An absolute heartbreaking game last Thursday against the Dallas Cowboys. In what was considered an elimination game to make the playoffs as a wildcard, the Redskins gaffed every opportunity throughout the game. The Cowboys, with ex-Redskins Alfred Morris running the ball, adjusted quickly and began an onslaught through the second half that was too much for the Redskins to overcome.
Sadly, it doesn’t get any easier this week. After starting 0-4, the Los Angeles Chargers have found their stride and have gone 6-2 the past eight games. A few of their wins were against the bottom tier teams such as the Denver Broncos, New York Giants and the Cleveland Browns. Definitely not spectacular opponents but they did have a few impressive wins. They demolished the Buffalo Bills, 54-24, and took care of the Cowboys, 28-6. The Cowboys were without star Ezekiel Elliott but they didn’t appear to matter against the Redskins.
The Chargers have shined on defense and with the injuries that continue to plague the Redskins (see Offensive Line), it may be a tougher matchup than originally expected.
The last two stats, points allowed and turnover differential, are the most glaring differences between the Redskins and Chargers. Last week, the Redskins turned over the ball four times which ultimately became the beginning of a snowball effect that consumed the team. Mix in the defense’s inability to stop a team in the redzone and your result is a crushing defeat.
The Chargers are the exact opposite. As for their red zone defense, the opponent red zone scoring (touchdowns) percentage is just 37.93% or just about 0.9 touchdowns in the red zone per game, according to Team Rankings. The Redskins were 29th at 64.10% and 2.1 respectively. If the Redskins want to put up points against the Chargers it may have to come from the big plays, aka Kirk Cousins to Josh Doctson. It won’t be easy against the third best secondary in the league. A very tall order for an offense that has backups of backups starting on the offensive line.
It’s not just their secondary that’s been stellar; their pass rush has been obliterating quarterbacks.
1) Slowing Down Bosa and Ingram
The Dynamic Duo: Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Currently, Bosa has racked up 11.5 sacks which is 4th best in the league and Ingram isn’t far behind him with 8.5 sacks but also has recovered a fumble for a touchdown. They both are versatile and don’t just line up on the edge. They’ve been known to move around to wherever the weakest point in the offensive line. The only strength currently for the Redskins on the line is right guard Brandon Scherff. Trent Williams is hobbling through with a knee injury and isn’t near his full potential while Morgan Moses on the other side is dealing with an ankle injury. The center position may come down to third stringer Tony Bergstrom if Chase Roullier isn’t able to play due to his hand injury. It’s a complete mess that has been greatly affecting the offense.
This lack of health on the line doesn’t bode well for the Redskins and Kirk Cousins. Cousins has been sacked 10 times in the last two weeks. A few can be chalked up to him for not stepping up in the pocket or releasing the ball early enough, but a majority was when a lineman got completely blown up at the beginning of the play. According to Football Outsiders, the Redskins are the 7th worst line in pass blocking; allowing a sack on 8.3% of all passes which is well above the league average of 6.8%.
To make matters worse, the Chargers rank 6th against the pass in terms of getting a sack. That equates to a sack on every 8.0% pass play by the opposing team’s offense which is above the league average of 6.8%. Bosa and Ingram have been giving quarterbacks nightmares and head coach Jay Gruden is fully aware of their dominance. In this week’s press conference he said:
“Yeah, those guys are good, without a doubt. And they move them around. You know, it’s not like they’re at one spot where you can plan and help. You know, I think Ingram especially does an excellent job lining up over guards, and they have different fronts where they can move him around. Both very effective pass-rushers – different, but effective. It’ll be a great challenge for our guys.”
It’s definitely going to be a challenge for the offensive line against these two pass rushers but even if the Redskins provide extra protection via Byron Marshall (whose blocked well so far), the whole defensive front has been getting pressure. Defensive end Corey Liuget has been getting great pressure all season as well. It’s an all around well oil machine for the Chargers that has completely turned their season around.
Sadly, it’s not just their defensive line that’s been making plays. The Chargers secondary has become much more dominant in the last few weeks.
2) Limiting the Turnovers – Hayward & Boston
Just as Bosa and Ingram are the playmakers on the defensive line, Casey Hayward and Tre Boston have become the difference makers in the secondary. Each have hauled in four interceptions thus far which is tied for 3rd best in the league. Hayward also has a fumble recovery and is alone at the top in passes defended with 18. However, it must be noted that three of the eight interceptions between Hayward and Boston came against the Buffalo Bills who started rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman. It was Peterman’s first start who threw for five interceptions just in the first half, so that must be taken in account for some of these numbers.
Even with that said, the Redskins last week turned the ball over four times against the Cowboys, mistakes that almost guarantee a lost. Cousins had pressure on over 50% of his dropbacks and with the poor play by the receivers all game, the results spoke for themselves. Jamison Crowder had one of his worst games as a Redskins. He had a few drops, a tipped ball that resulted in a interception and a fumble. Now with tighter coverage from the Chargers, the room for error is even smaller.
When Cousins was asked about the Chargers defense, he said:
“They have been very good against the pass this year. I think they are fifth versus the pass, only allowing just over 200 yards a game. I think they have had more interceptions than they’ve allowed touchdown passes. I’ve got to believe that a lot of the credit does go to the pass rush and then works back from there.”
