Washington Redskins (2-4) at Denver Broncos (6-1)
Sunday - 4:25 pm on Fox
The all-time series is tied at 6-6.
This week's opponent, the Denver Broncos, are led by future Hall of Fame quarterback and player-coach Peyton Manning. No one who follows the NFL closely expects the Redskins to win this week in Denver. In order for them to shock the world and get a victory on Sunday, they MUST do the following:
1) Get to Peyton early - Manning suffered an ankle injury in last week's game that seemed to hamper his play and he was not able to practice on Wednesday. The Broncos are being very coy about the issue and have not stated which ankle has been the problem. He was able to practice on Thursday and indicated everything would be fine. However, Manning hates missing practice, and the fact that they felt it necessary to hold him out at least one day indicates it must have been bothering him. Part of what helped the Colts beat the Broncos last week, was the fact that they were able to pressure Manning and make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket. The Colts finished with 4 sacks (including one that caused a fumble in the endzone and led to a safety) and managed to knock Manning down ten times. They also held him to under 60% completion percentage for the first time all year. The Redskins will need their pass rushers to get through early and often to have an impact.
2) Have their best game yet in the secondary - While the pass rushers are getting penetration, the Redskins' defensive backs will have to play their best football of the season in coverage with the likes of Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas on the other side. That task is made much harder with starting safety Brandon Meriweather out for the game due to a suspension. The Redskins currently rank 22nd in the league in pass defense, allowing 262.8 yards per game. The Broncos rank first in the league in passing with 361.3 yards per game. In Week 7, the Colts were somewhat successful jamming the Broncos' receivers up front and then going mostly man-to-man. Jim Haslett will have his hands full trying to come up with the best course of action for his unit.
3) Run, Run, Run - The absolute best way to beat Peyton Manning is to keep him off the field. Last week, it was very apparent that the Griffin of 2012 is back. The timing could not be better as the Redskins will need big running performances from Morris, Helu and their quarterback. The Redskins rank fourth in the league in rushing, with 141.5 yards per game. The Broncos defense is a case study in extremes. They rank first in the league in rushing defense, allowing only 77.1 yards per game on the ground. However, they are dead last in the league in pass defense, giving up an average of 361.3 yards per game through the air. The hope is that Washington will be able to continue the impressive rushing totals they have been putting up recently, and then be able to expose the Broncos' weak pass defense when necessary.
4) Finish drives with touchdowns - It has been very interesting (and fun of late) to watch the progression of this offense and RG3 since the start of the season. Initially, they could not move the ball well at all and were basically worthless until opposing teams went into their prevent defense. Then, we started to see life in Griffin's legs again and the offense started getting yards but it did not always translate into points. Now, after last week, it is apparent that not only is the Griffin of last year back, but maybe the entire offense is as well. They scored 45 points against the Bears, which was tops in the league in Week 7. Without question, that will need to continue. Ironically, the only team to score more points than that in a single game so far this season is the Broncos, who scored 49 in Week 1 and then got 52 in Week 4.
5) Don't allow cheap touchdowns - If the Redskins are able to run, keep Manning off the field and win the time-of-possession battle, it would go a long way towards securing an unexpected victory. None of that will matter, however, if they allow the Broncos to score quick and easy touchdowns. The Broncos don't need any help, and the Redskins must avoid turnovers deep in their own territory that would give Manning an easy score as well as avoid giving up touchdowns in the return game. Broncos return man Trindon Holiday is lightening fast and already has two returns for touchdowns this year. He is third in the league in kick return average with 34.9 yards per return and had one for 105 yards in a Week 4 win over the Eagles. The Redskins' special teams unit has given up returns for touchdowns in two consecutive weeks, and another would severely hurt their cause in a game like this.
The Redskins earned a solid victory last week and now sit at 2-4. Most people do not expect them to win this game and for good reason. When it comes down to it, the Broncos have shown that they can be unstoppable, and it was not until last week that they finally revealed some potential weaknesses that opponents could try to expose. In order to have any chance, Washington will have to play the perfect game on defense and Griffin and the offense will somehow have to keep the team within striking distance of Denver in the scoring column.
If they lose this game, everyone will say "I told you so" and the team will have to pick up the pieces against the Chargers in Week 9. If they are able to do the unthinkable and actually come out of Denver at 3-4, it would put the rest of the league on notice that the Redskins and Robert Griffin III are suddenly a legitimate playoff threat.
It's a long shot, but stranger things have happened.