This Sunday’s game has all the potential to be what is commonly referred to as “The Letdown game.” The Redskins, and their fans, were jacked up beyond belief to take on the Giants, an NFC East rival who limped into last Sunday’s game after spending the better part of the last four years pounding the Redskins into pate.
After an emotional and decisive victory, the enthusiasm and optimism’s running as high as it’s been at any point since the middle of the 2008 season, when were all so “Horny for Zorny.”
Facing an opponent that barely squeaked out a win against a team that won a grand total two games in 2010 and was had a rookie quarterback under center (who ended up slicing and dicing their secondary), and has to make the trip three-quarters of the way across the country, this has all the makings of the infamous “trap game.”
Even with a great win last Sunday, there’s work to be done. Here’s 5 things to watch for, as the Redskins take on the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday (1:00pm EST):
1. Keep Arizona’s defensive line and pass rushers away from Rex Grossman
For anyone that watched the game last Sunday, it became pretty clear what the Giants defensive game plan was, for the Redskins offense: sell out and stop the the run on first and second downs, hopefully get the Redskins into third and long, and then bring the blitz. And unfortunately, it worked more often than not.
As my friend Rich Campbell of the Washington Times pointed out: Grossman’s statline was 15-of-22 for 221 yards, with one TD and one sack, when the Giants brought four or fewer pass rushers. When the Giants brought the blitz? Grossman’s stats dropped to 6-of-12 for 84 yards, three sacks, one TD (the pass to Jabar Gaffney) and an almost-game-changing fumble in the second half.
All five guys on the Redskins offensive line almost literally took turns getting beat by a banged-up Giants defensive line last Sunday. Trent Williams had one of the worst games of his Redskins career, getting routinely abused by Jason Pierre-Paul (Pierre-Paul caused the fumble by Grossman). Jammal Brown, Kory Lichtensteiger, and Chris Chester were all beaten off the line by defenders – sometimes really badly – at different points in the game.
New Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton came from Pittsburgh, where he served as the defensive backs coach, and is a disciple of longtime Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the modern day Godfather of the blitz, and the the mad scientist who basically invented the concept of the fire zone and the zone blitz.
The Cardinals are going try and do the exact same thing the Giants did last week: control the edges and take away the zone stretch plays that Tim Hightower excels at, get the Redskins get the Redskins into third and longer-than-comfortable, and then bring the blitz from every angle possible.
This time, the results have to be better for the Redskins, than what they were last week.
2. Allow Tim Hightower to get some revenge on the team that traded him
The Cardinals went into last weekend’s match-up against the Carolina Panthers with the plan of doing everything they could to stop running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart from stopping them, and forcing Cam Newton to be the one who wins the game for Carolina. Even though it almost backfired catastrophically, with Newton throwing for an astounding 422 yards in his regular season debut, the plan did work in one key facet: the Cardinals held Williams and Stewart to 57 yards on 19 carries, for a paltry 2.9 yards per carry.
If that 2.9 number sounds familiar, it should: that’s what Tim Hightower averaged last week against the Giants, gaining 72 yards, but having to carry the ball 25 to get that yardage. The cutback lanes which Hightower used so effectively in the preseason just simply weren’t there against the Giants, and the Giants front four on defense did a great job of pushing around the Redskins offensive line for the better part of last Sunday.
The Cardinals haven’t done a whole lot on defense to upgrade a unit that was third worst in the NFL in yards allowed and rushing touchdowns allowed in 2010, and they’re also converting to a 3-4 defense this year, after previously using a 4-3; Redskins fans should know the growing pains associated with this all-too-well.
It’s no secret that Hightower is looking to get some revenge against the team that first drafted his replacement (running back Ryan Williams) and then traded him for defensive end Vonnie Holiday (or, essentially, a bag of nickels). If Hightower gets untracked, it’ll open up a whole bunch of opportunities for a Redskins passing attack that has the chance to take advantage of another depleted secondary.
3. Attack the Cardinals secondary vertically, just like they did against the Giants last week,
Ah yes, a perfect segway.
Here’s a great stat for you: the Cardinals starting two cornerbacks have a total of nine tackles, an a grand total of 10 tackles – not to mention zero interceptions, passes deflected, or quarterback sacks – in their entire NFL careers.
If you would’ve told me that Cam Newton would throw for over 400 yards in his NFL debut sometime around this time last week, I would’ve told you to check yourself into rehab.
