Five areas to monitor as the Redskins enter Week 5 of the NFL season

October 3, 2012

The Washington Redskins return to work today to begin preparations for what figures to be a big challenge: hosting the 4-0 Atlanta Falcons Sunday.


Alfred Morris carried 21 times for a season-high 113 yards against the Buccaneers.

The Falcons, led by quarterback Matt Ryan and receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, rank third in the league in scoring (31.0 points a game), one spot better than the Redskins at 30.8 ppg. Atlanta averages 365.4 yards a game (267.5 through the air, 97.8 on the ground).

 After playing three of their first four games on the road, the Redskins return home, where they will play their next two games.

 Here are five areas to monitor as the Redskins enter Week 5 of the NFL season.

 1.) Secondary adjustments – The Redskins did better against the pass for just more than a half of last Sunday’s game, then their penchant for giving up big plays returned. Something else that hurt the Redskins defensive backs was the lack of pressure by the guys up front. Washington recorded only one sack in Sunday’s game. That has to change. So defensive coordinator Jim Haslett continues to search for answers. The Falcons will definitely take shots downfield, so the Redskins have their work cut out for them.

Once again, they will be without starting strong safety Brandon Meriweather. Reed Doughty started in his place for the first time last week because Meriweather was healthy right up until that bizarre collision in pregame warmups. That meant DeJon Gomes, who has struggled at strong safety, spent most of his time working at backup free safety. The Redskins also were without Cedric Griffin, who was nursing a hamstring injury all of last week, and will find out today where their third cornerback’s health stands.

 2.) Garcon’s progress – No. 1 wideout Pierre Garcon returned to action last week, but had only one catch for 20 yards. Immediately after the game, he reported no setbacks to his strained right foot, so the Redskins hope that he continues to progress and that the explosive player they saw on the first eight plays of the season opener soon returns to boost their already high-scoring offense.

 3.) Third down struggles – The Redskins continue to struggle on third downs, ranking last in the NFL with a success rate of only 25.5 percent. Last Sunday, they converted only two of 11 for first downs. In a game that will hinge on the ability to score points, sustain drives and keep the Falcons off the field, Washington must do better. The key is better success on first and second downs, so Robert Griffin III & Co. don’t face so many third-and-longs. Meanwhile, the Redskins’ defense braces for a Falcons unit that ranks second in the league when it comes to success on third downs. Atlanta has converted just less than half of its third downs.

 4.) Cundiff’s kicks – Billy Cundiff redeemed himself – at least temporarily – by making that game-winning field goal after missing his first three attempts. The Redskins plan to  stick with him for the time being, Mike Shanahan said on Monday. But Cundiff’s struggles (he has made two of six attempts since going 4-for-4 in the opener) can’t continue. Cundiff said timing between him, holder Sav Rocca and long-snapper Justin Snow remains an issue. They need to resolve it in a hurry.

5.) Morris’s progress – The rookie running back had his best outing of the season against Tampa Bay, rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown. For the season, Morris ranks fifth in the league with 376 yards a game and is tied for first with four rushing touchdowns. He still is developing however. There have been struggles with his tracks (Shanahan joked that Morris leads the team with four sacks after running into Griffin several times and wiping out his quarterback; another time he ran into left tackle Jordan Black, causing him to miss an assignment, which led to another sack of Griffin). Morris hasn’t been very involved in the passing game, either as a receiver or blocker. The Redskins are extremely happy with what he has given them so far. The goal is simply for him to continue to get better and become an all-around back. It could be a big week for Morris: the Falcons rank 29th against the run.

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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