Preview and Predictions for Washington Redskins' Week 4 MNF Matchup
The 3-0 Chiefs are sure to pose Washington problems on Monday Night Football, though. They boast a big-play defense featuring a swarming pass rush and an opportunistic secondary. They are also creative and efficient on offense, and have true balance this season thanks to the emergence of rookie running back Kareem Hunt.
Of course, the Redskins have threats of their own as they bid to improve to 3-1. The offense was back on song against the Raiders, thanks largely to quarterback Kirk Cousins' impressive display.
The faces around Cousins have changed, but he still has some quality weapons to aim for. Specifically, tight end Vernon Davis and running back Chris Thompson have both proved matchup nightmares for defenses so far this season.
Defensively, the Redskins can swarm on the pass pocket thanks to a marauding line playing up to its boosted talent level. The secondary is also loaded, due in no small part to the play of shutdown cornerback Josh Norman and vocal safety D.J. Swearinger.
Find out which players will thrive for Washington when the game gets underway at 8:30 p.m. ET.
The Redskins will enter the toughest game of their season so far with question marks about the fitness of several key players, including tight end Jordan Reed.
Washington's most dynamic pass-catcher is listed as questionable, along with running back Rob Kelley, wideout Jamison Crowder, Swearinger and linebackers Mason Foster and Will Compton, per Stephen Czarda of the team's official website.
Being without any member of this six would be a major blow for the Redskins, but Reed's absence would likely hurt the most. The brittle playmaker gives Washington an obvious matchup advantage against Kansas City's linebackers.
A Chiefs defense without versatile safety Eric Berry won't have an equalizer for Reed's move skills, subtle route-running and deceptive vertical speed over the middle. At least Davis thrived in the tight end's absence against the Silver and Black, and he could be counted on again.
It will be a similar story if Crowder is limited. The third-year slot receiver can punish the Chiefs' reliance on man coverage underneath, but if he can't go, it will be another opportunity for Ryan Grant, who already has eight catches for 103 yards and a touchdown this season.
There's a boost for the Redskins' offensive line with outside linebacker Dee Ford ruled out due to a back problem, per Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star, who also noted how Frank Zombo could step into the starting berth.
Zombo won't be a match for Washington's dominant left tackle Trent Williams.
Washington's rampant front seven has the arsenal to overwhelm a depleted line. Preston Smith and Junior Galette could run riot if Fisher is out, while Ziggy Hood and rookie Jonathan Allen will hammer any holes in the middle without Morse.
Key Matchup: Redskins' O-Line vs. Chiefs' Defensive Front
The Redskins' offensive line started the season sluggishly but has since rebounded with a vengeance. There were shades of pure dominance in the way the group manhandled the Raiders defensive front.
It was no small feat since the Raiders boast a pair of gifted edge-rushers in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. Yet Washington bossed the individual matchups.
The one-on-one battles will again be key against the Chiefs, who have more threats for line coach Bill Callahan's front five to worry about. There are decisive duels everywhere in this key matchup, beginning with right tackle Morgan Moses against Justin Houston.
Moses was outstanding against Mack in Week 3, but he'll need to be even better if he's going to keep Houston quiet. The latter possesses a powerful base and frightening first-step quickness.
More than anything else, Houston is a relentless pass-rusher, one who puts pressure on his blocker to be fully focused for 60 minutes. Staying switched on will be vital for Moses, since his opponent is one of the best closers in football. He usually comes alive in the fourth quarter, when the light goes on for this deadly quarterback hunter.
Moses has a tough assignment, but things could be even more daunting for Washington's interior blockers. Guards Shawn Lauvao and Brandon Scherff, along with center Spencer Long, have to keep D-tackles Chris Jones and Allen Bailey quiet.
It won't be easy to subdue two inside behemoths who have combined for five sacks through three games. There's also formidable nose tackle Bennie Logan, well known to the Redskins from his days with NFC East rivals the Philadelphia Eagles, to deal with.
One advantage will come from Ford not playing. Williams will be able to handle replacement Zombo by himself, allowing for at least one double team on the inside.
The Chiefs send the fewest blitzes of any defense in the league, per NFL Matchup on ESPN. Instead, they trust their front-line rushers to create pressure.
Keeping these rushers under wraps will mean more time for Cousins to pick apart man coverage. It will also mean more holes for a running game with a vital role to play on Monday night.
Redskins Run the Ball a Season-High 35-40 Times
Given the strength of the Chiefs' pass rush, along with the opportunism of the secondary, the Redskins would be wise to keep the ball on the ground at Arrowhead Stadium.
Fortunately, it's something head coach Jay Gruden hasn't been shy about doing at times this season. Washington ran the ball 34 times against the Raiders in Week 3, keeping the Oakland D honest in the process.
Even so, the Redskins can still make a stronger commitment to the running game. For the season, the Burgundy and Gold rank 23rd in rushing attempts, per the league's official website.
The number will be boosted significantly this week, and not just because of any desire to keep pass-rushers and ball hawks quiet. A heavy diet of running will also extend drives and wear down a Chiefs defense with a bad habit of surrendering long marches.
