Quite the eventful week, what with the holidays and the end of 2012 approaching. I imagine for a Redskins fan, nothing would make a better gift or more properly welcome in the new year than an NFC East-clinching win against the Cowboys.
Given the old “big players play big in big games” cliche (and boy is that a corny one, albeit true), it’s a given that Washington needs RGIII and Alfred Morris and London Fletcher to rise to the occasion on Sunday night. But given that football is the ultimate team game (more fun with cliches!), big games are rarely won on the play of stars alone. With that in mind, Opening Kick this morning asks which Redskins player do you think needs to have a standout game in order for Washington to beat Dallas?
If you’ve been out of the office or offline most of the week, perhaps you missed Jason Reid highlighting a couple of this season’s unsung heroes: Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen. We also this week got a look into what makes Fletcher and Pierre Garcon tick. There’s a 9 a.m. blog post by Adam Kilgore on Josh Morgan coming. It’d certainly help if those guys played well, but let me throw out a couple other names:
Reed Doughty: I imagine most Redskins fans have a love-hate relationship with the longtime safety. One hand, he’s a consummate team player who has appeared in 91 games in the Gibbs, Zorn and Shanahan eras, with half of them (45) starts. On the other hand, his impact is limited, and his two career interceptions and nine pass break-ups in six-plus seasons speak to that. Doughty has started the past three games alongside Madieu Williams, and given how Dez Bryant has played of late (10 receiving TDs in past seven games, and coming off a nine-catch, 224-yard game against the Saints) safety help on deep balls is going to come into play. DeJon Gomes is merely hoping to play Sunday, so it’s on Doughty and Williams to limit Dallas’s deep damage.
Tyler Polumbus and/or Maurice Hurt: Tackle play will always be key when protecting a player as valuable as Griffin, and running the ball as much as the Redskins do. Hurt drew praise for filling in for Polumbus last week. Sunday night’s starter will be a game-time decision even if Polumbus practices Friday as expected, but even if he goes, Hurt could end up subbing in on short notice. With Anthony Spencer playing as well as or better than DeMarcus Ware, the Redskins’ right tackle, whoever it is, is going to have an impact on the outcome.
Perry Riley and Rob Jackson: Ryan Kerrigan and Fletcher are the linebacking stars, but Riley is as important as his 37-year-old Inside ‘backer counterpart (Fletcher has a team-high 128 tackles, Riley 120, outpacing No. 3 DeAngelo Hall by nearly 30). When it comes to stopping DeMarco Murray and making Dallas’s offense one-dimensional, Riley will have to play well. Meantime, Jackson has been a pleasant surprise filling in for Brian Orakpo, and he hasn’t hit the wall. He’s got three pass-breakups, an interception and a forced fumble in the past two games, and four sacks during the six-game winning streak. He could influence the passing game.
Do you agree with those, or perhaps have other players in mind? Maybe it’s something even less obvious, like the FedEx Field crowd creating an impactful home-field advantage, or more abstract, like the weather affecting Dan Bailey’s kicks more than Kai Forbath’s. Whatever your thoughts on Sunday’s game, and what could tilt it, we’re glad to hear. There’s a chance this could be our last game-Friday post, but if you have the right insight on Sunday night’s game and your pick plays well, we’ll do it again before next week’s playoff game.