In search of their first win of the season, the Washington Redskins head west where they will take on the Oakland Raiders at 4:25 p.m. on Fox.
This is Coach Mike Shanahan’s first game against an AFC West opponent since 2008. During 14 seasons as coach of the Denver Broncos, Shanahan defeated the Raiders 21 times, his highest total against any opponent. Will history remain on Shanahan’s side?
Here are five story lines to follow in this game.
1. Sense of urgency: If ever the Redskins had their backs up against a wall, this is it. The team endured back-to-back thrashings to open the season, and then fell short in an improved effort last week against Detroit to drop to 0-3. Self-inflicted wounds were primarily to blame as two turnovers, untimely drops, lapses in pass coverage and penalties did in the Redskins and killed any chances of entering next week’s bye with a 2-2 record. Now, however, the Redskins face the possibility of entering their meeting with Dallas without a win. The Raiders are no world-beaters, but they rank third in the NFL in rushing and have some speed at the receiver positions. The Redskins more than anything, however, need to worry about themselves. If they can improve their tackling woes, convert more third downs and maintain possession of the ball, they should get the win. Players say they haven’t yet hit the panic button. But they do understand the sense of urgency they must have entering this game.
2. Defensive progress: The Redskins last week made strides in stopping the run, as they limited the Lions to just 63 yards on the ground. That’s a big improvement from the first two weeks, where they allowed an average of 201 rushing yards per outing. But the Raiders, featuring running back Darren McFadden, own the third-best rushing attack in the NFL. Washington’s defense must continue to improve in this area. The team also did better against the pass, but still gave up too many big plays. The team has surrendered 17 plays of 25 yards or more, and the unit has allowed 1,464 yards, which is a league record for the first three games of a season. Defensive players insist they’re close to turning things around. Is this the week.
3. Oakland QB situation: The Redskins have spent the week preparing for two quarterbacks: third-year dual-threat quarterback Terrelle Pryor and Matt Flynn, who has spent his five previous seasons as a backup but has had some big games here and there. Pryor suffered a concussion Monday night against the Broncos and practiced in a limited capacity Thursday. But the most recent reports indicate he likely won’t play. If Pryor is otu, then the Redskins could catch a break. Gone is the mobile threat (Pryor leads the team in rushing and averages 7.6 yards per carry). The team would have an easier time containing Flynn, a traditional drop-back passer. The Redskins also would be able to be more aggressive in their pass rush, which will help their struggling secondary.
4. Griffin’s progress: Robert Griffin III last week looked as close to his old self as he has since he initially injured his knee in Week 14 of the 2012 season. He ran the ball a season-high six times while averaging 6.2 yards a carry. He showed good mobility and comfort as he rolled out on bootleg passes. He planted and stepped into throws with confidence. He gunned the ball roughly 67 yards downfield to Aldrick Robinson on the play that would have been a go-ahead touchdown had Robinson held onto the ball. But, the quarterback still had some miscues in the form of errant passes and a fumble at the end of a 21-yard run that would’ve put his team into scoring position. Redskins coaches remain confident that Griffin gives them the best chance for a win. They’re certainly giving him every opportunity to do so as they dial up 46 pass plays a game for Griffin. When will that complete game come? Did he shake off that final bit of rust with the fumble? Is this the week he finally puts it all together? Effectiveness on third downs by Griffin will help set up Washington’s offense for extended drives and a more balanced attack after lopsided efforts in each of the three weeks. A strong showing and a victory entering into the bye would do wonders for the confidence of the young quarterback and his team.
5. Special teams production: There has been nothing special about the Redskins’ special teams units. Rookie return man Chris Thompson has yet to make an impact on either kickoff or punt returns. Last week in the second half, the team tried Josh Morgan on kick returns, but he wasn’t able to set his team up with a shorter field either. A Redskins offense that has struggled mightily could benefit from a big return or two to give them a shorter field to work with rather than having to go 85 to 90 yards to put points on the board. The Redskins still don’t know if they will get clutch kicker Kai Forbath back from a groin injury that has sidelined him the last two games. In his place is John Potter, who after missing his lone attempt versus Green Bay made two field goals against Detroit.