The Washington Redskins on Sunday host the Cincinnati Bengals in their first home game of the season at 1 p.m.
The Redskins are trying to rebound from a 31-28 loss at St. Louis last week. Meantime, Cincinnati also owns a 1-1 record, but is coming off a 34-27 victory over Cleveland. The Redskins and Bengals have met eight times, with each team winning four. Washington is 3-1 at home against Cincinnati. The Bengals have won the past two meetings, the most recent a 20-13 decision at Cincinnati in 2008.
Here are five storylines to follow for Sunday’s game:
1. The revamped front seven: With Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker now on Injured Reserve, the Redskins will turn to Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson at right outside linebacker and Jarvis Jenkins at left defensive end. All three are talented, but only time will tell how well they will be able to fill the voids of the fallen starters. The Redskins will rely heavily on left outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan to lead the pass-rushing charge while more pressure falls on nose tackle Barry Cofield and right end Stephen Bowen. The Redskins struggled to get to St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford before he got rid of the ball, partly because of the absence of the two starters, but also because the Rams’ plan was to dink and dunk their way down the field. Cincinnati likes a more vertical attack, however, so the Redskins’ front seven must get to second-year passer Andy Dalton, and also must contain running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
2. Secondary adjustments: In each of the past two weeks, the Redskins’ defensive backs have been vulnerable to opponents’ double moves, and they also have given up seven pass plays of 25 yards or more. In the words of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, “Stuff like that shouldn’t happen.” The coach this week has emphasized an attention to detail and technique. The Bengals have an explosive pass-catching threat in second-year wideout A.J. Green, who has great size, speed and ball skills. The Redskins’ defensive backs must be on-point in their coverages to keep him under control. Through two games, the Redskins have played both man-to-man and zone coverage, with the bulk of their success coming in man. But covering Green likely will require some creativity, as he is capable of beating many one-on-one matchups.
3. Special teams execution: This unit has seen a fair amount of struggles in the season’s first two games. Blocked punts in back-to-back weeks are most alarming. Meantime, punt returner Brandon Banks is averaging just 6.2 yards a return and has fumbled twice. Last week, the Redskins also got away with several blocks in the back during returns. Players insist their woes are not strategic or preparation-related, but instead stem from a lack of focus. A blocked punt led to a touchdown in the opener against the Saint, but the Redskins still managed to win. The block against the Rams, however, put St. Louis in position to score the fourth-quarter touchdown that gave them a 31-28 lead that wound up being the final margin.
4. Mental toughness: Early and often, the Rams tried to rattle the Redskins and force frustrations and lapses in judgment. Josh Morgan finally had had enough in the closing minutes of play, when he committed his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and took his team out of makeable field goal range. The Redskins this week have discussed the importance of maintaining their composure and executing at a high level regardless of what their opponents are doing and what the replacement officials are and aren’t calling.
5. Continued success on offense: The Redskins enter this game averaging a league-best 34 points a game and ranking fourth in the NFL in total offense (416 yards per game). Given the struggles of the defense, the Redskins’ offense must continue to generate points. Production from rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris have helped ensure a balanced attack that has kept opposing defenses guessing. More tape is out on the Redskins’ schemes now, so each week they face the challenge of putting together a game plan that continues to surprise foes. What new wrinkles will Kyle Shanahan dial up this week? Through two weeks, the offensive line has done a commendable job protecting Griffin and paving the way for a strong run game. The Bengals rank 29th in the league against the pass (yielding 308.5 ypg) and 19th against the run (126.0 ypg). That should bode well for Washington’s chances of having a productive day.