Ravens vs. Redskins: 10 Keys to the Game for Washington
On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens travel an hour down the road to face the Washington Redskins for "Beltway Bragging Rights." The AFC North leading Ravens (9-3) are solid in all three phases of football. So, if the Redskins are to have success, they'll have to neutralize Baltimore's steady offense, take advantage of injuries on the Ravens defense and limit big plays on special teams.
For keys to the game, please click through the following slide show. It features a checklist of things the 6-6 Redskins will need to accomplish to keep their playoff hopes alive.
No. 1: Don't Be Intimidated
With or without its top two defensive players, Baltimore will try to intimidate the Redskins Sunday at FedExField.
The Ravens will be without spiritual leader Ray Lewis for another week, as he continues to heal from a torn triceps muscle. But the 17-year linebacker plans to rile up his teammates from the sidelines.
According to the Baltimore Sun, Lewis practiced this week, but isn't eligible to return until Week 15 against the Broncos.
"I don't know if he's ready to play physically anyway," coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday, via The Sun. "This is part of his rehab. We'll see how he does. When the time comes for Ray to play, we'll let you know. We're not going to spring it on you. I don't know when it's going to be."
Meanwhile, defensive end stalwart Terrell Suggs is being about as stubborn as an injured player can be. He suffered a torn biceps last week against Pittsburgh and has sought out a second medical opinion.
According to The Sun, Suggs said shutting himself down for the season is "not an option," and he's considering himself a game-time decision for Sunday.
I'll believe it when I see it, because a biceps tear is no laughing matter. Suggs has even acknowledged that it could get worse if he plays with it.
"I think any time you have an injury and you play with it, you risk making it worse," Suggs said, via The Baltimore Sun.
Sunday update (per RotoWorld.com):
NFL Network's Albert Breer has tweeted that Terrell Suggs (torn biceps) will not play today versus the Redskins. Suggs suffered the torn biceps in last week's loss to the Steelers, and his status was uncertain for much of the week. Courtney Upshaw, Paul Kruger, and Albert McClellan will have to take on a bigger role this week, and it doesn't bode well for Baltimore's pass rush.
2. Win in the Trenches
Washington's defensive linemen will have one of their toughest assignments of the season Sunday.
In order to get Baltimore's offense off the field, they'll need to pressure Joe Flacco, while keeping a watchful eye on tiny scatback Ray Rice.
That's never easy, especially when Baltimore trots out the likes of Michael Oher, Jah Reid, Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele on its offensive line.
Ranked fourth against the run, the Redskins are great at plugging holes. If they can do that and force Flacco to throw, they'll be in position to win the turnover battle.
Washington's offensive line has been a pleasant surprise, as it has learned to move with RGIII and zone block for Alfred Morris.
But the latest group of Hogs has got to cut back on penalties.
According to Joe Platania of PressBoxOnline, the Skins' O-line "has committed 22 false-start infractions, [which is] second most to Dallas' 25." Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger leads that category with four false starts, while left tackle Trent Williams has two. Lichtensteiger and Williams have also been flagged for holding numerous times.
With multiple injuries to its secondary this season, Baltimore has relied on its pass rush. So, Washington will likely try to confuse the Ravens with the pistol offense. Quick passes, screens and play-action should confuse a group of young Baltimore linebackers and open up running lanes for Griffin and Morris.
All in all, if Washington can stay out of foul trouble and keep Baltimore guessing, the Ravens will be off-balance on both sides of the ball, like they were last week against the Steelers.
3. Protect the Quarterback
Last week, the Ravens had trouble slowing down 38-year-old Pittsburgh quarterback Charlie Batch. Wait until they get a load of RGIII!
"He's changing the game with the way he plays the position," opined ESPN commentator Jon Gruden, via Rotoworld.com.
RGIII is obviously in the conversation for Rookie of the Year honors, but he has been absolutely stunning the last three weeks in games against division rivals.
First, He shredded the Cowboys and Eagles to the tune of 504 passing yards and eight scoring passes. Then he outpointed two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning to hand the Giants their third loss in four games.
So, what will he do for an encore against Baltimore?
Hopefully, we'll see more of the same, but his offensive line needs to continue its steady play and Griffin needs to grow eyes in back of his head.
Last Monday, RGIII withstood a forearm shiver when he decided to stay in bounds on a run toward the sidelines in the waning moments of Washington's 17-16 win.
The Ravens will be looking to deliver more body blows, so Griffin should take heed of his surroundings while he's on the run.
