Redskins-Ravens: Five storylines to follow


Pierre Garcon and the Redskins aim to improve to 7-6 with a win over Baltimore. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Redskins on Sunday host the Baltimore Ravens at 1 p.m. For the Redskins, it’s a chance to pick up their fourth consecutive victory and improve to 7-6. It would mark the first time since 2008 that the Washington has had a winning record during the month of December.

The Ravens enter this game with a 9-3 record. Last week they had a four-game winning streak snapped by a 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Redskins are favored by two points, but are 1-2 against the spread as a home favorite this season.

Here are five story lines to follow in this week’s game.

1. Rushing attacks – The Redskins boast the best running game in the NFL, averaging 167.2 yards a game behind Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III. The Ravens’ defense, meanwhile, ranks 23rd against the run, giving up 125.8 yards a game. It could make for another big day for Washington’s ball carriers. An ability to move the ball on the ground will enable the Redskins to control the clock, and will help keep Joe Flacco and his receivers off the field. Meanwhile, the Redskins’ defense faces a tough task in shutting down Ravens running back Ray Rice, who has rushed for 872 yards and eight touchdowns this season while averaging 4.4 yards a carry. The Redskins rank fourth against the run (91.5 ypg), and have allowed only two 100-yard rushers this season. Defensive players say they still expect to get a steady dose of Rice, but are up for the challenge.

2. Griffin vs. Reed – Sunday will mark the first time that Robert Griffin III has faced one of the league’s great safeties. Future Hall of Famer Ed Reed will be all over the field and has spent the week studying Griffin on film. The rookie has done a great job of protecting the ball, throwing only four interceptions in 12 games. But the ball-hawking Reed and his fellow defensive backs will look for ways to confuse Griffin and disguise what they are trying to do and force him into errors.

3. Banged-up starters – Left tackle Trent Williams (thigh) and cornerback DeAngelo Hall (ankle) both practiced in a limited capacity Thursday after missing Wednesday’s practice. Both say they expect to play, but it remains to be seen how effective they can be. Williams didn’t surrender a sack in each of the last two outings that he was hobbled, so he should be fine. Hall could see his speed and ability to change directions hampered by the ankle, but insists that he’s playing. Meanwhile, inside linebacker London Fletcher (ankle) missed the first two practices of the week, and while the Redskins hope that he can play as he has the last three games, Mike Shanahan said nothing is certain yet.

4. Patchy secondary – The Redskins need Hall to be as close to 100 percent as possible as the secondary will face a receiver unit that features Anquan Boldin, who averages 13.2 yards a catch and Torrey Smith, who averages 17.4 yards a catch and leads the team with seven touchdowns. The speedy Jacoby Jones also is a threat. But Hall’s injury isn’t the only issue for the Redskins. The team is trying to find out who can replace suspended cornerback Cedric Griffin, who frequently played alongside Hall and Josh Wilson as the third corner. Fourth-year journeyman corner D.J. Johnson and rookie Richard Crawford both figure to see some action, but neither have a lot of experience. The Redskins have had to adjust all season in their secondary, and after averaging 330 passing yards an outing in their first seven games, they have in fact shown improvement, limiting teams to 269.6 yards a game in their last five matchups. How will they fare against Flacco, who has a big arm, but struggles with consistency? 

5. Playoff implications – With a Redskins victory over the Ravens and a Giants’ loss to the Saints, Washington and New York would hold identical 7-6 records, and the Redskins would have the tiebreaker for first place in the NFC East. The Redskins also will be keeping an eye on Seattle, who at 7-5 currently sits ahead of them in the race for a wildcard spot. The Cowboys, Bucs and Vikings, all of whom the Redskins have wins over, also own 6-6 records and are in the hunt for a wildcard bid.

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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Keith McMillan · December 7, 2012