The Washington Redskins have exceeded expectations thus far, but let's remember that they were actually 3-1 at this point last season.
I'm not saying they're going to plummet during the final three quarters of the season like they did in 2011, because this team is a hell of a lot better than that one, but the point is that things can turn quickly.
And if they're going to take a turn for the worse this year, this week's game with the Atlanta Falcons could be the pivot point. Atlanta's defense has been making plays all season, and Matt Ryan has the highest passer rating in the NFL for the 4-0 Falcons.
But if the Redskins stick to the official B/R NFC East Blog game plan provided below, they might be able to pull off another upset and keep rolling.
Be aggressive on offense, with lots of variation
The Falcons finally began to miss injured top corner Brent Grimes Sunday, with Dunta Robinson and William Moore getting beat 11 times on 11 targets, according to Pro Football Focus. That Atlanta defense looks dangerous with a takeaway total of 12 (second best in the league) through four games, but three of those came in one quarter against Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
The defense was only able to force a single turnover against Carolina, and that was mainly on Cam Newton, not the defense.
So the Redskins can't be afraid to attack an all-or-nothing kind of secondary early and often Sunday, while mixing in a steady dosage of Alfred Morris among some of the deep shots. After all, this Atlanta defense has allowed 5.2 yards per carry thus far, which ranks second last in the NFL.
That's why this is a great matchup for Robert Griffin III and the offense, just as it was for Newton and the Panthers last week. Newton didn't go out of his way to run against Atlanta, but he took the yards they were giving him on zone reads and scrambles and ended up with 89 yards on the ground.
The key will be for Griffin to adopt the same strategy, only taking off when necessary. If he pushes it, Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon will make him pay.
It's also a good matchup because Griffin has been much more responsible when it comes to protecting the football than he has protecting his own body. He and the 'Skins have a tied-for-league-low two turnovers in four games, and this Atlanta defense has proven in a small sample size that it isn't going to be overly successful if it can't pry the ball loose from offensive players.
So why take chances if you're the Redskins? Well, because you might be in trouble defensively and you're going to need the points. The goal is to maintain some balance and shorten the game by giving Morris a hefty workload as well.
Stay home on defense, but be prepared to make drastic changes on the fly
Here's where the 'Skins run into trouble. Drew Brees and the Saints were completely off in Week 1, and they've yet to face a passing attack that's even remotely as dangerous since. I mean, Andy Dalton and the Bengals presented a somewhat similar threat, and they posted 478 yards and 38 points against Washington.
Matt Ryan comes into this game with the highest passer rating in football, but an offensive line that can be had. The Falcons let the Panthers stick around by giving up seven sacks in Week 4, as right tackle Tyson Clabo was treated like a rag doll.
So do the Redskins let loose and attack or give the secondary some help?
Atlanta will certainly give Clabo help when possible, which works to Washington's advantage because it removes a potential receiver from the equation, but also because it's a little easier to move top pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan back and forth and into different spots. The Panthers didn't have the ability to do that as freely with Charles Johnson on the left side of a 4-3 alignment, and yet they still abused Ryan.
So Kerrigan is hot enough and Clabo, Sam Baker and Justin Blalock are all vulnerable enough for the 'Skins to apply pressure on Ryan without blitzing, especially if Jim Haslett can do a good job disguising looks.
Ryan's completion percentage when he isn't pressured this season is a ridiculous 82 percent. When he is under pressure, it's still a respectable 61 percent (numbers from PFF), but that's the difference between having no chance and having at least somewhat of a chance. And that's why the defensive game plan has to be fluid, because if the pass protection holds up against Kerrigan and a four-man rush, Haslett has to start sending safeties and corners and coming at the Atlanta line from new angles.
The plan should be to give the secondary help against Roddy White and Julio Jones by using Reed Doughty and DeAngelo Hall to assist Josh Wilson and Cedric Griffin, but if the Falcons exploit that mediocre group of cover guys the way they're expected to, Washington has to adjust on the fly.
This might sound like a losing battle, but the Redskins have to do their best to prevent big plays on defense while making as many as possible on offense.
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