Keep an eye on Ravens outside linebacker Paul Kruger. According to a preview by yahoosports.com, "Kruger has five sacks over the past four games and leads Baltimore with 6.5, despite starting only three games."
Griffin will face a Ravens defense that ranks 23rd against the pass and has lost two talented cornerbacks this season.
First, the Ravens' best cover guy went down, when Lardarius Webb blew out his knee in October. 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith replaced Webb, but injured his groin just four weeks later. Smith underwent successful surgery to repair a sports hernia, but he has not returned.
In the meantime, substitute corners Cary Williams and Chykie Brown have been burned on a regular basis.
According to CBSSports.com, Baltimore's secondary currently gives up an average of 246.5 passing yards to opposing quarterbacks.
4. Mimic What Worked for the Steelers
After entering last week on a four-game win streak, the Ravens stumbled at home against Pittsburgh. For the Steelers, the victory snapped a three-game losing streak to Baltimore and provided the Redskins with a blueprint for beating the Ravens this week.
Take a listen to former Baltimore head coach Brian Billick, who knows the Ravens as well as anybody. His preview and prediction is brought to you by our friends at MSN and FoxSports.com.
In general, Billick believes the Redskins should be more physical on offense than the Ravens are on defense. For most teams, that's hard to accomplish, but if Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs are out of Baltimore's starting lineup, the Ravens will be susceptible to an aggressive approach on offense.
Pittsburgh dominated time of possession in Baltimore (34:21 to 25:39) and it proved to be the key to stifling the Ravens' rhythm offense. According to Billick, the Redskins need to do the same in order to "diminish touches for Ray Rice" and company.
So, look for slow, methodical drives by the Redskins' offense and a lot of clock-killing carries by rookie rushing star Alfred Morris.
5. Feed Fred the Ball
Washington running back Alfred Morris should be proud of himself.
According to CBSSports.com, he is the "first Redskins rookie to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Reggie Brooks did it in 1993."
That's quite an accomplishment. But with four games remaining in the regular season and a possible postseason berth ahead, he needs to keep on trucking.
I'm quite sure he will this Sunday, and more NFL fans will jump on his bandwagon.
CBS even seemed to give the Ravens fair warning about the ex-Florida Atlantic star, saying "RG3 gets all the headlines and the buzz, but Alfred Morris is quite a handful, too."
Last week, Morris continued his stellar rookie season with his fifth 100-yard rushing effort. And if the Redskins know what's good for them, they'll let him tote the rock at least 25 times this week.
Injuries have plagued Baltimore's defense, but the unit struggled against the run when Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs were healthy.
In fact, the Ravens rank 22nd in rush defense, with opponents averaging four yards per carry and 125.8 yards a game.
Meanwhile, the Redskins rank first in the NFL in rushing, with a 5.3-yard average, 13 touchdowns and 167.2 yards per contest.
A lot of the Washington's ground success can be attributed to Griffin, who broke Cam Newton's single-season record last week for rushing yards by a rookie quarterback. RGIII will surely add to his 714 yards, but the more doses Morris gets, the better off the Redskins will be.
Griffin also needs to stay healthy for a playoff run, so why not hand it off to a hungry workhorse?
In the meantime, Baltimore's offense will remain on the sidelines twiddling its thumbs.
6. Don't Underestimate Joe
Throughout this season, Joe Flacco has played better in Baltimore than he has on the road.
According to Rotoworld.com:
In six home games this season, Flacco has completed 131-of-207 passes (63.3 percent) for 1,800 yards (8.7 YPA) and an 11:4 TD-to-INT ratio. In six away games, Flacco is 121-of-219 (55.3 percent) for 1,238 yards (5.65 YPA), four touchdowns, and four picks.
Communication breakdowns have something to do with it, according to SI.com. So does Joe's tendency to release the ball quicker on the road. Apparently, Flacco looks downfield more in Baltimore and "his home swagger is often replaced by a jittery road presence."
But don't let that fool you, especially as we inch closer to the postseason.
Here's a trivia question for you. Which five quarterbacks share the record for most road playoff wins with four?
Next question. Which current quarterback has produced the most road wins since 2008?
If you guessed Peyton Manning, you're close because he's second with 24 to Joe's 25.
So, let's put to rest the myth that Flacco's vulnerable on the road because he's proven time and again that he's not.
Instead, the focus should be on jolting Joe into mistakes that make him wish he stayed home.
