Green Bay receiving corps must step up against Washington
It’s been an interesting season for both the Green Bay Packers and the Washington Redskins. Many predicted Washington to finish at the bottom of the NFC East; they were starting Kirk Cousins, they had holes all over their team, and had plenty of off-the-field distractions. Halfway through the season, they had a 3-5 record. But Washington got hot behind some strong play by Cousins (second-highest graded QB the last three weeks of the season) and the offense, and they cruised to a home playoff game with four straight wins to close out the year.
Meanwhile, the Packers got off to a hot 6-0 start, playing as well as anyone. But after their Week 7 bye, they went just 4-6, with the offense struggling to move the ball at times. They failed to win the NFC North for the first time since 2010, falling to the Vikings in their final contest at Lambeau for the division crown. It’s been a long time since this Packers’ squad has looked as beatable as they have in recent weeks.
Now they have to go on the road and take on a Washington team that’s playing as well as anyone lately. Let’s take a look at both of these teams from a PFF point of view.
It’s no secret that the Packers’ success begins and ends with QB Aaron Rodgers. While he has struggled this season (by his incredibly high standards), he still finished the regular season ranked 12th among quarterbacks, with an 80.4 overall season grade. He was pressured more often this season, but made defenses pay, throwing 12 touchdowns when under pressure, which was the second-most in a season since 2007.
Defensively, the Packers have a stronger secondary than people give them credit for. Anchored by near-elite safety Morgan Burnett (89.0 overall grade, third amongst safeties), every member of the Packers’ secondary that plays significant snaps has graded above-average this season.
The Packers lack of receiving weapons has plagued them all season. Only 31-year old James Jones graded positively for them at the receiver/tight end position, and he finished as the 44th-highest graded receiver in the NFL. Randall Cobb has struggled at times, and Davante Adams finished as the sixth-lowest graded receiver in the league. TE Richard Rodgers has shown flashes of good play, but hasn’t been consistent.
On the defensive side, the Packers linebackers have been their weak point all year long. Clay Matthews is a great edge rusher, but he’s just not an inside linebacker. He’s really struggled in the middle, ending the year with a 64.0 overall grade, ranked 43rd among ILB’s. Mike Neal had a pass rush grade of 43.0 this season, the third-worst among any edge rusher. Julius Peppers had success pass rushing, but that was about it. Not one of them graded as even just an average starter this season.
DE Mike Daniels (90.7 overall grade): Daniels was the Packers’ best player this season by a large margin. He finished top 10 in both pass rushing productivity and run stop percentage among 3-4 DE’s.
The passing offense of Washington has suddenly become a dangerous threat. Over the last four weeks (all wins), QB Kirk Cousins was our third-highest graded quarterback, averaged a ridiculous 9.7 yards per attempt, and threw 12 touchdowns to just one interception. Jordan Reed has been one of the best receiving TE’s in the NFL all year, and DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder are all dangerous above-average starters.
Washington’s pass rush has quietly been one of the best in the NFL this season. Jason Hatcher, despite registering just two sacks, has totaled 50 pressures, and is third among 3-4 DE’s with a 10.9 pass rushing productivity mark. Chris Baker is not far behind at 9.1, 10th on the list. Ryan Kerrigan has 59 pressures off the edge, seventh-most among 3-4 OLB’s. Overall, Washington’s defense has 42 sacks, 43 QB hits, and 197 hurries.
The run game has been a bit of an issue for the Washington offense this year. Despite an offensive line that has, for the most part, graded positively run blocking, Washington rushers have averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. More troubling is the 2.1 yards after contact per attempt. All three of Alfred Morris, Chris Thompson, and Matt Jones earned player grades that were below average for a starter this season (68.8, 53.3, and 50.4 overall grades, respectively).
Take away Bashaud Breeland, and this secondary is not Washington’s strong suit. Dashon Goldson was among the worst tackling safeties in the NFL, averaging a missed tackle every 5.9 attempts. Will Blackmon and Quinton Dunbar have been below average in coverage, and Kyshoen Jarrett hasn’t graded out much better. Breeland’s 83.5 season grade is the highest in the secondary, but even he has struggled recently, surrendering 274 yards and a touchdown over the last three weeks.
Matchups to watch
DE Chris Baker (83.2) vs. G Josh Sitton (88.2): This matchup hinges on the likelihood that Green Bay ends their “Sitton at tackle” experiment, and moves him back inside to deal with Washington’s best front-seven defender. Sitton was the fifth-highest graded guard in football this season, allowing just 12 pressures. Baker had 41 pressures, along with 25 run stops on the season.
CB Casey Hayward (79.6) vs. WR DeSean Jackson (81.3): Jackson has gained a ridiculous 74 percent of his total yards and all of his touchdowns (four) on deep passes (balls thrown over 20 yards in the air). Heyward has allowed just three receptions on deep throws all season.
Paths to victory
Green Bay can win if: Their receivers get open and make some plays to take some of the pressure off of Rodgers, and their secondary can prevent the big pass plays that Washington has been so successful with lately.
Washington can win if: They can establish a good run game to complement their pass attack, and they can get pressure by rushing just four and forcing Rodgers to scramble and make risky throws into tight coverage.