The Redskins are 3-4. The defending champion Patriots are 7-0.
The Redskins are scoring 21 points per game. The Patriots are putting up 36.
The Redskins struggle to win on the road. The Patriots are almost automatic at home.
The Redskins’ quarterback will be making his 17th career start. The Patriots’ quarterback is a future Hall of Famer.
Indeed, on paper, Sunday’s game at Foxboro looks like a monumental mismatch, which explains why Washington has been installed as a 14-point underdog. But games, of course, aren’t contested on paper and the Redskins, like every team that’s lined up against Tom Brady and Co. this season, believe they’ve got a chance.
Whether that’s actually true or not, well, we’re about to find out. Before Sunday's game, be sure to catch Redskins Kickoff on CSN Mid-Atlantic at noon and afterward tune into Redskins Postgame Live at 4.
Here are Tarik’s five areas/matchups to monitor:
1-Brady is motivated after a tumultuous offseason and, at 38, appears to be getting better with age. In fact, he’s one pace for an NFL-record 5,509 yards to go along with 46 touchdowns and two interceptions. And the crazy thing about it is this: everyone knows they're going to throw, and yet they still can’t stop Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and the league's most dangerous air attack. Can the Redskins be the first to do it this season? “There’s always a fine line when you play a great quarterback,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “Do you drop a bunch of guys into coverage? [Because] that limits your rush. Do you bring a bunch of guys in the rush? Well, then you’re limited in coverage. We’ll have a mixture.” The opportunity to pressure Brady figures to be there. Although Brady gets the ball out of his hand faster than any QB in the league, he’s been sacked 18 times this season (11th most).
2-Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins acknowledged this week that he has patterned his game after Brady’s, having spent years studying his mechanics, etc. Cousins, of course, is attempting to establish himself as a quality starter in the NFL. And the next step for the fourth-year signal caller is eliminating the peaks and valleys and finding some consistency. Sunday will be an opportunity to do just that, and to do it against a Patriots’ defense that’s yielding 19 points per game (8th best.) Cousins earned NFC East player of the Week honors after leading the Redskins back from a 24-0 deficit against the Bucs. Sunday would be a good time to follow up that breakthrough performance with a second straight triple-digit passer rating—something he’s never done in successive starts.
3-Tackling was a point of emphasis in practice this week for the Redskins after their poor display against the Bucs. In that game, the defense missed 13 tackles, according to ProFootballFocus.com. “We have not tackled well,” Barry conceded. “Going back over [the film during] the bye week, really looking at the [big] plays we’ve given up, I’d say as high as 85-percent of the plays we’ve given up have simply been on missed tackles.” Barry also noted that CBA rules limiting padded practices have hurt tackling technique across the league.
4-Is this the week that the Redskins’ running game gets back on track? The ground attack has been a non-factor the past three games (51, 34 and 50 yards, respectively). Coach Jay Gruden said self-evaluation during the bye revealed that the struggles are the result of multiple breakdowns, including play-calling. “Mainly, it’s trying to do a better job of sticking with it [as a staff] and just performing better, executing better with everybody,” he said. “It’s not one person who we can really isolate [and say], ‘Honestly, we have to fix his technique.’” Although Gruden said no lineup changes were made during the bye, it’s worth keeping an eye on the running backs’ workload. Rookie Matt Jones received more carries than Alfred Morris vs. the Falcons and Bucs (Jones was sidelined against the Jets by a toe injury).
5-The Redskins’ overall health has steadily improved in recent weeks after hitting a low point last month in New Jersey, where they were without six starters against the Jets. The big ones to monitor on Sunday are wide receiver DeSean Jackson (hamstring) and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (hand). Jackson, who’s been sidelined since Week 1, says he expects to play and Kerrigan says he hopes to play with a cast covering his right hand. Later Friday, Gruden will declare every injured player as probable, questionable, doubtful or out.
MORE REDSKINS: Bye week has not been an advantage for the Redskins