Ravens vs. Redskins: Sketching out a Game Plan for Washington
The Washington Redskins' best chance to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007 obviously relies on the 'Skins winning each of their final four games. And of those four matchups, the most difficult—by far—comes this week at home against geographical rival the Baltimore Ravens.
Baltimore is 9-3, but this team isn't without flaws. And the Ravens have never been close to as good on the road as they have been at home. So this is still a very winnable game for Washington. And it'll become even more winnable if the Redskins follow this simple plan...
Lots of Alfred Morris
Not only is Morris red-hot, but the Ravens defense has been crushed on the ground on more than a few occasions this season. Ray Lewis isn't eligible to return until next week, and if Terrell Suggs plays despite a torn biceps, he won't be remotely close to 100 percent.
I know Suggs is viewed as a pass-rushing stud first, but the guy was also Pro Football Focus' top-rated run defender on the roster in 2011. So it's not surprising that the Ravens have been so weak against the run without him. Washington has to take advantage by continuing to be a run-first team. Lots of Robert Griffin III on read-option plays, and lots of Morris to set the tone.
This is a defensive front that without Lewis and (possibly) without Suggs lacks the experience required to wise up to the Redskins' tricky offense and shut down Griffin and Morris and the option the way the Steelers were able to earlier this year.
Target Corey Graham
With Lardarius Webb out, Graham's been thrust into the nickel cornerback role and is covering the slot on the majority of his snaps for Baltimore. Well, attempting to cover the slot anyway. He's struggled lately against guys like Greg Little, Emmanuel Sanders and Heath Miller.
This will give the 'Skins a particularly good chance to go back to what they were doing earlier in the year, when RG3 loved throwing safe passes to Santana Moss and Fred Davis inside. Moss has been up and down lately, and the injured Davis is replaced by Logan Paulsen, but Kyle Shanahan should work those guys in as early reads more often than usual, and Griffin should be aware of Graham's matchups at all times.
They'll still stretch the field with Pierre Garcon and/or Josh Morgan and/or Leonard Hankerson, but shots to those guys is what the Ravens will be expecting. They might not be as well-prepared to deal with Paulsen and Moss in the slots.
Load up in the secondary
With Cedric Griffin suspended and DeAngelo Hall battling an ankle injury that could limit him or even remove him from the game, the Redskins have no choice but to give as much help as possible to the secondary while daring Cam Cameron to actually start running the ball.
Cameron, though, will be too tempted by what appears to be a very beatable pass defense. Joe Flacco has thrown deep more than any quarterback in the league this season, and now he's going up against the NFL's 31st-ranked pass D, with injuries to boot.
But the key for the Redskins, who are likely to see a ton of three-receiver sets while also having to cover Dennis Pitta at tight end, will be to employ five or six defensive backs at all times. Top cover safeties Madieu Williams and DeJon Gomes have to be offering constant help on the outside, and Richard Crawford will need a lot of help in the slot, especially against Anquan Boldin.
Blitz like crazy
Again, you're selling out to avoid getting torched. Give that defensive backfield as much help as possible by continuing to bring heat. It'll be hard to rush extra guys from the secondary if they're following the above strategy and devoting everyone on the back end to coverage, but the 'Skins have to send Ryan Kerrigan, Rob Jackson and Perry Riley at Flacco early and often.
Yes, they'll again be exposing themselves against the run, but at least they've done a solid job at slowing down opposing backs this year, and I'm not convinced Cameron will adjust quickly enough. Plus, you'd simply rather get beat on the ground than through the air. And at least with this strategy, you increase your defense's chances of making big plays.
The Redskins have been blitzing like crazy lately, and it has worked out quite well. No reason that shouldn't continue to happen against Flacco, whose numbers drop off significantly when he's blitzed or under any sort of pressure, per PFF.
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