The Washington Football Team is coming off the biggest victory the franchise has enjoyed in recent memory as they upset the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers 23-17 on the road at Heinz Field. This is a great accomplishment, but beating the Pittsburgh Steelers means absolutely nothing if they turn around and lose to the San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco is attempting to rebound from a 34-24 loss to the Buffalo Bills that dropped them to 5-7. There is no shortage of storylines heading into the game this week. San Francisco head coach, Kyle Shanahan, has always expressed his feelings about his tenure in Washington as offensive coordinator. There is also the All-Pro former Washington left tackle, Trent Williams. There was much rhetoric about whether or not his unhappiness was related to Washington's inability to diagnose a malignant tumor he had on his head, or whether it was related to them not providing him with a contract extension. Ultimately, he was traded during the off season and has been playing well for his new organization. Then there is former Washington tight end Jordan Reed. Reed was signed by the 49ers after he was released by Washington. Washington just couldn't keep him on the roster because of the financial ramifications. They also couldn't take a chance of putting him back on the field and subject him to another head injury.
Plenty of story lines to go around, but Washington will be focused on winning their 4th straight game to keep pace with the NFC East first place New York Giants. This game is a more important game than last week’s against the Steelers because of the ramifications of a loss. It is important to remember Washington can still get into the playoffs even if they do not win the division, but they will have to win out in order to do so. There is a lot on the line Sunday, and it will be interesting to see if Washington continues to progress or regress against the 49ers. Starting running back Antonio Gibson will be out with a toe injury he suffered against the Steelers. This week, look for Peyton Barber to pick up the slack just like last week running in between the tackles, and JD McKissic on the edges and in the short passing game.
Washington has to find a way to be more aggressive early in the game to establish some tempo. I will shout out Scott Turner for coming out no huddle last week on the first possession to try and push the pace and move the football. It was a new wrinkle we hadn't seen unless the team was in a time management situation. Although great to see, it still proved to be ineffective as the team is yet to score points on the first possession this season. They have had to play from behind and that trend has to stop. One way they can put points on the board early is to spread San Francisco out defensively and attack mismatches in the quick passing game, make them adjust, and then run the football. They should also consider going play-action first offensive play of the game and take a deep shot down the field to Terry McLaurin. Even if the play isn't complete, you make San Francisco guard the entire field and put them on notice. Bottom line, they need to score early, and not put pressure on their defense to make every stop like they did against the Steelers because that won't work every week.
Speaking of the defense, they made a strong statement last week with their performance against the Steelers holding them to just 3 points in the second half. Not only that, they seemingly came up with every stop they needed in each pivotal moment of the game. It was a site to see as the defense everybody thought Washington could have miraculously showed up on the big stage. It's without question encouraging, but can they duplicate that output? That's what they have to prove this Sunday against a 49er offense missing some pieces, but still very capable of putting some points on the board. The recipe is simple: take care of the fundamentals and continue to not beat themselves. Talent will prevail in the end unless you allow other dynamics to affect the outcome, and Washington has more talent on defense than San Francisco has on offense. Continue to be disciplined and make the initial tackle. One thing Washington did consistently well was gang tackle. That has to be part of their identity going forward: 5, 6, 7 people around the football at all times. Pittsburgh didn't really try to run the football against Washington, but when they did, it was unsuccessful. Kyle Shanahan will without question run the football and if Washington doesn't stop it, he will continue to do so. Stop the run, and the secondary has to stay disciplined and keep everything in front of them, but above all, TACKLE, because wide receiver Deebo Samuel is a TAC (tackle after the catch) machine.
Washington is riding high going into this game. They need to make sure they don't get knocked to reality by a team that won't be intimidated by Washington. If Washington takes care of business, and they don't beat themselves with turnovers and penalties, everything else will take care of itself. This week is another step towards sustaining quality output weekly, and they have a tremendous opportunity in front of them going forward. We will see how they handle it come Sunday. As you were…
Photo Credit: Elijah Walter Griffin Sr/Washington Football Team