Opposition Research: Washington Redskins (W5)

The Washington Redskins love nothing more than to play the spoiler. Can they pull off the upset...and incite panic in Green Bay?

Welcome to another edition of Opposition Research, where I’ll be taking a look at the next Packers opponent, the Washington Redskins (2-2).  I’m sorry for the late post, but, just like the Packers defense, I’ve been dealing with unexpected injuries after last weekend.  I hope you’ll bear with me – and the team – as we figure out how best to get the production we (and you) expect week-in and week-out.  Unfortunately for all involved, there’s not a lot of time to adjust – this week’s opponent will demand our best effort.

Coming into this game, the Redskins are… still trying to claim that last week’s 17-12 win over the Eagles, in which Donovan McNabb returned to Philadelphia for the first time after being shipped to a divisional rival on Easter Sunday, was “just another game.”  McNabb didn’t have his best outing (8/19 for 125 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT), but he made enough plays (including a 18yd scamper to keep a drive alive and a 57yd rainbow to set up a field goal) to keep Washington in the game.  The Redskins defense notched an interception, a sack, and a fumble, and held spark-plug receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin to 34 yards combined.  Still, the Redskins needed a Michael Vick injury and a Hail Mary pass from Kevin Kolb to be intercepted to preserve the win.

The team was poetic in its assessment of Sunday’s game:

The Redskins walk a penciled line in shoes made of erasers.

They skirt that narrow divide between victory and vivisection, between karma and calamity, between getting it done and getting done in.

Clinton Portis suffered a third-degree groin separation, an injury serious enough to have coaches say he’s out 4-8 weeks and media say his career may be over.

The fans at home are… still deciding who this team is, a quarter of the way through the season:

If Michael Vick plays more than a quarter of the game in Philly, things could have turned out differently. It’s a lot easier to defend a 14-3 lead against Kevin “Dink ‘n’ Dunk” Kolb than it is against Vick, who makes you defend the whole field. As it was, they barely held on at the end in both games. If Alex Barron knew any blocking technique other than the half nelson, and if Jason Avant hadn’t borrowed Carlos Rogers’ hands for that last play, the Redskins are staring at an ugly 0-4.

On offense, ex-Redskins LB LaVar Arrington thinks that Washington’s greatest asset going into the Packers game is that “they’re not a consistent ball club ---they’re consistently inconsistent, and you don’t know what you’re going to get out of this team.”  Arrington has a point – even the players aren’t sure what their identity on offense:

In Week 1, the Redskins went to Chris Cooley and Santana Moss six times each, struggled to run and didn't score an offensive touchdown.

In Week 2, Donovan McNabb spread the ball around to Moss (10 catches) and seven other pass-catchers while amassing 426 yards, but Washington rushed for only 32 yards and lost in overtime.

Week 3 saw a balanced attack during the first half but then the Redskins fell behind early in the third quarter and had to throw, had one rushing yard in the last two quarters and lost by two touchdowns.

Then in Week 4, Clinton Portis, Ryan Torain and McNabb combined for 164 rushing yards, Moss didn’t have a catch, the offense was scoreless in the second half while McNabb completed only two passes and threw an INT, but Washington managed to hang on for a 17-12 victory.

Some fans have looked at the Packers’ 8 TDs through the air and 4 TDs on the ground and determined that this game is a “call to arms” for the Redskins defense, that it “represents the kind of game that the Redskins tend to end up as underdog victors.”

As an aside, I love it when people dismiss Green Bay’s “aging corners.”  Puh-leeze.  Know what else I love? A 10-minute fan-made video, complete with a guys-only slap-fight and a Coors Light-esque segment with footage from coaches and players.

Something to chew on… Washington was impressed with the ability of backup players to step in and produce against Philadelphia.  Backup RB Ryan Torain stepped in for injured Clinton Portis and ran for 70 yards (including an eye-popping 12 yd TD run).  WR Brandon Banks, the lightest man in the NFL, returned a punt 53 yards in his first play after being elevated from the practice squad last week.

For the Packers to overcome the injuries that have begun to stack up, particularly on defense, they must get the same kind of production out of their backups.  Desmond Bishop, Jarrett Bush, I’m looking at you.

When looking at the Packers on film… the Washington Post Redskins Insiders didn’t think this game looked winnable a week ago.  My, how things change.

With Aaron Rodgers being touted as one of the best quarterback in the game (folks in Washington are starting to think it was a good idea for the team to move on from Favre), many question whether the success the Redskins secondary had against Philly was due to Kolb’s uncertainty or actual progress from a shaky first three weeks.  Will blitzes be able to get to Rodgers?  (If they know he’s throwing the ball, will Jim Haslett bring more creative pressure packages?)

LB Lorenzo Alexander (who just ousted Andre Carter as the starting OLB opposite Brian Orakpo) was a college teammate of Aaron Rodgers at Cal, and the two “used to kick it a lot.”  In an interview with Redskins.com, Alexander remains impressed with Rodgers as an NFL quarterback, but he’s definitely looking forward to this weekend:

One other way that Alexander and Rodgers are probably similar to you and your college friends: there are unresolved issues between them that lead one to want to commit acts of violence on the other. "I never got to hit him in practice," Alexander explains, "so I definitely wanna get out there this week and be able to hit him a couple of times, maybe get a couple of sacks. It'd be great to be able to do that."

Donovan McNabb went out of his way to praise Charles Woodson and his ability to make plays all over the field, but he didn’t seem ready to crown Clay Matthews as the next DPOY:

Q: Have you already seen enough of Clay Matthews, before he even goes on the field, to be concerned?

A: I’ve seen the first two games where, you know, it was kind of like Playstation.  This guy was running through the gaps and hitting backs and quarterbacks in the backfield.  I think he’s died down a little bit.

