Week 9 Keys to the Game: Washington Redskins vs Atlanta Falcons
The Washington Redskins are currently in sole possession of first place in the NFC East. They are 5-2, and on a three game winning streak with the most recent coming at the expense of the New York Giants 20-13 last Sunday at MetLife Field. Despite their struggles offensively, the Redskins are 5-1 in the NFC, and 2-0 in the division. This week, the Redskins have the Atlanta Falcons coming into FedEx in a virtual must win for the 3-4 Falcons to keep their division title, and playoff hopes alive. The Redskins sit one game ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles in the win column, and two games ahead in the loss column with the Dallas Cowboys close behind at 3-4 (Giants 1-7 with slim hopes of winning the division). The Redskins this week proved that they aren’t just sitting on their division lead when they went out and traded a 2019 4th round pick to the Green Bay Packers for safety Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix aka Ha-Ha, who is currently the second rated safety in the NFL by the numbers. Ha-Ha will be paired in the defensive backfield with no other than the current first rated safety in the NFL, DJ Swearinger. The Redskins hope that this acquisition makes an already solid defense that much better. This pickup comes with great timing as the Redskins face quarterback Matt Ryan this week, and the number 7 pass offense in the league.
There has been much conversation about what the Redskins haven’t been able to do well this season, and that’s pass the football. I could add to that, and continue to focus on all the negatives within the play-calling, and head coach Jay Gruden’s inability to put these players in better situations to make plays. I could go on and on about quarterback Alex Smith’s inexplicable inaccuracy this year, and his seemingly unwillingness to take shots downfield. I could bloviate about our receivers lack of production, and how the offensive line needs to communicate better on obvious passing downs. I could insult your intelligence by going into detail about the lack of creativity schematically as if you aren’t watching the same product that I am. But I won’t. I want to focus on what the Skins do well, which is punch people in the mouth up front with that offensive line and Adrian Peterson who has unquestionably been the offensive most valuable player this season.
The Redskins are facing an Atlanta defense that has given up 43, 37, 41, and 29 points in 4 of their seven games played. To put it in layman’s terms, their defense isn’t exactly the 1985 Bears or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. This is a game where the Redskins should be able to impose their will up front, and even in the passing game as Atlanta’s secondary is amongst the worst in the National Football League. The Atlanta Falcons will have absolutely no one that can cover Jordan Reed; just like any other week he steps out on the field. The Redskins should continue to move him around, and line him up in various positions in multiple formations. With the passing game the way it is, he should be receiving 12-15 targets a game easily. In recent weeks, we have seen a more active and efficient Josh Doctson. This week, we may be able to see him open things up some more downfield against this poor Falcon secondary. He should continue to receive increased looks as starting receiver Jamison Crowder will be out again with a high ankle sprain that has continued to hamper him.
The Falcon defensive line has a couple studs up front namely defensive ends Vic Beasley, who hasn’t been consistently effective this season, and Takkarist McKinley, who has a motor and can be disruptive if you don’t keep a man between he and the quarterback. The Redskins should be able to dictate what they want to do in whatever situation. The running game is their bread and butter, but this is the week that this offense has got to get things progressing in the passing game. No more excuses. No more “it’s coming along”. They can’t rely on the defense this week because the Atlanta Falcons have the ability to score just as much or more than they give up; so that said, this week, 20 points isn’t going to get it done most likely. Run the ball, use some playfakes, get Smith on the edge, mix in some read option like they did last week, and keep moving the chains, but they have to make the defense cover the whole field by taking some shots deep. It’s easy to talk about it, but they need to be able to execute it this week, and make an offensive statement by putting some significant points on the board via touchdowns throughout the game. They will have to do so without the services of offensive tackle Trent WIlliams, who underwent surgery on his thumb this week, and running back Chris Thompson (ribs) who is still banged up.
