The Washington Redskins on Sunday look to avoid their fourth straight loss when the San Francisco 49ers come to town, boasting one of the best running games and best defenses that Mike Shanahan’s bunch will face all season.
The Redskins’ offense needs to rebound from a dismal showing and figure out a way to put points on the board while the defense must find a solution to stopping Frank Gore.
Here are five storylines to follow in Washington’s eighth game of the season.
1. Redemption for Kyle’s crew – Kyle Shanahan’s offense was atrocious last week, and it doesn’t matter how good your defense is, if you can’t score a single point, you’re not going to win. John Beck must play better if he wants to hang onto the starting quarterback job. He has to see the field better and play with more confidence and improved anticipation. On the first play of the game, he had Anthony Armstrong streaking past Buffalo’s safety, but didn’t feel like Armstrong was open enough to make the throw for what would have been either a touchdown or a big gain. At least five of the 10 sacks were Beck’s fault for holding onto the ball too long, and Shanahan said his unit missed on 25 potential big plays. In talking to people around the league, scheme and play-calling isn’t the problem with the Redskins. Execution is. Both head coach and offensive coordinator have to get more out of their players this week. Health is another factor, especially along the offensive line. The return of Trent Williams at left tackle could make a significant difference.
2. Run defense – The common theme in all four of the Redskins’ defensive showings in each of their four losses is an inability to stop the run. Teams know they can spread Jim Haslett’s bunch out and run on that nickel package. Interesting observation: Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield (who were brought in to upgrade the defensive front) both struggled mightily when it came to getting off of blocks and filling gaps. Meanwhile, Adam Carriker and Kedric Golston fared much better when lining up in the nickel package. There have been misses by inches here and there in each of the losses and the Redskins must turn those whiffs into sure tackles.
3. Fred Davis’ health – The Redskins main playmaker, Davis has been hobbled by a sprained ankle all week and if he can’t play – or play effectively – on Sunday, Washington’s slim chances of executing against a dominant San Francisco defense diminish significantly. If healthy, the Redskins will likely feed Davis the ball in a variety of ways. He’s the only sure thing they’ve got right now, so they have no choice. Getting Davis going also should help his teammates, though. If he starts to attract the attention of the defense, then somewhere on the field, there will be a forgotten man, giving John Beck other options.
4. Rogers’ revenge – Carlos Rogers says “I’m past the Redskins,” but the 49ers’ top free agent pickup would like nothing more than to come into FedEx Field and have a great game against his former team and remind team officials they were wrong to let him walk rather than award him a contract this past summer. The cornerback already has three interceptions – more than Washington’s secondary combined – and given that he knows the offense, has familiarity with some of the Redskins receivers, he is in prime position to succeed on Sunday. Rogers said he’s sure the Redskins will challenge him with some double-moves, but he’s ready.
5. Motivation – A long-time NFL official remarked to me this week that judging by body language and execution – or the lack thereof – the Washington Redskins didn’t look motivated to play last week against the Buffalo Bills. That’s not a good thing considering their season was/is slipping away and motivation shouldn’t have been hard to come by. Mike Shanahan must push all the right buttons this week and get his players to play with a sense of urgency. An upset over the 49ers could provide a huge lift for this team. A loss drops them two games below .500, and with games against formidable opponents Dallas, New England, the Giants, the Jets and the Eagles all still remaining, the going doesn’t get any easier for this Redskins team.