After saying all the right things about how the Packers defense is fast and violent, McNabb expressed confidence that there will opportunities for the Washington offense.

What We’re Up Against:

Obviously, their ability to run the ball against Philadelphia gives the Redskins confidence coming into this week’s game.  Even with RB Clinton Portis out, watch out for Ryan Torain, a back that Shanahan drafted while still in Denver.  Can he step up and be a feature back after having so much success last week?  (Football Outsiders’ examination of Washington’s shuffling offensive line is a must-read.)

Sure, WR Santana Moss runs pretty routes, has great hands, and can flat-out fly.  Unfortunately for him (and Donovan McNabb), there’s an utter void at #2 receiver (Joey Galloway?!) -- although some think that Anthony Armstrong could be the guy.  The real threat to the Packers defense on Sunday is TE Chris Cooley, who – as Bob McGinn aptly puts it – lines up everywhere and always seems open.  After giving up 154 yards to Lions tight ends last week, Green Bay’s linebackers will face a stiff test unless Capers brings Woodson in to cover Cooley and trusts Tramon Williams and Nick Collins (if he plays) to silence Moss and the rest of the Redskins receivers.  With Barnett- and Chillar-shaped holes in the Packers front seven, I worry a little about the other TE Fred Davis – a big fella at 6’ 4” and 257 lb – on underneath routes.  Finally, while he’s no Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb is mobile enough to make plays with his feet.

Defensively, the Redskins are experiencing growing pains in the transition to DC Jim Haslett’s version of the 3-4 scheme.  The success of the front seven depends to some degree on DL Albert Haynesworth’s mood.  If he feels like making plays, he does.  Second-year OLB Brian Orakpo (10 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 passes defensed) will not be an easy match-up for Green Bay’s tackles.  The team feels that he’s been held on nearly every play this year, and with this being a home game, Shanahan may tell officials to keep an eye on whoever’s blocking #98.  Washington’s pass rush (8 sacks total) is fairly middling, with Football Outsiders giving the unit a 28th-ranked 4.5% adjusted sack rate (the Packers sit at #3 with a 10.4% ASR).

Washington’s pass defense ranks 28th per FO, and, despite holding DeSean Jackson to 19 yards, is third-worst against #1 receivers.  Washington has been torched by Andre Johnson (158/1), Miles Austin (146/1), and Kevin Walter (144/1), and even gave up 85 yards to St. Louis’s Mark Clayton.  Where the Redskins have had success is against tight ends:

Player Catches Yards TDs
Jason Witten (DAL) 3 27 0
Brent Celek (PHI) 3 27 1
Owen Daniels (HOU) 2 24 0
Daniel Fells (STL) 3 22 1

At first blush, this doesn’t look great for Jermichael Finley.  SS LaRon Landry is excellent in coverage, and will likely be glued to Finley for much of the day.  CB DeAngelo Hall talks a lot.

It’s worth noting that, last week in Philadelphia, LeSean McCoy had 10 catches for 110 yards (with another 64 yards rushing).  If the Packers are unable to gain yards with their zone blocking scheme, McCarthy may use Jackson in the short passing game out of the backfield in a similar fashion.

LaVar Arrington thinks Joey Galloway will finally get involved in the Redskins offense, and counts on the Packers offense to abandon the run game early.  The Washington Post crew thinks Clay Matthews was the happiest man in America when news of Portis’s injury came out (but still sees a Redskins victory).  Peter Schrager at FoxSports looks at a beat-up Packers defense and a “horrendous” Packer special teams and calls for a huge Washington upset (34-20 huge).

Parting Shots:

I’ve been saying for weeks that the Packers need to show they can play for 60 minutes, and it’s clear from his remarks this week that QB Aaron Rodgers agrees.  Whether it’s a product of playcalling or lack of execution, the Packers won’t be humming on offense until they can consistently move the ball down the field and score.

At some point, the Packers will either win a statement game to validate the sky-high hype that surrounded this team during the preseason or lose a statement game to validate those doomsayers who said that the loss of Johnny Jolly – no, the loss of Ryan Grant – no, the loss of Morgan Burnett, would drag the Packers to the middle of the field.  Does that statement game happen this Sunday?  Boy, wouldn’t that be nice.

If you’re going to be in the DC area, come on out to Hawk & Dove on Saturday night at 8pm for a Packer fan meetup!  Come hang out with JS Online’s Greg Bedard, the guys from Ol’ Bag of Donuts, me, and a host of Packer fans before the big game.

Want even more Packers talk?  Be sure to catch CheeseheadRadio (w/ me, CD Angeli, Jersey Al, and John Rehor) every Thursday night at 8pm CST.  This week's guest is Andy Belonger (@theandyman)!

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Comments (3)

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foundindaho's picture

October 08, 2010 at 05:34 pm

Holly - glad you, like the Packers, pushed through the injuries to get the job done. (Heal fast, as I say to the guys.) As always, very informative.

I'm not sure if I'm worried on this one or not. But the fact that every game you've been to has been a victory means that we will win.

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MarkinMadison's picture

October 08, 2010 at 01:58 pm

I just have not clue as to what to expect out of the Green Bay defense this week. A few weeks ago we were so loaded at ILB people were calling for a Hawk-Lynch trade, and I thought it was a good idea. Now we're so thin a practice squad guy will be active. Hawk wanted his chance to prove he's an every down player, well he's got it now. Good luck.

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Chad's picture

October 07, 2010 at 11:52 pm

You make an interesting point about Moss and Cooley. I think Williams has shown himself this season to be capable of covering Moss, which should allow Capers to stick Woodson on Cooley.

Here's hoping our defense holds up this game. McNabb may be getting older, but he's still got the ability to move out of the pocket and escape the rush.

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