The San Francisco 49ers enter Week 9 with a 6-1 record, and seem to be a lock to win their NFC West division at the very least. Their opponent, the 3-4 Washington Redskins, seem poised to finish last in the inconsistent and still wide-open NFC East, with significant offensive injuries playing a role in their current three game losing streak.
The reeling Redskins are at least playing at home, and should be a little fired up after a shutout loss in Toronto against the Buffalo Bills. With Frank Gore looking as healthy as he’s ever been, Alex Smith playing well enough to win, and a dominant defense which we have labeled the “Most Valuable Unit,” look for the 49ers to continue their winning ways.
1) Washington’s O-Line vs. San Francisco’s D-Line is a mismatch
In recent years, the Washington Redskins’ offensive line’s talent and depth have been one of their biggest problems, and this season is no different. With Trent Williams (-4.1 overall) still not healthy and Kory Lichtensteiger (+2.7) on injured reserve, their unit that gave up ten sacks and will still be short-handed again against the San Francisco 49ers’ top ranked defense (+94.1 overall). Right guard Chris Chester is the only projected starter this week who hasn’t struggled in pass protection, grading out at +0.4 in that area after giving up no sacks, three quarterback hits and 13 hurries. However, Chester is by far the worst lineman on the roster at run blocking (-12.3), and while his teammates aren’t that horrible, they’re still well below average.
On paper, the Redskins’ offensive line vs. this 49ers defensive line is a huge mismatch. Their starting defensive ends, Justin Smith (+23.4 overall) and Ray McDonald (+17.0) are our top two rated 3-4 defensive ends. Neither Smith nor McDonald are one-dimensional either, as both are great at pass rushing (+16.1 and +11.0) and run defense (+6.3 and +4.8). Fortunately for the Redskins, Isaac Sopoaga has struggled rushing the passer (-2.0 with only three quarterback hurries on the year) and defending the run (-1.6). This game has yet to be played, but it still looks like the Redskins’ front five will have their hands full.
2) Redskins Defense
Much of the Redskins’ 3-1 start came from their strong defensive performances. However, this unit has since struggled along with their offense, but with much less excuse as they haven’t suffered any significant injuries since the beginning of the regular season. Through seven games, they’ve graded at a solid +7.3, but most of that has come from the +15.2 pass rushing total grade; their run defense grade (-4.8) and pass coverage grade (-8.9) paints a much clearer picture.
Despite these struggles, their defense has shown that they can impact the game, especially at home. Their biggest advantage is rushing the passer with the fearsome but recently quiet Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. These two players could help take advantage of the 49ers’ woeful pass-blocking grade thus far (-23.5). The 49ers 20-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns last week epitomized their offensive approach: they’ll focus on running the ball, get a lead and will happily grind out a win by continuing to rely on their running game. That kind of conservative game plan gives the offensively-inept Redskins and their inconsistent defense a chance.
3) Vernon Davis
Vernon Davis, despite having scored three touchdowns on 27 of 31 passes thrown his way and forcing six missed tackles in the process, has struggled this season in other crucial areas. Against the Redskins, it would make sense for Davis to be employed more as a route runner than blocker because of the Redskins’ struggles in defending Tight Ends this season. Thus far, they’ve given up four touchdowns to tight ends, with Jeff King and Brent Celek each catching one as well as Scott Chandler last week scoring twice, not to mention the Rams’ Lance Kendricks nearly catching two himself (and dropping one). Don’t be surprised if the 49ers try to get Davis involved early and often this week.
Be sure to follow our main Twitter feed: @ProFootbalFocus