Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Redskins preview: Rolling through D.C.
It’s a matter of “when” not “if” Washington head coach Jay Gruden is relieved of his duties. The Redskins are 0-4, dysfunctional at the ownership level, inept at the player personnel level and basically just trotting out on the field every seven days to get their heads handed to them.
When Gruden goes to the coaching gallows, there will probably be a sense of relief. You can only bob on the waves of mediocrity for so long. The Patriots – 4-0 – are coming off a stern test in Buffalo, their most competitive game of the season by far. There are issues on offense that need to be worked out and worked around but this is a Dream Team vs. Angola matchup between the Patriots defense and the Redskins offense which took all week before arriving at the decision to start Colt McCoy, who’ll be seeing his first action since last December. Should be a beatdown.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN
The Patriots running game has been ineffective and dissected for a month straight. The Patriots have struggled to run with lead back Sony Michel for a variety of reasons – offensive line turnover, lack of blocking from the tight end position, absence of James Develin, predictability of Michel’s role, lack of passing game threats to keep safeties honest. They’ve been better with Rex Burkhead and James White in the backfield when they run against sub-defenses, but Burkhead was downgraded to out on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots proceed on the ground. Do they shelve the meat-and-potatoes attack and – by extension – reduce Michel’s workload to go with what’s working? Or do they stick with it knowing that, eventually, they have to get it right because it should be a staple of their attack? The Skins are allowing 4.7 yards per carry on the ground and the Giants last week ran for 164 on them. This should be a draw but there were some carries from Michel that I thought signaled the Patriots are getting close to figuring it out.
WHEN THE REDSKINS RUN
It’s been a labor on the ground for the Redskins. They have 199 yards on 68 carries through four games. Their rushing attack is 31st in the NFL. The Patriots run defense is one of the league’s best allowing 3.5 per carry and that’s after Frank Gore did damage last week for the Bills. Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson are the Redskins main backs. This doesn’t feel like a real good time for a breakout game from Washington.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS
The Patriots will go from dealing with one of the NFL’s most talented and aggressive defenses in Buffalo last week to one of the most unimposing groups this week in Washington. The Redskins are allowing nearly 78 percent completions and an eye-popping 63 percent third-down conversions. Against Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, Mitch Trubisky and Daniel Jones. Washington has two secondary players of recognizable pedigree – Landon Collins and Josh Norman – but it’s been a while since Norman was feared corner. Still, the Patriots aren’t exactly a machine right now in the passing game and with Julian Edelman still dealing with injured ribs and Josh Gordon now popping up with a knee injury the team will need Phillip Dorsett to be less of a complementary player and more of a focal point. They will also continue to lean on James White for the easy throws since they have no consistent between-the-numbers or seam threat aside from Edelman. Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady figure it out against this defense though.
WHEN THE REDSKINS PASS
The Redskins were choosing between the ineffective Case Keenum, the inexperienced Dwayne Haskins or the injured (but not anymore) Colt McCoy. As of Wednesday, head coach Jay Gruden was still giving the shrug emoji to that question. McCoy got the nod. He is just returning from the fractured tibia he suffered last December. Haskins, the 15th overall pick, came on in relief of Keenum last week and threw 17 times. Three of them were intercepted. He also was sacked twice. No use grinding him down to a nub against the most aggressive defense the Patriots have fielded under Bill Belichick but if McCoy is ineffective, it will be interesting to see in which direction the Skins go for relief.
Mike Nugent is the guy that takes over for Stephen Gostkowski as kicker now that Gostkowski’s landed on IR with the hip injury that ends his season. This will be the first time since 2010 that anyone other than Gostkowski’s kicked and its undoubtedly going to be a major subplot to the season. The 37-year-old Nugent still has a good leg based on last season when he made all six of his kicks for the Raiders including one outside 50 yards. The Patriots are having uncharacteristic issues in kickoff coverage, allowing 30.6 per return. Punting has been very solid with rookie Jake Bailey having an exceptional first four games. Redskins kicker Dustin Hopkins is 10 of 11 on field goals and PATs. They have a good punter in Tress Way.
OUT: RB Rex Burkhead (foot), S Patrick Chung (heel), S Nate Ebner (groin). QUESTIONABLE: WR Julian Edelman (chest), and LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder).
OUT: TE Vernon Davis (concussion) TE Jordan Reed (concussion) G Brandon Scherff (ankle) and LB Josh Harvey-Clemons (hamstring). QUESTIONABLE: QB Case Keenum (foot), WR Terry McLaurin (hamstring), CB Josh Norman (knee) and C Chase Roullier (knee).
Patriots favored by 16. The total is 42.5.
Patriots 30, Redskins 13
Week 1: Patriots 16, Steelers 13
(Final: Patriots, 33-3)
Week 2: Patriots 30, Dolphins 0
(Final: Patriots, 43-0)
Week 3: Patriots 20, Jets 6
(Final: Patriots, 30-14)
Week 4: Patriots 19, Bills 13
(Final: Patriots 16-10)