Tim Hightower, the running back the Redskins re-signed over the weekend, is not exactly a dynamic runner. His career average is a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry. But that is not the number the Redskins were concerned with when they decided to bring him back. The number they were looking at was 140.That is the number of 2011 sacks posted by the Eagles (50, tied for first in NFL), Giants (48, tied for third), and Cowboys (42, tied for seventh). According to the research of Pat Kirwan of CBSSports.com, the 140 combined sacks were the most posted by any trio of NFL teams in the same division last year.That comes to about three sacks per game by the Redskins NFC East rivals. Washington actually fared a little bit better than the league as a whole controlling the pass rush in its division games. In their six division games the Redskins quarterbacks were sacked 14 times, an average of 2.3 per contest.Still, Robert Griffin III cant have a successful season if he has to deal with Jason Pierre Paul, Trent Cole, and DeMarcus Ware bearing down on him play after play. In his article, Kirwan outlines some ways that the Redskins can counter the heat they will face in the NFC East including developing an effective running game and having RG3 develop a good relationship with tight end Fred Davis.But while schemes and strategies are important, pass protection boils down to the blocker staying in between the defender and the quarterback. Hightower is good at that and when he is healthy and on the field, Trent Williams, who lines up against Ware, Cole, and Justin Tuck in those division games, is too. Those two players will be critical if Griffin is going to lead the Redskins out of their longtime spot in the basement of the NFC East.
If the Redskins want to make a statement, Sunday marks a real opportunity.
Washington, sitting at 6-3 and in first place of the NFC East, hosts Houston, a team that sits at 6-3 and in first place of the AFC South. Despite their records, neither team gets much consideration among the real Super Bowl contenders in the NFL.
Like any NFL team, both the 'Skins and Texans have weaknesses. And unlike the top NFL teams, both the Texans and the 'Skins have a few warts, too.
The team that best plays to their strengths will leave FedEx Field on Sunday at 7-3, almost assured of a playoff spot and no longer looking for a signature win.
The Texans started the season bad, losing their first three games. Since then, Houston hasn't lost. Bill O'Brien's team didn't play last week, enjoying their bye in the actual middle of the season unlike the Redskins, but it's possible the layoff slowed the momentum.
When Houston last played, the Texans escaped Denver with a narrow, last-second victory. A six-game win streak is incredibly hard to come by in the NFL, and a seven-game heater is even harder to put together.
So. Much. Talent.
Not many teams can boast the type of elite talent like the Texans. The team has two possible future Hall-of-Famers in J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins both playing in their prime. Watt has nine sacks in nine games, and the Houston defense aggressively moves him around on the defensive line.
That means Watt will face up against Redskins right tackle Morgan Moses, but also probably inside against right guard Tony Bergstrom. Charley Casserly described Watt against Bergstrom as a significant mismatch, and Washington will need to be creative to slow down the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
As for Hopkins, expect Redskins cornerback Josh Norman to travel with the athletic Texans wideout for much of the game. Hopkins is averaging nearly 100 yards receiving per game, and has seven touchdowns in nine games. He will be a major part of the Houston attack. Oh yeah, we didn't even mention Deshaun Watson or Jadeveon Clowney.
The Redskins and the Texans run the ball well. Washington ranks 10th in the NFL on the ground, averaging 121.2 yards-per-game. Houston ranks 11th, averaging 120.2 yards-per-game.
For the Redskins, however, the run game is their only means of offense. Their pass game ranks in the bottom third of the NFL, and in four of his last five games, Alex Smith has thrown for fewer than 180 yards. Weirdly, all four of those sub-200 passing yard games from Smith have resulted in wins for Washington.
The Texans throw the ball better, ranked 18th in the NFL, but aren't the type of dominant offense that the Redskins have struggled against (cough Atlanta, cough New Orleans).
Turn around bright eyes
Few things change NFL games like turnovers, and the Redskins' win last week in Tampa might be the best example. Washington got dominated in just about every offensive category, but the Bucs turned the ball over four times, and the 'Skins skated with a 16-3 victory.
At +4 in turnover margin, the Texans take care of the ball, but not like the +11 Redskins. Watson has thrown seven INTs this season. Not a lot, but four more than Smith. A huge part of the Redskins winning formula is protecting the ball and generating turnovers, and certainly Jay Gruden wants to replicate that on Sunday.
They said it
- Jay Gruden on the Redskins mindset in first place: "We're obviously not satisfied or sitting in the lounge chair with our feet up right now relaxing. We've got to get back to work and continue to work. We know there is a lot of football ahead of us, a lot of great teams come in here to play and we have to go there to play and we have to do better. We have to do better on offense and there's a lot more for us to get offensively and defensively for that matter. I'm glad that we're winning without a doubt."
- Alex Smith on facing J.J. Watt and the Texans defensive line: "They are one of the most disruptive fronts in football. I think when you just talk about just creating problems, penetration. They're all over the place. They obviously are really, really talented. They get up the field."
- Texans coach Bill O'Brien on Redskins RB Adrian Peterson: "He is obviously one of the best to ever play the game. I mean, he's big, strong, fast, has got good vision, great cutting ability, very, very difficult to stop."
MORE REDSKINS NEWS:
- Stock up, stock down: Doctson's putting it together
- Offensive Depth Chart: Trey Quinn back on active roster
- New kicker needed?: Hopkins "a bit banged up"
REALLY WANT MORE? WATCH THIS:
The 1991 matchup between the Redskins and Oilers is the only game D.C. fans should think of when they hear Washington vs. Houston.
Josh Norman caused quite a stir with his comments Sunday about the atmosphere at FedEx Field, and the Redskins cornerback made it clear he plans to do his part in making sure the stadium is packed for Sunday's game against the Texans.
Norman told reporters Thursday he's going to be giving away "40 or 50" free tickets for the Houston game, online and perhaps even in person.
"Yes, I will be giving out free tickets," he said. "I'll be doing it on my socials as well, I think I'll probably post tonight or something about it."
"Who knows, you may see me coming out and being an early Santa somewhere in the mall or something, just handing out tickets."
And if you are one of the lucky fans who gets a ticket from "Santa Norman," he has specific instructions on how you should behave at Sunday's game:
"Whoever get(s) them, we want them loud and just obnoxious. Just really obnoxious."
Norman joins several Redskins players who have promised to give away tickets to the Texans game.
If y’all really need tickets.....I bet me and the homies could get somethin goin...Tap In— Mason_Foster (@Mason_Foster) November 13, 2018
4 more tickets left to the Texans game. Who want them ???— Shaun Dion Hamilton (@iam_sdh20) November 14, 2018
2 tickets for this home game #giveaway— Zach Brown (@ZachBrown_55) November 13, 2018
Next 100 Responders purchase a ticket it’s covered. Thank you for putting ya life on the line and serving the community under His eyes. ❤️ https://t.co/dpe5RIYDAz— Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (@haha_cd6) November 16, 2018
It may be November, but the Christmas spirit is alive and well at Redskins Park.
MORE REDSKINS NEWS: