Washington Redskins: Most Critical Matchups vs. Cincinnati Bengals
The Washington Redskins host Cincinnati Sunday, just one week after a demoralizing loss in St. Louis left the team physically and mentally drained.
To refocus for its home opener, Washington must overcome a pair of devastating injuries that shelved defenders Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker for the remainder of the season. Redskins receiver Josh Morgan also needs to regain his composure, while putting a costly mistake behind him.
But to beat the Bengals, the Redskins will need to win several key matchups that are highlighted in the following slideshow.
Take a look at them and give us your predictions for Sunday's contest in the comment section below.
Robert Griffin III vs. Cincinnati's Defense
RGIII used play-action for a quick six against the Rams. Fox Sports/YouTube
One week after Hall of Fame coach John Madden praised him as Week 1's "best player" on Sirius XM Sports, Robert Griffin III continued a strong start to his rookie season with 288 total yards and three scores against St. Louis. According to Thomas Harrigan of The Sports Network, he's also the rage of Fantasyland.
So, what does the reigning Heisman winner have in store for the home crowd this weekend?
The unit's poor start is a far cry from the last four years when the Bengals were a top-15 defense under highly respected coordinator Mike Zimmer. In fact, "all eyes [were] on Zimmer's encore," after Cincy finished seventh in the NFL last year (per Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com).
"It's everything. Technique, discipline, effort, responsibilities, everything. It's a big problem," Zimmer said, in The Sports Xchange article. "We don't pass rush, pass cover, stop the run, stop the pass. We don't tackle and play with enough effort."
That sounds like good news for Griffin, but the Redskins shouldn't sleep easy on Zimmer because he's uniquely qualified to straighten things out.
To apply pressure on Griffin, Zimmer will attempt to take away the edges, with play calls that are designed to keep mobile signal-callers in the pocket.
Trent Williams and Tyler Polumbus vs. Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap
Carlos Dunlap should instantly improve Cincinnati's pass rush.
Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE
Redskins right tackle Tyler Polumbus should have his hands full with Carlos Dunlap who is hoping to inspire Cincinnati's ailing defensive unit.
According to J. Reedy of Cincinnati.com, the left end is "on track to play for the Bengals Sunday." Dunlap suffered a knee sprain in the preseason and has yet to play a regular-season snap.
But the re-emergence of Dunlap can't make up for the gaping hole on the opposite side of the Bengals' defensive line.
Redskins left tackle Trent Williams should be able to neutralize Michael Johnson, who was called to duty after Jamaal Anderson went down last week against the Browns. Anderson suffered a torn quad and is out for the season.
Meanwhile, Washington's line will try to spring running back Alfred Morris for the third straight week. If Morris can get to the second level, he'll do damage against a Cincy linebacking corps that has looked bewildered since losing Thomas Howard (knee) for the season.
Redskins' offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan would be wise to utilize tight end Fred Davis against Rey, Burfict and Rey Maualuga, who have all struggled in pass defense.
Redskins Receivers vs. Bengals' Secondary
Josh Morgan's untimely mistake proved costly for the Redskins in St. Louis. Fox Sports/YouTube
Cincinnati's secondary coaches must be salivating after reviewing game films of the Redskins-Rams game. And don't think for one moment that they're going to take the pedal off the metal against Washington's receiving corps.
The St. Louis defense did all it could do last week to pick on, intimidate and get under the skin of veteran wideout Santana Moss and youngsters Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson.
Moss was nearly invisible in the game (three catches, 14 yards), Robinson dropped a perfectly thrown long ball and Morgan came apart at the seams, with the Redskins in range for a game-tying field goal.
Emotional outbursts can be costly and the Bengals know it. So look for more of the same from a defensive backfield that's old, wise and can bring the heat.
According to Redskins.com, Morgan has taken responsibility for his unsportsmanlike penalty and plans to use it as motivation for the rest of the season. But Morgan will need to re-earn the trust of Mike Shanahan, and if he starts Sunday, the Bengals will try to take advantage of an ego that has been shaken.
No. 1 receiver Pierre Garcon (foot) is doubtful for Cincinnati, so the Redskins will rely on their youngsters again.
On Friday, Rotoworld reported (per Zac Boyer of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star) that 'it's very likely' Hankerson has surpassed Robinson on the depth chart." And Boyer wrote that that there's a strong possibility that Leonard will start at Garcon's 'X' position on Sunday." Rotoworld also claims that "RGIII's first read on the majority of passing plays [is on the split end side of the field]."
For Cincy to have success on defense, safeties Reggie Nelson and Jeromy Miles will have to be aware of Hankerson, who burned the Rams for a 68-yard score last week. Play-action passes from should be plentiful from RGIII, as he'll look for Nelson and Miles to bite. If they do, they'll see the back of Leonard's jersey down the middle of the field.
In the meantime, Cincinnati fans are waiting patiently for the return of first-round draft choice Dre Kirkpatrick. The former Alabama star is still recovering from a broken bone in his knee, so the Bengals have turned to a pair of veterans to pick up the slack.
Former Cowboys corner Terence Newman and former Dolphins and Texans starter Jason Allen can sub for Hall and Clements or play in the slot. So, it's imperative for the Redskins to be balanced on offense, so they can outduel a secondary that's not often fooled.
Hall is currently suffering from a sore calf, so Allen may be forced into starting duty. According to StripeHype.com, Hall was limited in practice Wednesday, which is likely the result of the left Achilles tear [he suffered last November 13].
Rob Jackson, Chris Wilson and Jarvis Jenkins vs. Bengals Offense
Redskins linebacker Rob Jackson is ready for prime time.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
They may be forever known as 2012's replacements, but Rob Jackson, Chris Wilson and Jarvis Jenkins are expected to make fans forget about Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker.
No Pressure, guys. None, whatsoever. But, we'll give you credit for trying.
Last week, the Redskins looked on helplessly as Adam's knee gave out, and Brian ripped the same pectoral muscle he tore last year. But while Carriker appeared to accept his fate, Orakpo did not.
I was personally surprised to learn that Orakpo returned to the field twice more to give it a go. That may or may not have worsened the injury, but Orakpo was clearly distraught when he took himself out of the contest for good.
According to Washington Post writer Mark Maske, "The Redskins plan to look at Jackson and Wilson during practice this week before choosing a starter for Orakpo’s outside linebacker spot." And Carriker's injury gives Jenkins a chance at redemption, after he missed all of his rookie season with a similar injury.
Meanwhile, their teammates are trying to pump them up for the long road ahead.
According to Maske, Ryan Kerrigan said:
“You look at Rob Jackson coming in and playing for ‘Rak [Sunday]. He played really well," said And then Jarvis and Kedric [Golston] coming in for Adam—we’ve got guys that can step in and fill their shoes.”
Let's hope so because Jackson, Wilson and Jenkins have one thing in common. None of them have started a regular-season contest in their careers.
DeAngelo Hall vs. A.J. Green and Andre Hawkins
Andrew Hawkins has 10 catches and a TD in two games.
Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE
Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall appeared to lose his cool a number of times last week against the Rams. But after watching the game a second time, I now understand what caused him to react that way.
In addition to sticking up for his teammates, Hall had the unenviable task of covering St. Louis receiver Danny Amendola. If Hall didn't know Amendola before last week, he does now, after the former Texas Tech star shredded the Redskins' secondary for 15 catches on 16 targets.
Things don't get any easier this week for Hall, who will be counted on to limit Bengals' Pro Bowler A.J. Green on the edges.
But, the guy to watch out for is Cincinnati's new all-purpose weapon Andrew Hawkins. Hawkins' ascendance to his current position is a story in itself, but his skill set is perfect for the role that made a star out of New England's Wes Welker and copycats out of Amendola and Packers speedster Randall Cobb.
At any given time, Hawkins can line up in the backfield, split out wide or be a nuisance in slot. So, to defend against him, Hall will likely man the slot and give way to Cedric Griffin at corner.
Either way, Hall will be a busy man on Sunday at FedEx Field.
Redskins Special Teams vs. Bengals Special Teams
Punter Sav Rocca has been susceptible to injury.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
In 2011, Washington's special teams had five field-goal attempts blocked. This year, the unit has allowed a punt to be blocked in each of the Redskins' first two games.
Normally, that's cause for concern, but according to Lorenzo Alexander, that's not the case in the nation's capital.
In a Washington Post column by Mark Maske, Alexander stuck up for special teams coach Danny Smith by saying that "the blocked punts are not a coaching issue and that players are to blame for the miscues."
It’s accountability on the players. It’s not executing. It’s just like anything else: If Robert [Griffin III] goes out there and throws an interception, do you blame Kyle [Shanahan, the team’s offensive coordinator] because he threw the interception? If someone goes out there on special teams, misses a block, and he’s being coached, being taught [correctly], do you blame Danny? No.
Smith has long been recognized as a special teams guru and should be given the benefit of the doubt, after losing long snapper Nick Sundberg to a broken arm. But, Redskins fans will get pretty restless if problems continue.
Next up is a Cincinnati team that is coming off a solid performance against Cleveland, which included an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown by Adam "Pacman" Jones.
According to J. Reedy of Cincinnati.com, Jones was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week and "ranks second in the NFL in punt return average (30.0), trailing only Buffalo’s Leodis McKelvin (31.3)."