"This game will go a long way toward determining whether the Washington Redskins can be considered a Super Bowl-caliber team. The Patriots have been on an unheard-of roll through the first seven weeks of the season and are averaging 39.9 points per game, but the Redskins rank third in the NFL in scoring defense at 14.7 points per game. This is about as close as we are going to get to an irresistible force (Patriots) going against an immovable object (Redskins). Something has to give in this one. " – ESPN Insider
This is the second draft of my preamble. My first iteration detailed why this game presented itself was a win-win situation: either the Skins would be touched by an angel and pull a Lake Placid, or, even in a loss, they would still muster some moral victories. After putting together Skins Serv, spending a few quiet moments pondering the game, and discussing Sunday's match-up with some other dedicated Skins Servers, I have one thing to say to people with my original attitude: Funk Dat!
The Skins are an NFL team. A good NFL team with a great defense. There aren't any moral victories up here. We are going to Foxboro to win the game, to hurt some people (hopefully many), and to come home 5-2. We're not going to garner national respect, to try covering the spread, or to make a statement to the NFC - as a great man once said " you play to win the game." That's exactly what the Skins will do on Sunday and exactly how us as fans should approach this thing. Be nervous about playing the Patriots, be excited about the opportunity, fear defeat, and believe that they can be victorious. If they win on Sunday - amazing, and if they lose - I don't want smiles, hand shakes or pats on the butt - a loss is a loss.
I hope Skins Serv will get you believing the same way it got me believing.
Don't stop believing,
How They Can Win
1) Take Away Moss and Welker - It sounds so easy, but how do they do that? I actually believe our defense sets up well to do it. The situation bodes very similar to how we played the Packers on defense – we need to take away the under stuff (slants, in particular) and take away the deep ball. Our safeties positioning will be key to doing this. Sean Taylor is going to have to play amazing deep center – Moss has TD catches this year of 51, 50, 45, and 24 – if Taylor can help Springs and Rogers on the deep routes, the Patriots attack will suffer. The Skins are going to have to look to Fred Smoot and LaRon Landry to help contain Welker over the middle, something they did very well against Donald Driver in Green Bay. Welker is averaging about 75 yards per game, most of which has been gained after the catch. If Landry and Smoot, with the help of LB's dropping back in coverage, can limit Welker to 4-6 yards per catch, as opposed to 8-12 yards per catch, the Skins defense can force the Pats into trickier third and long situations and maybe get them off the field once in a while.
By focusing on Moss and Welker only, the Skins leave themselves susceptible to the Patriots running attack and the Pats number three WR Dante Stallworth. The Redskins would much rather get burned by those two options than by Moss and Welker. The Patriots running attack is hampered by injuries with Sammy Morris on the shelf for a couple of more weeks, and featured back Laurence Maroney still working himself back from injury (Maroney only carried the ball 6 times last week). If the Redskins somehow force the Pats into beating them on the ground, at least the Redskins can avoid giving up quick-hitting big plays that have propelled the Pats before. Stallworth is a bonafide downfield threat, and because Taylor will have his eyes on Moss, we are going to have to pray that Carlos Rogers can contain Stallworth in man coverage downfield, but hey, Stallworth isn't nearly as good as Moss at bringing down those home run balls – so lets let him try to beat us.
The Skins biggest vulnerability against the pass won't even be tested this week, as TE Ben Watson doesn't look as if he'll go. The Skins were torched last week by Arizona TE Marcus Pope who repeatedly ran up the seam for big strikes – taking advantage of our weaker-covering LBs. With Watson out, the Skins defense can fully focus on stopping Moss and Welker.
Ideally, Taylor and company frustrate Moss with Brady spending the day using him as a decoy, and Landry gets a few licks on Welker early on, deterring the little guy from going over the middle often.
2) Punch Tom Brady in the Face – Literally. Brady needs to get hit. I don't care how it happens - pre-game warmups, halftime, whatever. The guy is rarely touched and always seems to avoid contact. If the Redskins want any chance at getting this guy frustrated and making a mistake, they're going to have to send someone at him. This probably means using LB/DE Chris Wilson more in blitz packages and could mean blitzing another linebacker as well. The Skins front four is going to have trouble getting to Brady on their own and Williams can't risk sending in corners or safeties – so it comes down to the LB's giving that extra push. I don't even care if the Skins get flagged for a couple of late hits and personal fouls – if they're within 5 feet of him, they should go for the big, painful hit. Brady needs his face eating dirt and needs to be thinking about contact when he throws the ball. If Landry can contain Welker underneath in the early stages, Williams will be more comfortable sending in the LB's after Brady. Getting a couple of picks is the only way the Redskins offense will play on a short field, and getting after Brady is the only way those picks will happen.