Yet, the Cardinals secondary made Newton look like the second coming of Dan Marino. If you’re a member of the Cardinals defensive coaching staff, the fact that Newton averaged 11.4 yards per attempt last week against your defense should make you want to vomit. Cornerback A.J. Jefferson, who I had never even heard of until sometime around last Friday morning, went from being an undrafted free agent from the 2010 NFL draft to the Cardinals starter. At the other spot is Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals prized first round draft pick with prototype size, speed, and off-the-charts measurables, who was beaten and abused worse than a rented mule last week.
Rex Grossman put up over 300 yards last week against the Giants, but in reality, it should’ve been a lot more. There were at least a handful of throws that were simply dropped by Redskins receivers, and a couple of other throws that Grossman simply just put too much mustard on, either throwing it too high or too far for his guy. Several local Redskins beat reporters commented this week about how Redskins receivers were wide open for portions of last Sunday’s game, but Grossman either didn’t find them, or didn’t have time to find them because of the pass rush.
This week, he’s got another chance to put a really healthy statline against Arizona. Santana Moss, Jabar Gaffney, and Anthony Armstrong have shown that they might not be the most dangerous receivers in this league, but they play really hard and understand the scheme really well.
4. It’s damn near impossible to stop Larry Fitzgerald, but hopefully you can contain him
I’ll go out on a record and say, with almost no sense of hyperbole, that Larry Fitzgerald reminds me more of Jerry Rice in his prime, than any other receiver we’ve seen since Rice’s prime (the late 80’s to late 90’s).
Both guys had simply unbelievable hands, deceptive so-much-faster-than-what-the-stopwatch says speed, the ability to run right by the bigger defensive backs, the strength the out-muscle and run right through the smaller & faster defensive backs. outstanding polish with their route-running, and legendary work ethics. It’s just a damn shame that Fitzgerald didn’t have guys like Joe Montana and Steve Young throwing the ball to him, otherwise we really don’t know what he could have accomplished over the course of his career.
The Redskins better wear their big-boy pants and eat one of those twelve course, “nutritionally balanced” breakfasts they show when trying to sell the sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup-filled cereals you see advertised during Saturday morning cartoons, because they’re going to have their hands full when dealing with Fitzgerald, and then some.
The Cardinals move Fitzgerald all over the line of scrimmage and allow him to exploit match-ups, but the Redskins aren’t going to shadow Fitzgerald with either one of their corners; rather, they’ll stick with DeAngelo Hall playing one side, and cornerback Josh Wilson on the other. If Fitzgerald matches up with Wilson, he’ll have five inches of height and almost 30 lbs of weight over Wilson. It’s not that much better for Hall, either;he gives up four inches of height close to 30 lbs himself. Plus, Fitzgerald has torched Hall almost every time they’ve matched up, dating back to the days when Fitzgerald was at Pittsburgh University and Hall was at Virginia Tech.
The Redskins have given up over 95 yards receiving to an opposing receiver in eight of their last 10 games, including the last 5 straight. All the signs point towards the match up clearly being in Fitzgerald’s favor, but the they have to limit the amount of damage he inflicts on them overall.
5. We gotta have more Fred Davis
After dropping 15 lbs in the offseason, coming into camp in the best shape of his professional career, and finally having the proverbial light bulb “turn on” when it comes to the playbook and on-field adjustments, tight end Fred Davis looked like he was poised for a breakout season in 2011.
So far, he’s started off on the right foot. Davis led all Redskins receivers last Sunday with 105 yards receiving on five receptions, including a couple of big catches on the drive leading to the eventual touchdown pass to Gaffney, which put the Redskins up 28-14.
I’ve always maintained that Davis has the size, speed, and athleticism to be amongst the new breed of pseudo-hybrid tight ends, like Tony Gonzalez in his prime, Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark, or Jason Witten. Those guys are too big and strong for any cornerback to cover, and they’re too fast and athletic for most linebackers and even safeties. Davis has that potential, but his own mental mistakes and lax practice habits really prevented him from getting the playing time he needed to hone his game. Now, it seems like it’s really coming together for him. Chris Cooley is still the Redskins top tight end and blocker at the position, but how much playing time he gets this season is questionable, given that he’s already experiencing knee troubles.
But Davis has the potential to duplicate his fast start in week one. The Cardinals defense gave up 129 yards to Panthers tight ends last week, and the Cardinals older outside linebackers just can’t run with someone like Davis. Expect another big game from him.