The Washington Redskins players who stayed up late last Sunday night to scout their upcoming opponent, the Denver Broncos, received a pleasant surprise: hope.
The high-powered Broncosâ€™ offense led by four-time NFL MVP quarterback Peyton Manning was slowed â€” though not stopped â€” in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts, giving Washingtonâ€™s defense a potential blueprint for success ahead of Sundayâ€™s game in Denver.
But can the short-handed Redskinsâ€™ defense actually pull off a respectable showing, much less a stunning upset?
â€ś[Manning] does present a lot of different challenges to your defense,â€ť coach Mike Shanahan said. â€śWeâ€™ll obviously have a game plan, and hopefully we can do better than a lot of teams have.â€ť
On paper, the matchup looks difficult for the Redskins. Manning has completed 71.6 percent of his passes for 2,565 yards and 25 touchdowns. Washington is giving up 8.5 yards per passing attempt, the second-worst figure in the NFL, and will be without suspended safety Brandon Meriweather and perhaps safety Reed Doughty, who suffered a concussion against the Bears.
â€śEverybody is going to be stressed,â€ť corner Josh Wilson said. â€śWe have to make plays. Itâ€™s time to step up. You have to make plays, and thatâ€™s what the Colts were able to do.â€ť
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett knows that trying to beat Manning, one of the leagueâ€™s trickiest and most cerebral players, at his own game isnâ€™t going to work. Haslett prefers a strategy that follows the Redskinsâ€™ basic formula.
â€śPeyton sees everything,â€ť Haslett said. â€śYou think you can disguise something on him, and he recognizes every coverage and understands what you are doing. Youâ€™re not going to go out there and think youâ€™re going to fool him. Itâ€™s not going to happen.
â€śSo you have to go out there and execute, you have to perform well and you have to do everything thatâ€™s right to give yourself a chance to win the game.â€ť
If thereâ€™s one surefire strategy to slow Manning down, itâ€™s when teams are able to collapse the pocket, forcing the quarterback to alter his footwork, and deliver repeated hits. Of course, thatâ€™s easier said than done.
â€śItâ€™s up to us to go out there and execute,â€ť defensive end Kedric Golston said. â€śWe canâ€™t worry about what he knows or what he doesnâ€™t know. A lot of it just comes down to one-on-one matchups. If we can out-execute the Broncos, I think weâ€™ll be just fine.â€ť
Three questions with â€¦ Redskins rookie RB Chris Thompson
1. Whatâ€™s been the best part of making it to the NFL?
â€śJust being able to play again. I had some injuries in college, and I didnâ€™t think Iâ€™d get a chance to play, let alone getting drafted. Every day is a blessing to come here. All I have to do is wake up and play football every day. That alone puts a smile on my face.â€ť
2. How disappointed were you with your struggles as a returner?
â€śI put it on me. When I went back and looked on film, there were times when I would sit and wait for a hole when I should have just hit it and run. I should have got those 10 or 15 yards instead of trying to make the big play every time. As a rookie, you have to learn every yard counts.â€ť
3. Did you buy anything cool with your first NFL check?
â€śNot yet. Iâ€™m big on video games, so Iâ€™m waiting for this Xbox One and PlayStation 4 to come out. I guess itâ€™s not a big, big purchase, but thatâ€™s big for me. Thatâ€™s all I need.â€ť