Coming off their biggest win of the season, the Redskins (2-2) will now face their biggest challenge thus far in 2015: Julio Jones and the Falcons (4-0) at the Georgia Dome.
Washington’s defense ranks among the league’s best in several key metrics, but can the unit thwart a Jones-fueled Atlanta offense that’s producing 34.3 points per game? Can Kirk Cousins build on last week’s game-winning drive against the Eagles? With a quarter of the season completed, the Redskins have indeed shown signs of improvement. On Sunday, we’ll get a better feel for just how much improvement they’ve made.
Before the game, be sure to tune into Redskins Kickoff on CSN Mid-Atlantic at noon. We’ve got you covered after the game, as well; Redskins Postgame Live begins at 4.
Here are Tarik’s five areas to monitor:
1-Jones is the best offensive player the Redskins have faced thus far—and they know it. The 26-year-old wide receiver leads the NFL in receptions (38), is tied for the lead in yards (478) and ranks second in touchdowns (4). But what should really worry Washington's banged up secondary is Jones’ ability to make plays after he’s already caught the ball. Only the Raiders’ Amari Cooper has more yards after the catch (among wide receivers) than Jones. For more on the Falcons’ 6-foot-3, 220-pound Pro Bowler, click here to read a story I wrote about him yesterday.
2-Cousins’ 15-play, 90-yard game-winning touchdown drive last Sunday was tangible proof of the strides he's made. But what differentiates quality NFL starters from the others is the ability to perform at a high level week in and week out. Through four games, Cousins has had one okay performance (Dolphins), one good performance (Rams), one poor performance (Giants) and one adequate performance capped by a clutch drive (Eagles). It’s time for Cousins, who has never won back-to-back starts, to string together a couple of solid efforts—and he should get the opportunity to do just that against a Falcons’ defense that’s 27th overall in yards allowed and 16th in points yielded (23.3).
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3-Chris Thompson is another Redskin who could find some success against the Falcons’ defense. This season, pass-catching running backs have thrived against Atlanta. In fact, Lance Dunbar racked up 100 yards receiving, while Shane Vereen and Darren Sproles each had 76. And with Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson ailing, Thompson could find himself with an expanded role in the passing game.
4-Which brings us to the Redskins’ health situation. Although the official injury report won’t be announced until later Friday, it would probably be a good idea to brace yourself for some bad news. Reed, who is still battling concussion symptoms, is not expected to play. Veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall (toe) is in the early stages of rehab and appears unlikely to suit up, either. The question marks seem to be No. 1 corner Chris Culliver (knee) and Jackson (hamstring). Coach Jay Gruden will designate each injured player as out, doubtful, questionable or probable when he meets with reporters around 1 p.m.
5-Penalties didn’t end up costing the Redskins in last week’s 23-20 victory. But they almost did. In all, Washington was flagged 10 times for 110 yards and has now taken more penalties than all but four teams. That’s not sustainable for a banged-up .500 team. The biggest problem has been offensive holding. The Redskins have been flagged 11 times (three were declined) for holding, five times for unnecessary roughness and four times for offensive pass interference. All three of those infractions can be corrected by honing the players’ technique in practice. Either way, the Redskins (particularly on offense) must crack down on the flags. This team simply doesn't have a big enough margin for error. For more on Washington’s problem with penalties, click here for more on the subject and what Gruden said about it earlier this week.