 Minute Drill: Redskins vs Chargers preview

Redskins Post Game Live

What: Chargers (4-3) at Redskins (2-5)
Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet: 1 p.m. and 4.

A year ago, the Redskins could count on two things each week: a strong effort from Robert Griffin III and an offense that would produce enough points to give them a chance.

That hasn’t been the case in 2013—at least not on a consistent enough basis. Griffin’s completion percentage (59.0) ranks 25th, while the offense has scored two or fewer touchdowns in three of the last four games.

“Against Chicago, we threw the ball extremely well and ran the ball efficiently,” Griffin said this week. “But [in Denver] we didn’t do that. It’s a week-to-week thing. We need to be more consistent with it.”

But they haven’t and, as a result, the Redskins’ season has reached critical mass.

With a win over Philip Rivers and the Chargers, they could [italics] get the jumpstart they so desperately need after last week’s debacle in Denver. A loss, however, would deal Washington’s already long postseason odds a devastating blow and make a short week of preparation for Thursday’s game in Minneapolis seem that much shorter.

Indeed, if the Redskins hope to regain some control over a season that’s slipping away, it must begin Sunday at FedEx Field. And it could come down to these three areas:

  • Griffin must bounce back from one of the more forgettable performances of his young career. At Mile High, he posted his lowest passer rating in 22 games (45.4), misfired on a number of throws in the clutch and committed three second half turnovers. Griffin’s passer rating for the season (79.2) ranks 21st. “It sucks,” Griffin said, asked about the struggles he and the team have endured this season. But “nothing that we say is going to change that. Talk doesn’t help.” It’s not all Griffin’s fault. Against the Broncos, for example, Santana Moss, Aldrick Robinson and Jordan Reed all dropped passes. Griffin also got battered, hit 13 times by Von Miller and the Broncos’ defense. But there’s been one more problem in the passing game, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan acknowledged this week: opposing defenses have adjusted and are taking away what worked a season ago. “Last year, there was one play in particular that we ran 80 times and we completed in 60 times,” he said. “We haven’t gotten that coverage as much as we did last year.” The Chargers’ pass defense, meantime, is allowing 8.4 yards per attempt—the second worst average in the league.
  • A year ago, Rivers was considered to be a quarterback on the decline, a turnover machine whose best days seemed to be in the rearview. But this season, the 31-year-old is proving everyone wrong under new head coach Mike McCoy. With a completion percentage of 73.9, he’s on pace to break the NFL record—71.2—that Drew Brees set in 2011. Rivers also has only five interceptions and no fumbles. Adding to the Redskins’ challenge, he’s only been sacked 11 times (tied for the second fewest with Peyton Manning). But if Ryan Kerrigan and Co. hope to get Rivers off his game, they’re going to have to make life in the pocket uncomfortable—and they’ll have to do it in a hurry. Because if they don’t, Rivers simply will stand back there and fire perfectly-placed passes to Antonio Gates and Keenan Allen. “He gets the ball out of his hand fast,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said of Rivers. “He doesn’t get hit much.” 
  • Alfred Morris and the Redskins’ ground attack vs. the Chargers’ defense is another key. Racking up yards on the ground, controlling the clock and keeping Rivers and Gates off the field will be critical. But it won’t be easy. San Diego’s Eric Weddle-led defense hasn’t yielded a touchdown in 11 quarters and the past two games limited the Colts and Jaguars to 74 and 78 yards rushing, respectively. The Chargers, in fact, are 3-0 when limiting opposing teams to less than 100 yards on the ground. But they’re 1-3 when yielding 100 or more. Last week in Denver, the Redskins rushed for only 112 yards after averaging 212 the previous two weeks. Kyle Shanahan acknowledged Thursday that he erred when he went away from running the ball late in the second half in Denver, saying, “We want to be balanced. We weren’t balanced there in the fourth quarter.” If the Redskins are truly committed to the run, look for more Morris (and perhaps more zone read pulls for Griffin) on Sunday. 

Those are the big story lines. But the team at will be monitoring these areas, as well:

1—Injuries. The Redskins are about as healthy as they’ve been all season. The left knee injury that forced Griffin out of Sunday’s game is a “non-issue” according to Coach Mike Shanahan. Reed Doughty (concussion) and Garçon (calf) practiced fully on Thursday. The only injury concern is reserve safety and special teamer Jose Gumbs, who is battling an ankle injury.

2—Brandon Meriweather is back from a one game suspension for repeated helmet-to-helmet hits. But the question is this: has he finally learned his lesson? Earlier this week, he stirred some controversy when he said, in part, “I guess I’ve got take people’s knees out.” He was obviously upset about the suspension, but his play is going to be even more scrutinized after those comments.

3—Although the Redskins’ focus is on the Chargers, the next five days are huge with the Vikings looming on Thursday night. “Taking care of our bodies, stretching, things like that,” veteran linebacker Rob Jackson said. “It’s a physical game. Having two NFL games in that short span of time could take a real toll on your body. We have a couple of days off after the Thursday game. We’re just trying to get to that point with two wins.”