Cousins is correct; the Chargers are allowing an average of 205.7 yards per game in the air (5th best) while only just 13 passing touchdowns (5th best) and recording 15 interceptions (4th best). Again, a third of those interceptions did come against Peterman in an onslaught of the Bills. That is what good teams do though. They exploit mismatches against the opponents offense that ultimately seals a victory.
This is where Cousins needs to be protective of the ball and needs to get Josh Doctson involved more. Doctson has shown incredible athleticism and the ability to win a jump ball, even if it requires plucking it out of the hands of the defender. The Chargers other cornerback, Trevor Williams, has played well but can be exploited a bit more than Hayward. The Redskins receivers should utilize bunch formations with quick slants over the middle of the field. If Doctson or Crowder can stay a step ahead and on the inside of their defender there are yards to be gained.
It’s not all negative though, Cousins has been up against stout defenses already this season such as the Vikings, Saints and Eagles, and has put up 327 yards, 322 yards and 303 yards respectively. He’s definitely has grown more comfortable in throwing in tighter coverage while his ability to extend plays and work off-script has increased as well. There will be a lot of those scenarios come Sunday against the pass rush and tight man coverage. Now, the Redskins defense will have to return the favor.
3) Tight Coverage on Keenan Allen
Keenan Allen has always been a threat since entering the league but has been bitten by the injury big for several seasons. This year he’s been healthy and appears to not have a missed a stride. When head coach Anthony Lynn was asked about how Allen has been playing this season he said:
“They’ve got some chemistry going right now. So it’s really nice when a quarterback knows which direction the receiver may be going on a certain type of get-open concepts. I just think the timing and the rhythm between those two and the chemistry is really good. I think it is because Keenan has been healthy and he has done the things off the field to stay on the field and he’s worked extremely hard. Nobody on this team has worked as hard as Keenan Allen this year in the offseason to get his weight down.”
There’s no doubt that Philip Rivers is excited to have a healthy Allen back in the lineup. Allen has already broken 1,000 yards on the season, currently at 1,032 which is 5th best amongst receivers, and has five receiving touchdowns. His size, speed and impeccable route running is hard to minimize in coverage but can be done. In their lost against the Jacksonville Chargers, Allen only had four receptions for 48 yards. The Jaguars do have the best secondary in football with two elite corners but Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland are no slouches. Add in Kendall Fuller who’s having a monster season and the Redskins may be up to the challenge.
The major negative against Norman which is no fault of his own is that defensive coordinator Greg Manusky doesn’t like to have Norman shadow the opposing team’s best receiver. It would be ideal as Norman is one of the most avoided corners in the league. On 330 passing plays, Norman has only been only targeted 37 times. The Chargers will most likely try to move Allen around to get a more favorable matchup. That doesn’t mean Rivers will shy away from Norman.
Rivers is known to be willing to attack anyone in secondary, disregarding if they are an elite corner or not. In Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs, Rivers threw three interceptions, two to Terrance Mitchell. It’s not necessarily an arrogance move but it has worked against him in the past. He’s still an accurate quarterback and isn’t prone to throwing many interceptions but if Redskins secondary is aggressive, there will be opportunities for takeaways.
A mixture of tight man coverage with safety DJ Swearinger playing as the single high safety to limit the breakaway plays and the Redskins can keep Allen under 100 yards. It won’t be easy, especially if the Redskins offense has several three-and-outs causing the defense to tire out quickly. This is where the running game will be a major factor for the Redskins.
4) Getting Samaje Perine Rolling
Samaje Perine may be the key component that gives the Redskins victory come Sunday. The Chargers are ranked 31st against the run. Even though they have the a dominant pass rush, it tends to leave open running lanes that the back can cut through. They’ve been giving up an average of 129.8 yards on the ground as well as nine rushing touchdowns thus far. Despite an injured offensive line, the Redskins will need to exploit this weakness of the Chargers defense.
In the past three weeks, Perine has rushed for 255 yards while catching 7 catches for 70 yards. He’s taken his chance as the lead back and has done as well as expected given the circumstances of injuries. He’s showing more patience for allowing blocks to develop but also an understanding of when and where to make cuts for extra yards. Some of the runs may not be pretty or explosive but are enough to keep the defense keen on stopping the run which opens up the passing game.
Playing against a top-5 passing defense, the run game will be crucial. Gruden has always been a believer in the run game (maybe a little too much in some games) but this week it should bode well for him. This is where situational awareness of your enemy is important. Knowing that the Chargers have been giving up yards on the ground will be the deciding factor. It will also help Cousins not get demolished in the pocket.
Byron Marshall who’s still getting accustomed to the Redskins offense has been the better blocker. If the Redskins use dual running back packages and having Marshall be an extra blocker for Perine, or even for the quick passing game, they could get good chunk yardage. The tight ends have been abysmal as blockers but Marshall has shown it’s one of his strengths. Even if it’s a chip block to slow down the rush to buy an extra second for Cousins or Perine, it will make all the difference for the offense.
It’s still a work in progress but the running game has been effective the past few weeks and will be one, if not the main deciding factor against the Chargers defense.
The Redskins are 4-0 against West Coast teams (yes, random stat) but the Chargers are on the upswing and in a three-way tie for the AFC West. It’s a must win for them while the Redskins are bruised and battered, and pretty much eliminated from playoff contention. They’ve shown a willingness to fight with everything they have but it will not be enough against the Chargers.
Redskins 13, Chargers 23
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