San Francisco 49ers (6-4) at Washington Redskins (3-7)
Monday - 8:30 pm on ESPN
The 49ers lead the all-time series 18-10-1.
This week's opponents, the San Francisco 49ers, are led on offense by dynamic quarterback Colin Kaepernick and on defense by their linebacking unit of Ahmad Brooks, NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. In order for the Redskins to get a victory on Monday and prevent the entire season from unraveling (if it hasn't happened already), they MUST do the following:
1) Key on the run - For the third straight week, Washington is facing an offense that is capable of producing a devastating rushing attack. San Francisco will try to ground and pound with Frank Gore (748 rushing yards, 7 TD's) up the middle and Kendall Hunter and Kaepernick on the edges. Even though their record sits at 6-4, the 49ers have had a disappointing season. They currently are 3.5 games back from the Seattle Seahawks and tied with the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West. Last week, Kaepernick only threw for 127 yards and on the season San Francisco ranks dead last in the league in passing with 168 yards per game. On the other hand, the 49ers are 5th in the league in rushing with 141 rushing yards per game. The Redskins currently rank 19th against the run and give up 115 yards on average.
2) Beware the read-option - Usually, I am screaming for the Redskins to do more of the read-option. This time around, it is the Redskins who need to prepare to defend it. The 49ers run a similar offense that utilizes Kaepernick's legs and his arm. For the year, Kaepernick has rushed for 335 yards and three touchdowns. He ranks only 21st in total passing and has a paltry 56.2 completion percentage. Only Brandon Weeden and Josh Freeman have worse completion percentages among quarterbacks in the league.
3) Give Griffin more time - While the 49ers rank near the bottom of the league in team sacks with 21 so far this year, they can certainly make Robert Griffin III's life miserable on Monday night. The Redskins' offensive line will simply have to do a better job in pass protection than they have done recently. It would also behoove Kyle Shanahan to call less three step drops than he has the last couple weeks, as the line has still not shown they are capable of being consistent in protection on those plays. With that said, Griffin has also demonstrated he has room for improvement in the decision making department (see the interception to end their comeback last week where he heaved the ball up for grabs on a third and one).
4) Play physical defense on Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin - Boldin is a big, strong receiver who, even in his 11th year in the league, still has the speed to burn the secondary as evidenced by his team leading 47 catches for 630 yards and three touchdowns. Because of his size(6'1", 220 lbs), the corners will most likely need safety help over the top but David Amerson will be the best bet to match up with him physically. In regards to Davis, he presents a hugs matchup problem for any linebacker and has 34 receptions and eight touchdowns on the year. After those two, however, there is a significant drop off as the next player of note is Bruce Miller with only 16 catches.
5) Tighten up the special teams - The Redskins' special teams unit has created very few positive plays, and for the most part has only put the offense in bad field position. For many years under their old special teams coach Danny Smith, fans complained that their special teams play was subpar at its worst and less-than-exciting at its best. This year however, under Keith Burns, the Redskins have reached a new low. Instead of not expecting anything exciting, now fans just hold their breath and hope the special teams' mistakes won't hurt the team too badly. A winning team cannot have these issues. On the return front, it appears as through Niles Paul will continue to return kicks and Nick Williams, after a shaky first game, will get another opportunity at punts.
This entire Redskin team is in big trouble. The offense has shown that they can be great, but outside of their outstanding rushing attack they have been wildly inconsistent overall. The defense has been overmatched seemingly all year. They don't rush the passer, they can't cover, and they can't tackle. Other than that, everything is fine. They have looked better at some times than others, but for the most part, especially when it really matters, they can't seem to get the opposing offense off the field.
Last week, Nick Foles picked them apart and while the Redskins cooled the Eagles' offense off in fourth quarter, the story line this season has been opposing offenses getting what they need and when they need it. The only exception to this has been when the Redskins stopped the Chargers back in Week 9 in three tries from the one foot line.
Washington now sits 2.5 games out of the division lead with six games remaining. There is no indication, based on their performances the last several weeks, that they are capable of beating a team like the 49ers. I will still throw out the caveat that this team has gone on runs before and statistically, they are not out of it. The Eagles are now 6-5 atop the division and are on a bye week. The Cowboys (5-5) and the Giants (4-6) will beat each other up in New York on Sunday and if the Giants win, they will be even at 5-6. IF, and I mean a mammoth sized IF, the Redskins can somehow, some way, manage to get a win on Monday night, they will be 4-7 and by no means out of the running.
However, like the great sports talk radio host Ken Beatrice used to say, "If "if's" and "but's" were candy and nuts, we'd all live like kings."