Who would have known before the season started that the Redskins’ game on Sunday against the Houston Texans might be their biggest matchup in the second half of the year? Both teams are 6-3, and a game many fans might have checked as a victory for Washington could prove to be its toughest in the final seven weeks.
Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson has come back well from last year’s knee surgery. He seemed hesitant to run in the Texans’ first three games, all losses, but as he has become more confident he has become deadly, throwing for seven touchdowns with no interceptions in his past two games. The Texans have won six in a row, and with one of the NFL’s best defensive fronts, they are a bad matchup for a Washington team that likes to run, control the ball and force teams into making mistakes.
Get to Deshaun Watson
The Redskins did a much better job of getting to Tampa Bay’s Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday than they did pressuring Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan the week before. But while they reached Fitzpatrick, they did not do a good job of tackling him.
Watson is a great runner, so simply rushing him will not work, but Houston’s glaring weakness is a flimsy offensive line, especially at the tackles. Washington’s defense needs to limit the time Watson takes to look for his receivers while also keeping him from scrambling. Pro Football Focus notes that only eight of Watson’s passes have been dropped this year. The Redskins cannot let him get comfortable while throwing.
Get the passing game going
It seems the proper number of passing yards Alex Smith must throw to win a game is 178. The Redskins quarterback has thrown for exactly this number in the team’s past three victories. And while the formula of getting enough passing yards to build a lead and let the defense hold on has worked, it is not sustainable.
At some point, the passing game has to take off. Houston is probably not the best opponent to throw against. The Texans have one of the best defensive fronts in the league, and Washington is playing with a patchwork offensive line. But the Redskins say the passing game is close to taking off. Expecting Adrian Peterson to have success against one of the best run defenses is not the best plan.
Win the special teams battle
Perhaps the Redskins’ most essential player is punter Tress Way who has routinely dropped punts inside the 20, forcing opponents to travel the length of the field to score. Way has been a huge part of their six victories and was fantastic in Tampa. Washington needs him to be equally as good against the Texans.
A potential problem for the Redskins is the health of kicker Dustin Hopkins, who has been hobbled by a groin strain. Houston’s Ka’imi Fairbairn has hit 19 of 22 field goal attempts, including five of six from 40-49 yards. There’s an excellent chance this game comes down to field goals.
Continue to win the turnover battle
Coach Jay Gruden says the Redskins' plus-11 turnover margin is a big reason they are 6-3. An emphasis on forcing and recovering fumbles has paid off with Washington’s defense and special teams picking up nine opponent fumbles — second-most in the league.
Houston does not turn the ball over much but it also does not generate many turnovers. It’s margin of plus-4 is solid, but if Washington is going to win, it must make the Texans give up the ball at least two times.
Keep surviving on the offensive line
The Redskins will be without star tackle Trent Williams again. This is a blow, given they are playing against some of the NFL’s best pass rushers in J.J Watt and Jadeveon Clowney and have lost their two starting guards for the season. Last week, the line held up well, especially on the left side with Ty Nsekhe and newcomer Jonathan Cooper.
The offensive line, which has three different starters from the opening game lineup, will at least have played a game together before going up against the Texans’ ferocious rush, but it will be challenged all game. Smith will have to scramble a lot and Peterson might not have an opportunity to get going.
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