After walking out of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with a heartbreaking loss in Week 11, the San Francisco 49ers (6-4) must now travel to another hostile territory.
Up next? The Washington Redskins (3-7).
In this prime-time matchup, many will focus on the two upstart quarterbacks, but we mustn't forget some of the other juicy showdowns on the menu. Both teams have the requisite talent, but sometimes talent alone isn't enough.
Here are four matchups to watch for in the 49ers-Redskins tilt Monday night.
Aldon Smith (OLB) vs. Trent Williams (OT)
Forget the receivers and quarterbacks for a second; this matchup between Aldon Smith and Trent Williams will be huge. Don't be surprised if these two butt heads at several points in this game.
For both teams, this is a must win. Expect some feisty and scrappy battles, especially in the trenches.
As we all know, Smith is still shaking off some of that rust from his month-long absence in rehab. His first game back was disappointing, but as promised by 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Smith's playing time increased in Week 11.
Smith went from 12 snaps in Week 10 to 44 in Week 11 against the New Orleans Saints. If his snap count continues to increase, the advantage could go to Smith. As long as he can replicate this (see video below), he should be fine.
He'll have his work cut out for him this week, though. Despite all the craziness that tends to follow Williams, he is still a top level left tackle in the NFL. He is by far the best offensive lineman on this Redskins unit.
Character concerns aside, this matchup between Williams and Smith could make or break this game. Robert Griffin III will need all the protection he can get, especially since the 49ers hold major advantages at other positions along the defensive line.
Jonathan Goodwin (C) vs. Barry Cofield (NT)
This is another matchup in the trenches that could decide the outcome of this game. Many want to highlight Brian Orakpo and Joe Staley, or even Ryan Kerrigan and Anthony Davis, but I think this matchup will be far more important.
With back-to-back losses, the 49ers will want to re-energize their rushing attack against the Redskins 19th-ranked rush defense. If the 49ers stick to the game plan, they need to bring some variety to their running game.
What do I mean by that?
Well, according to football outsiders, the 49ers run up the middle/guard 55 percent of the time. Check the chart below for full details.
According to this trend, Frank Gore and Co. will likely see a lot of Cofield in Week 11. Now, the 49ers could decide to change up a few things this week, but we should still see a heavy dose of Gore up the middle.
Regardless, Goodwin will have to put his big boy pants on this week if the 49ers intend to walk out of FedEx Field with a victory.
Tarell Brown/Tramaine Brock vs. Pierre Garcon
Can the 49ers slow down Pierre Garçon?
The 49ers will turn to either Tarell Brown or Tramaine Brock for the job, though this secondary will have to work in unison if they intend to limit Garçon on Monday night.
Now, Brown would usually get the job done, but his health is in question. He suffered a nasty rib injury that forced him to miss the remainder of the 49ers-Saints game last week, and as of right now, his status is unknown for Week 12.
If Brown can't go, Brock will likely serve as his replacement on the outside. Garçon doesn't play much in the slot, if at all, which means 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers will likely avoid facing off against the Redskins receiver.
Brock has the physical skill and foot speed to match Garçon, but the fourth-year cornerback has a tendency to jump routes. In addition, Brock can fall for the occasional double move, which is something Garçon has mastered.
Despite his average yards per reception stat (13 yards per carry), the 49ers should be worried about his yards-after-catch ability. Garçon is one of those slippery receivers that, at any moment, can take a five-yard screen pass to the house.
Even if Brown is healthy, I suspect he will be limited. If active, don't be surprised if the 49ers put Brown on Redskins receiver Aldrick Robinson or even former 49ers receiver Joshua Morgan. This could ease his workload quite a bit.
This puts the onus on Brock to be a technicain and not overplay the ball. If he does, Garçon has more than enough speed to be a game changer in this matchup.
Jordan Reed (TE) vs. Patrick Willis (ILB)
This will be one of the juiciest matchups this Monday night.
All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis will have one of his toughest matchups to date against Redskins rookie tight end Jordan Reed. Some might point to Willis and his matchup with a particular Saints tight end just last week as a counter argument, but in my opinion, Graham didn't look 100 percent.
On the other hand, Jordan Reed has turned into a steal for the Washington Redskins. His versatility as a "move" tight end or H-back gives opposing teams fits. In addition, despite his rather smallish frame for a tight end—6'2''—he plays much bigger than his actual size.
In terms of speed, many believe he is a carbon copy of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. In fact, both tight ends attended the University of Florida.
I do have some doubts, however, with Reed heading into this matchup.
My first issue deals with inexperience. In all likelihood, this will be Reed's first time facing a premier linebacker in Patrick Willis.
Despite his sturdy frame, Willis is probably the most complete linebacker in the game. Willis can tackle sideline-to-sideline or downhill, plus don't forget his ability to cover backs and tight ends in open space.
Can Reed step up to the challenge?
Secondly, will Reed be healthy enough to play this week?
Reed suffered a concussion in Week 11 against the Philadelphia Eagles and will have to pass the league-mandated concussion test in order to suit up in Week 12.
Reed will have one extra day since this game won't be played until Monday Night, and nothing points to his concussion being any more serious than the one Vernon Davis suffered in Week 10. Davis passed all league-mandated protocols and was able to suit up against the Saints in Week 11.
If Reed can't go, Willis will likely matchup against Logan Paulsen or Fred Davis.
One other concern that I have with Reed deals with his involvement in this offense.
After a fantastic performance against the Chicago Bears in Week 7, Reed's play dropped off a bit.
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This has as much to do with Robert Griffin III and the terrible play of his offensive line, but Reed has also looked uncomfortable at times.
Although his stats after Week 7 are decent enough, Reed should be used heavily within this offense. With the exception of Garçon, the Redskins receivers are average at best.
Whatever the reason, Reed and Robert Griffin III have to find that magic once again. If so, we could have a dynamic matchup on our hands.
For both teams, a win on Monday night will mean everything. Securing a victory will not be easy, so expect both teams to be at their best.
No matter who comes out victorious, don't be surprised if any of the four matchups above prove to be the key to this game.