3) The Redskins Offense Needs to Chew Clock – As much as the prolific, high-powered attack of the Pats is the concern this week, and as much attention as the clash between their offense and our defense is getting, the only way the Redskins will have a fighting chance in this game is if the offense can stay on the field. I am convinced that if time of possession in this game is 30-30, the Redskins will be in the game right until the end. The Redskins defense will only melt down if they're on the field too much. Sure they'll give up a big TD or get burned by a slant or long run (the Pats are good), but I just don't think Brady and Co. will run up the score on our guys if the defensive unit is fresh throughout the game.
Here's the problem – the Skins offense is horrible at staying on the field. According to JLC's numbers presented earlier this week on his blog, not including the Detroit and Miami games, the Redskins have two second half drives over 2:50 for the year! Forget the lack of TD's, they're obsessed with three and outs. They have failed to get a first down in 15 of 24 second half drives in those games. If the Redskins offense pulls the same kind of shtick against the Pats, it will get ugly in the second half. Even 2-3 first downs per drive can make the difference. I don't care if they punt it away 8 times on Sunday, if they can chew some clock up, they can stay in the game. So how can they do that?
4) The Running Game – It's been abysmal. Blame who you want, it just stinks. Maybe CP's slowing down (I don't believe it, but you're welcome to), maybe the o-line gets no push and no holes opened (I have video evidence that says that's the case), or maybe the coaches aren't calling it correctly, the bottom line is that something has to change. For starters, the Skins will likely have Casey Rabach on Sunday. Rabach is vital for the offense, he's captain of the line (which means he calls the defense and blocking formations) and he's much more athletic on pulling plays than his backup Mike Pucillo. Even more important than Rabach's return is the fact that the starting line will actually practice together three days this week, as opposed to last week where the makeshift group was on the field together once (and it showed). If the Skins can get their YPC up from the 2.4 it was in the second half last week, they'll have more manageable third down plays – something huge for staying on the field. The Patriots actually give up 4.4 YPC – eighth worst in the NFL and according to ESPN insider, they do not stack the box with Defensive Backs, relying on their front seven only to stop the run. This is something the Skins have rarely seen this year and could take advantage of.
5) Unleashing Campbell - If the running game isn't working, why not throw the ball? Duh. I do love CP and want to see him carry it 40 times, but if he isn't happening for Dolla Bill, then Coach Joe has got to start airing it out. If there ever was an opportunity to see what Jason can do, this is the game. The Patriots have a top-5 pass defense, they're considered the best team in the league and they're playing at home. If Campbell can move the offense in this situation then he can do it in any. If Campbell can throw upfield against the Pats maybe Coach Joe will be confident in the passing game's ability against other, less-qualified teams. Here's my bottom line: what do the Redskins have to lose by letting Campbell pass 40 times on Sunday? If he throws a couple of picks, that's what he's supposed to do in this environment throwing the ball 40 times. I would as go as far to say that I would rather the Skins go down a FG or a TD in the first half than play ahead - this way Coach Joe's hand would be forced into throwing. We need to see what happens when the Skins chuck lots of bombs, go over the middle, run slants, run outs to the sidelines - we haven't see any kind of momentum in the pass offense at all and it's about time we do.
6) Injury Update - Casey Rabach and Marcus Washington went full speed today along with Wade and Kendall. Having Marcus back could help the Skins pass rush - I'd love to see some kind of variance of a 3-4 this week with the Skins rushing Carter, Washington, Wilson, Montgomery and Griffin, letting Fletcher and Rocky handle coverage with Landry up as a hybrid linebacker keeping an eye on Welker. I'm very excited to see what they come up with defensively - I'll think it will be different than anything we've seen this year.
7) Interesting Stats to Get You Believing -
A) With the exception of the Cowboys (who rank 7th), the Patriots have played the 32,31,28,29,27,16 defenses in the league. And according to Patriots stat guru Ami Rozmaryn, those total defensive numbers wouldn't change significantly if you took the Patriots games out of their defensive statistics. Those teams can't stop anyone. The Redskins are the best defense the Patriots have played - by a lot.
B) The Redskins are the only NFL team Tom Brady hasn't beaten (he's 0-1).
C) Randy Moss v. Sean Taylor Historically (two game averages):
4 Receptions, 53 yards and 0.5 TD.
I know he's playing with a better QB, but in both those games Taylor was great at covering Moss deep down field and hitting Moss hard whenever he has a chance. Taylor has a knack for rising to the occasion against the league's premiere receivers. Remember - in their first match up in 2004, Moss was trying to make the playoffs in the last game of the season (so he was playing 100%).
8) Prediction - I really believe the Redskins keep this one close for a while. The defense will keep the Pats offense somewhat contained and the offense will surprise some people by moving the ball on the ground and through the air. What will end up being the Redskins demise is turnovers. I see Campbell making a mistake in the middle of the fourth quarter that the Redskins can't recover from. Patriots 30 Redskins 20.