7. Don't Let Rice Run to Daylight
I wrote it before and I'll write it again. To stop the Ravens, you've got to stop Ray Rice.
Every team has tried and most have failed, so I guess it's easier said than done. But, it's not impossible.
Ray was stopped in his tracks last Sunday by his own team. He totaled 78 yards rushing and a score, but had just 13 touches in Baltimore's 23-20 loss to Pittsburgh at home. That's like taking a thoroughbred to a race track and leading him to water instead of the winner's circle.
Washington may not be so lucky this week because the Ravens will run Ray to keep RGIII off the field. Rice has also proven in the past that he's at his most lethal against teams in the NFC.
According to CBSSports.com:
Rice heads into Week 14 with 11 touchdowns in 17 games against NFC opponents. He is also averaging 5.0 yards per carry in that span.
The Redskins will counter with a run defense that is ranked fourth in the NFL. So, Ray will have his work cut out for him.
Washington has given up an average of just 78.7 rushing yards and 32.8 receiving yards to running backs this season.
It's strength versus strength and something's got to give.
8. Lock Down on Anquan Boldin
Anquan Boldin is Baltimore's greybeard when it comes to receivers, but the 32-year old is still a productive force to be reckoned with.
So far this season, the tenth-year pro has 55 catches on 96 targets for 750 yards and two scores. He's also coming off an impressive performance against the Steelers (five catches, 81 yards and a touchdown).
According to ESPN.com, the Redskins "have allowed wide receivers to catch 31 balls for 453 yards and two touchdowns" in their last two games.
Washington also got bad news this week when nickle corner Cedric Griffin was suspended four games for using performance enhancing drugs.
Griffin was one of the better tacklers in the Redskins secondary. So, it won't be surprising to see Baltimore take advantage with Boldin's aggressiveness and ability to get open on third downs.
Redskins rookie Richard Crawford will take over for Griffin in the slot.
9. Outcoach John Harbaugh
'Tis the season to be jolly and nobody's more so than John Harbaugh this year. But how can he be?
Isn't this the coach who's kicker missed a chip shot field goal that ended the Ravens season last year, just one win short of the Super Bowl? Isn't he worried about his defense after it lost its two best tacklers to muscle tears? And after losing last week to the hated Steelers, isn't he worried about his team's brutal schedule down the stretch?
The answers are yes, no and hell no, because life could be worse.
Just three weeks ago, football took a back seat to reality, when John learned that his brother left his head coaching job with the 49ers to have a minor procedure done on his ticker. Jim left his heart in San Francisco, but it was in the hands of a splendid surgeon, who fixed him up and sent him back to the sidelines.
That was certainly a relief to the Harbaugh's. But it wasn't surprising because you can't keep the brothers down for long.
Just days after losing to the Steelers, John was all smiles when he answered questions about fan loyalty in the Baltimore and D.C. metropolitan areas.
“I’d like to [say to] all the fans in Washington, southern Maryland, northern Virginia... Let us be your AFC team, and [the Redskins] can be your NFC team," said Harbaugh, via Redskins.com.
Has the coach lost his marbles or he does he really feel that way?
It's well known that he has a soft spot for Robert Griffin III. But I bet John will have some wrinkles to throw at the rookie on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Washington's Mike Shanahan will try to outwit his fellow coach with a hybrid offense that's become the talk of the NFL. It has also drawn the Redskins to within a game of first-place in the NFC East.
Football can be a grind, but Harbaugh is happy and Shanahan has hope. It's almost like celebrating Christmas—three weeks early.
10. Outscream Opposing Fans
At this time of year, Santa is making a list and checking it twice and if Washington fans are lucky, they'll get what they ask for. But I bet most of them would surrender iPad3s and PS3s for a Redskins playoff berth.
With the Ravens in town, trash talk will run rampant, from tailgaters in the parking lots to the Hoggets in the stands. But how great is the so-called "rivalry" between Washington and its neighbor to the north?
According to CBSLocal.com's David Elfin, rivalries have formed between fans, more so than players.
Meanwhile, Ravens.com writer Ryan Mink went one step further with an online poll. So, feel free to click here to cast your vote for the Ravens' second biggest rival behind Pittsburgh.
Sunday's showdown may have a bearing on that and fans of both teams will benefit, if they're naughty or nice.
Joe Versage is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He previously covered the Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens as a television beat reporter. Follow him on Twitter at: @JoeVersage Takip et: @JoeVersage
Unless otherwise noted, all player and statistical information is courtesy of Redskins.com, CBSSports.com and the National Football League.