Who: Packers (10-6) at Redskins (9-7).
When: Sunday, 4:40 p.m.
Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.
Watch: Redskins Kickoff on CSN Mid-Atlantic at 3 p.m., and Redskins Postgame Live at 7:30 on CSN+.
My five storylines/matchups to watch:
1-Earlier this week, Aaron Rodgers pointed out that the Packers have a decided edge in postseason experience. Green Bay has qualified for the postseason seven straight years. The Redskins, meanwhile, have made the tournament twice since 2008. “We value [playoff experience] a lot,” Rodgers said. “I think you have to learn how to win in the playoffs.” Indeed, the overarching theme of the 2015 regular season in Washington has been how an inexperienced quarterback, a second-year head coach and a young Redskins’ team grew together and, after some early setbacks, began taking steps forward. Through trial and error, the team has learned how to prepare. It’s learned how to win on the road. How to bounce back from losses, and to not over-celebrate victories. The question before the Redskins now is this: are they ready to take that next step and win a playoff game? Or will Rodgers and Co. take them to school on Sunday?
2-Speaking of Rodgers, he’s been sacked—a lot—in recent games. In fact, since Week 8, he’s been taken down a whopping 35 times while playing behind an injury-plagued offensive line. That should open up some opportunities for Ryan Kerrigan (team-best 9.5 sacks), Chris Baker (career-best 6 sacks) and Co. But it’s not as simple as bringing the house with a quarterback who is as slippery as Rodgers. “The thing you’ve got to be strategically be aware of with [Rodgers] is, how many do you bring, and how do you deploy it?” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “He has been sacked. But he is so good at eluding pressure and finding guys down the field. So you have to be strategic with it.” Barry also said that he’s shown his players the TV copy of recent Green Bay games so that they can get a feel for Rodgers’ cadence, which he uses to draw defenses offside. “He’s No. 2 in the league as far as quarterbacks getting guys offsides,” Barry said. “You can’t go on sound. You can’t go on his leg or the center’s head bob. You have to be disciplined.”
3-Kirk Cousins is the game’s hottest quarterback, at the most important time of the season. But this also the biggest game of his career. Is he ready for the bright lights and the big stage of the NFL postseason? A couple of years ago, I would have said, ‘Absolutely not.’ But now I have no doubt that Cousins will handle the pressure just fine. Why? Because he’s shown time and again this season that he doesn't allow games to be bigger than they are, that he thrives when heat's cranked up, that he’s the Redskins’ most dependable player when the chips are down. Remember the Week 4 comeback against the Eagles? How about rallying the Redskins to the biggest comeback in franchise history, all the way back from a 24-0 deficit vs. the Buccaneers, in a game they had to win. “You just try to stay focused on the same processes I have I have all year long,” Cousins said, asked if there’s anything different about preparing for a playoff game. “I’d be a fool to change something now.”
4-All week, there’s been speculation about the Redskins’ lineup at running back if all four—Alfred Morris, Matt Jones, Chris Thompson and Pierre Thomas—were healthy. Well, it’s looking more likely that the decision will be taken out of Jay Gruden’s hands. Jones, who has missed the past two games with a hip pointer, was “very” limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, according to Gruden. That would leave the rookie with one practice and a walkthrough to get right for Sunday…and that would seem like a longshot at this point. If Jones isn’t able to play, the workload would be split between Morris, Thompson and Thomas for a second straight game. “Unless [Jones] shows us some major improvement …he’s going to be the odd man out.”
5-Another week, another injury the Redskins must overcome. This time it’s Cary Williams, signed as a free agent on Monday, replacing jack-of-all-trades rookie Kyshoen Jarrett, who was lost for the season in Dallas. How much will Williams play? That’s not clear. But, given the state of the Redskins’ secondary, it could be a decent amount. “He’s had experience playing [on the inside and the outside], so we’re not going to limit him to just playing one spot,” Barry said. “He’s started a bunch of games. He’s played a bunch of big games. He’s played high-level football.” Williams also has a Super Bowl ring, which he won as a member of the Ravens.