Mike Shanahan’s old team is fresh from a loss to Peyton Manning’s old team, so the Broncos are a unit to be very wary of. Manning is tearing up the secondary of just about every opponent he faces.
The Redskins will be underdogs, to say the least.
Below are three matchups crucial to the outcome of the game.
DeAngelo Hall vs. Wes Welker
So far this season, DeAngelo Hall has been assigned the task of covering the opposition’s best receiver. While some may opine that Demaryius Thomas deserves some of the accolades—and they’d be correct—it’s Wes Welker who has the capacity to kill Washington through the air.
Welker is averaging 10.8 yards per catch, which is actually slightly below his career average of 11.2. However, he’ll consistently find ways to get open and keep the Broncos moving, so the Redskins have to grant him a lot of respect.
Hall has already shown that he can cover star receivers this year—he held Dez Bryant to five catches and 36 yards in Week 6—so he is the obvious man for the job here.
Washington’s defense is going to be under attack for a lot of the day.
This sort of pressure has sometimes led Hall to lose his cool and incur penalty flags. He cannot afford to do that at Mile High. If he can keep his frustrations in check, Welker will have to work very hard all game.
Julius Thomas vs. The Question Mark at Safety
With eight touchdown receptions this season, Welker and tight end Julius Thomas lead the Broncos. Crucially, they also lead the NFL. That shows you just how on-point the Denver offense has been this year.
True to form, Brandon Meriweather is unavailable when his team needs him most.
Following two helmet-to-helmet hits against Chicago in Week 7, the safety was suspended for two games. An appeal brought that down to one game, but that still leaves Washington short in the secondary for this week.
With Reed Doughty’s status unknown after a concussion, Thomas will be salivating at the prospect of this matchup. The tight end has proved himself to be the sort of game-changing spark the Broncos have been looking for since they lost Shannon Sharpe to retirement in 2004.
However, like so many other pass-catching tight ends, Thomas is a poor blocker, to the extent that he sometimes derails a Broncos drive. His touchdowns make up for it, obviously, but it's a weakness that Washington should look to exploit with creative blitzes.
The Redskins have re-signed Jordan Pugh and will be reluctant to start rookie Bacarri Rambo after he struggled in the early part of the season. E.J. Biggers played safety against Philadelphia but was poor and frequently beaten.
The coaches will not want to risk that experiment again.
The Redskins have Trenton Robinson and Jose Gumbs on the roster, but again will be reluctant to start them. The more likely option is that cornerback Josh Wilson will be asked to play safety, with Biggers replacing him at corner.
The key man here is Doughty.
If he recovers in time, Washington will be much better off. The safety is dependable and strong, which is exactly what the team needs right now. He has also been solid against the run, taking good angles and wrapping up tackles effectively.
If Thomas is to be contained, Doughty must be on the field.
Pass Rush vs. Peyton Manning
It’s a little generic, but if Washington is to get anything from this game, they have to force turnovers. The best way to do that is with constant pressure from the pass rush.
Both Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo have found success this year—although Kerrigan has been the more consistent of the two—and Manning’s passes noticeably lost some zip after the strip-sack by Robert Mathis in Week 7.
However, he’s never thrown the most perfect of balls, but still found incredible success.
Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post tellingly quoted Manning’s post-game comments as the quarterback said, “I throw a lot of wobbly passes. I throw a lot of wobbly touchdowns, too.”
That quote sums it up perfectly.
Even if Manning has lost some velocity after the big play by Mathis—he also sat out practice on Wednesday with a sore ankle—his experience and impeccable timing on throws will cover that.
It’s absolutely vital that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett dials up the pressure on Manning from an early stage. Forcing turnovers will keep the defense fresh in the thin Colorado air, as well as giving the offense the chance to build on their 45-point haul against the Bears.
In a similar manner to the Redskins, the Broncos secondary has been poor. In fact, it’s Denver that can lay claim to ownership of the league’s worst pass defense.
It looks like a second-straight shootout for Washington—and against one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game. Defensive pressure leading to turnovers is the best—some might say only—way to force a win in Week 8.
Indianapolis showed that the Broncos are not invincible. It’s a long shot, but it’s a mind-set that the Redskins players must maintain.