The Washington Redskin defense is beginning to receive some much deserved respect around the league as a result of their last three performances. Since the Monday Night debacle against the Saints, the Redskin defense has shutdown Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, and Saquon Barkley consecutive weeks in the running game. That’s all wonderful, but this week they face a different animal in quarterback Matt Ryan, and the Atlanta wide receiver corps led by Julio Jones. The Atlanta Falcons run game is at the bottom of the league largely because of the absence of injured running back Devonta Freeman. In addition to Freeman, the Falcons will be without both of their starting guards, which puts them at a disadvantage up front on paper. These injuries could be a gift or a curse to the Washington Redskins. It will all depend on how they choose to attack. Atlanta is one of the few teams in this league that can beat you playing one dimensional football offensively; they can pass 40 plus times, and score 30 plus points if you don’t game plan, and execute accordingly.
This game has got to be dominated by the Redskin defensive line. Matt Ioannidis, Jonathan Allen, and DaRon Payne should be salivating at the thought of playing against two backup guards. This is a week that your interior linemen, and outside linebackers have to control the line of scrimmage, and not give Matt Ryan any opportunities to look downfield. Atlanta will most likely attempt to run a lot of quick routes to include screens, slants, crossing routes, and quick hitches just to keep moving the football. Matt Ryan has no problems taking what the defense gives him. The Redskins will need to dictate to Matt Ryan where he can throw the ball, but most importantly, they have to tackle after those short catches making sure they don’t turn into long gains. If the Redskins send pressure, they should do so on first and second downs because the Falcons treat those downs just like passing downs in many circumstances. If they can get the Falcons into some 2nd and 14 type yardage situations, those turn into 3rd and longs in many cases. This will allow them to keep the necessary number of defensive backs on the field on 3rd down to cover receivers Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohammed Sanu. The Redskins’ acquisition of HaHa this week adds yet another weapon to that top 10 defense, and another playmaker in the secondary. The Redskins hope he will pay immediate dividends this Sunday against this potent Atlanta passing attack. If the Redskins stay discipline in the secondary and tackle on first contact, the defensive front seven should be able to take care of the rest. Three and outs will be key. Don’t let Matt Ryan get into any type of rhythm. Disrupt him. Knock him down. Hit his elbow during and after throws. Make him keep picking himself up off the ground. “Make him remember the day he played the Redskins”.
Special teams has been crucial this season for the Washington Redskins on all fronts. The field position battle is almost a guaranteed win weekly the way Tress Way has been punting the football. This week, he will need to continue that trend, and pin the Falcon offense deep in their own territory every chance he gets. Flipping the field position in this game will be critical because you do not want to give an offense like the Falcon’s a short field. Kicker Dustin Hopkins missed a kick last week, but recovered nicely afterwards. He will need to convert on all opportunities this week because the Redskins will not be able to afford giving away points while surrendering good field position to the Falcons in the process. Kickoffs, he needs to kick the ball out of the endzone and don’t even give them a shot. The Redskins should be fine with forcing the Falcons to have to drive 80 yards each time. Coverage teams were a little shaky last week, and they will need to improve this week against the Falcons. While covering punts, they did too much diving, and not enough sliding there feet while staying discipline in their pursuit lanes at times. They will need to sure that up this week. Kick return coverage should be null and void if we are kicking the ball out of the endzone, but on any returns, they need to break down and converge on the ball carrier. Last, and it has been the least productive, the return teams. The Redskins have got to find a way to get some productive yards out of the return units; whether it be kickoff return, or punt return. Maybe run a reverse, or a throwback lateral. They need to do something to help this offense get some momentum, and give them an extra kick in the buttpad.
The Washington Redskins are at a pivotal point in the season. This game is about more than just a win or a loss. It’s about establishing themselves as a force. It’s about making up their mind that they are going to be a dominant entity going forward. This football game is about them saying “we don’t care who you are or what you’re good at”, you can’t beat us, and going out there and proving it. This game is about imposing their will on a team that will tap out if they get hit in the mouth enough times. The Redskins should be insulted that the Atlanta Falcons even loaded the plane to come up here with thoughts that they were going to leave with a win. They should be offended that the Falcons took the time to practice and prepare like they actually have a shot to win this game on Sunday. The Redskins should come into this game focused, yet angry. I have a feeling this crowd on Sunday is going to be electric, and the fans will be ready to cheer this team on early and often. Redskins, let’s give them something to celebrate. Let’s put a product on the field they can finally be proud of. Redskins give the city another week to celebrate 34-24. As you were...