This NFC/AFC showdown finds the 2-4 Washington Redskins traveling to Mile High to take on the 6-1 Denver Broncos. This will be the first time Redskins’ head coach Mike Shanahan has traveled back to Denver, where he won two Super Bowls but was fired after a playoff-less 2008 campaign.
The Broncos are looking to right the ship after their first loss of the season to Peyton Manning’s former team, the Indianapolis Colts. They are heavily favored to beat the defending NFC East champions, who struggled out the gate due to sophomore QB Robert Griffin III’s struggle to return to form coming off ACL surgery. Their porous defense also deserves a lot of blame for their 2-4 start though.
Here are three matchups that will determine who walks away with a ‘W’ on Sunday.
Redskins Running Game vs. Broncos Run Defense
Since their Week 5 bye, the Redskins’ vaunted running game has picked up steam. On 35 carries in the last two contests, sophomore Alfred Morris has gained 176 yards, including a 45-yard TD against the Cowboys. Change-of-pace RB Roy Helu has also been producing in those two weeks with 83 yards on 17 carries, as well as three TDs against the Bears. The biggest lift, though, has come from Robert Griffin III, who appears to have regained some of his prowess rushing the ball back after the bye. Coming off his ACL injury, RGIII ran for a combined 72 yards in the first four games; since then, he has 161 yards on the ground.
Of course, some of that production has to be attributed to the Bears’ decimated defense, but it is progress nonetheless. They will have a much stiffer test in Denver this Sunday, however. The Broncos currently own the seventh-best run defense grade as a unit, led by defensive ends/outside linebackers Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers, who have a combined 12 stops and only three missed tackles in this area. Inside linebackers Nate Irving and Danny Trevathan are also solid in this regard with both grading positively in this area. And then there’s Von Miller, who, upon his return last week, chipped in with two tackles, both of which were run stops. If the Redskins win this contest, it will most likely be because they won this matchup.
Chris Clark & Louis Vasquez vs. Brian Orakpo & Ryan Kerrigan
With the news that Peyton has a ‘minor’ ankle injury, and the fact that Peyton’s arm seemed a bit off after a Robert Mathis strip-sack last Sunday, it is very important that Denver keep the Redskins’ two outside rushers at bay. LT Chris Clark, forced into the starting lineup in Week 3 due to Ryan Clady’s injury, had been solid after allowing a strip-sack to Lamarr Houston in that first game. He was exposed badly in Indianapolis though, conceding six total pressures (one hurry negated by penalty), including a hit and two sacks (including the above-mentioned forced fumble) to Mathis. On a positive note, right guard Louis Vasquez was great playing the right tackle role for the injured Orlando Franklin in that game, allowing only a single hurry. Can he perform that well again, though? It’s looking like Franklin won’t return for this game.
These two replacement tackles will have quite a challenge against Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, who make up the best part of the Redskins’ otherwise-maligned defense. Although they only have a combined nine sacks (yes, we gave credit to Kerrigan for the victory-sealing sack on Josh McCown last week, along with Barry Cofield), they have accumulated 49 other hurries, including 10 QB knockdowns. This is an important matchup in regards to Peyton’s health.
Broncos WRs vs. Redskins Secondary
The biggest mismatch in this contest is Denver’s dangerous receivers against Washington’s lackluster secondary. Though Demaryius Thomas hasn’t gained 100 yards since Week 1, he’s still a threat to score whenever he catches the ball, and leads all wide receivers in yards after catch. Wes Welker, usually in the slot role, is the Broncos’ leader in catches and has at least one score in every game but the last; he also leads all WRs with eight TD catches. It’s almost comical to call Eric Decker the “weakest link” in this passing offense (six drops, two fumbles, ‘only’ three TD grabs), but he still has 42 catches for 627 yards. And don’t forget about sophomore tight end Julius Thomas, who leads all tight ends with eight TD catches.
Thomas could prove to be a matchup nightmare on ILBs Perry Riley and an aging London Fletcher, not to mention whoever the Redskins end up starting at safety. Let’s look at the Washington cornerbacks though. Josh Wilson, who often ends up defending the slot, has the highest coverage grade among them at -2.5, conceding 19 of 28 passes thrown at him with one pass defensed; he also had a batted pass in Dallas that led to a Rob Jackson interception. Rookie David Amerson has a pick-six and four PDs; however one of those would have been a TD if not for an underthrown Michael Vick pass. Amerson also unfortunately leads all CBs with an average of 22.9 yards per completion allowed in his coverage. There’s also DeAngelo Hall, who often follows the team’s best wide out around the field (although he’s only played seven snaps in slot coverage) and has made a few plays, but given up far more, leaving him with the worst coverage grade of this trio. Can this group surprise the league and hold Manning’s weapons to modest numbers?
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