The Redskins will need a big play from its special teams to beat the Falcons. Photo by Keith Allison at Wikimedia Commons.
It's still early in the season, but Washington already is facing a major challenge if they hope to reach the playoffs. The Skins are 2-2 through the easiest part of their schedule -- the opponents get tougher from here. The last half of the season promises to be a brutal test.
This week, the Redskins face the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons, which might be the league's best team. The Falcons are a balanced squad with a solid offense and a first-rate defense. The Skins confront them with a quality offense and the league's worst defense. Keep this in mind as you prepare to watch this week's contest: Atlanta is undefeated against one of the league's most difficult schedules so far; Washington is 2-2 against one of the weakest.
Here are five things the Redskins must do if they hope to win Sunday against the Falcons:
Cover Atlanta's receivers -- The Falcons have perhaps the game's most dangerous receiving corps, and they're going against a Skins secondary that a) has been terrible; and b) is depleted. Washington planned this season to start Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson at safety, but Meriweather has been hurt and Jackson suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Madieu Williams, Reed Doughty and DeJon Gomes have been less than impressive. The corners haven't been much better. If the secondary can't figure out a way to cover effectively, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez will run wild in Washington.
Pressure Matt Ryan -- Ryan has been excellent throwing the ball and running no-huddle for the Falcons. He's completed 69% of his passes for an adjusted yards per passing attempt (AYPA) of 6.2 -- both among the league leaders. He's been sacked 11 times so far. Washington will need to get to him early and often to rattle him, and pressure him into bad throws...if possible. The Skins' secondary is hoping for a stout pass rush -- they need all the help they can get.
Pass efficiently -- I know the tried and true prescription for a team with a bad defense facing a good offense is to run the ball and chew up clock. I don't think that's going to work very well for two reasons. First, the Falcons have a solid run defense. And, second, I don't think Washington has enough defense to slow down Atlanta's attack. I think Washington is going to need a prolific passing game from Robert Griffin III -- complete with big plays and quick scores.
Make a big play in special teams -- So far this season, the special teams have been a negative. They've had two punts blocked, and Billy Cundiff missed three field goals last week. It's time for special teams to step up and make a play that might turn the game in Washington's favor. I think the team will need it against Atlanta.
Get a defensive score -- Last year, the defense seemed to score more reliably than the offense. I think they're going to need the defense to force a turnover or two and take it to the end zone.
In case you haven't gotten the point, I'm highly dubious about Washington's chances this week. The Skins don't have enough firepower on defense to limit Atlanta's potent offense. And while the offense has been good, at some point Griffin is going to have a rough game. It's a tall task to ask him to carry the offense week after week.
I expect this to be another high-scoring affair with the Falcons pulling away in the second half. (On the bright side, I'm 0-4 on my Skins picks this year. Here's hoping I'm wrong again.)