In fact, the Chiefs have forced offenses to go three-and-out only 22.2 percent of the time through three weeks, per NFL Matchup on ESPN. Piling up the rushing attempts and short passes will help the Redskins' offense stay on the field.
It's a ploy boosted by Washington's options on the ground. Whether it's Kelley or fourth-round pick Samaje Perine carrying the load, the Redskins will have a workhorse able to to absorb a lot of carries and punishment while keeping the chains moving and killing the clock.
Using the similar overloaded fronts deployed against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 2 will make life easier for Kelley and Perine. Two- and three-tight end sets were common against the Rams, as the Redskins used brute force to overwhelm a defensive front which, like the Chiefs, is loaded with pass-rushers but not the strongest in the meat-grinder of the running game.
Adding extra blockers to the front, as well as sharing a season-high 35-40 rushing attempts between Kelley, Perine, Thompson and Mack Brown, will not only render a marauding pass rush and a dangerous secondary moot, it will also keep a high-powered and versatile Chiefs offense off the field.
Chris Thompson Makes 8-Plus Catches
Running the ball won't be the only key tenet to the Redskins' approach on offense. A steady dose of short passes will help Cousins beat the rush, as well as avoiding testing standout cornerback Marcus Peters deep.
As in any game, the essential figure in Washington's short-range passing attack will be Chris Thompson. The dual-threat running back has been the leading light for the Redskins this season, but he will have his best game in Week 4.
Thompson will top the eight-catch mark against a Chiefs defense ill-equipped to track him underneath and in space. The fifth-year pro gives Washington an obvious matchup advantage against linebackers, either in the flats or over the middle.
Gruden and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh know how to exploit those mismatches thanks to the way they are moving Thompson around. The No. 25 is striking out of the backfield on screens, swing and circle routes, but he is also lining up in more spots pre-snap, spending time flexed out and even in the slot.
Thompson recently told Mike Jones of the Washington Post how his study of other pass-catching backs is making him a more well-rounded receiver:
"James White (of New England) with his quickness is very decisive coming out of routes. (Baltimore's) Danny Woodhead, he does a lot of snag routes where he could cross his defender like he's running a choice and then break back out. Seeing how he did it, with his shoulders getting down, and how many steps he would take to break out. (Philadelphia's) Darren Sproles, everything he does.
"(Pittsburgh's) Le'Veon (Bell), because of his patience. And (Detroit's) Theo Riddick, he might be the best route-runner as a running back in this whole league. He's—it's ridiculous how good he can run routes coming out of the backfield. I just study them all because different guys run different routes better than the next guy."
Thompson's flexibility, combined with his good hands and dynamism after the catch, have made him the X-factor for Washington's offense so far this season. If he kicks his already-impressive production up a notch this week, he can be the catalyst for another upset win.
Washington's Defense Will Log 4-Plus Sacks
The Chiefs gave up five sacks to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 3, an ominous sign of things to come against a Washington defense every bit as loaded with gifted pass-rushers as the Bolts.
Smith, Galette, Allen and Ryan Kerrigan have been in rampaging mood lately. They have combined for seven sacks, with 3.5 coming during the win over the Raiders.
Those sacks were logged against one of the more physically dominant offensive lines in the NFL. By contrast, physical dominance has been in short supply for the Kansas City O-line, at least when it comes to pass protection.
The Chiefs have yielded 12 sacks through three games, an unwanted average the Redskins will make sure is maintained on Monday Night Football.
Improved talent has made a major difference to Washington's defensive front, with Allen a steal as the 17th-overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, while Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain have added bulk to the trenches on early downs.
A finally healthy Galette is beginning to make his presence felt on the edges. So is Smith, who has responded brilliantly to a down year in 2016, logging three sacks so far.
The boost in Smith's numbers is testament to the better coaching the men up front are receiving. In particular, new line coach Jim Tomsula has made a massive difference, according to ESPN.com's John Keim:
"He's an upbeat, energetic guy and that matters. Think of bosses you've had; that's what you'd want, right? But along with that, he's so detailed and has them playing technically sound. I've watched him work with his linemen during practice and then seen them use what they've been taught in a game, the way to take on certain blocks. He has their attention."
Tomsula's enthusiasm can often belie the fine work he does to improve the technique of his players. The 49-year-old's teaching is helping the Redskins create more pressure with just a four-man rush, the dream ticket for any defense.
Another swarming display up front will lead to an uncomfortable night for Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, while letting seven-man coverage shells keep Kansas City's many receiving threats in front.
Zach Brown Will Be in on 15 Tackles
Zach Brown has wasted no time proving to be one of the smartest acquisitions the Redskins made this offseason. The Pro Bowler in 2016 has added superior athleticism and downhill aggression to the inside linebacker rotation.
Brown has been a tackling machine through three weeks, being in on 33 combined tackles, including 20 solo stops. He will register season-highs for both combined and solo tackles against the Chiefs.
Expect Brown to be in on at least 15 tackles, 10 of which will be credited to No. 53 alone. The reason he will be so active is simple: He will be Washington's best and first line of defense against Hunt.
The Chiefs own one of football's deadliest running games thanks to Hunt's fast start to life in the pros. What makes him such a threat is his quick-strike capability.
He is averaging 8.5 yards per carry and has a run of 50 or more yards in each of his three starts, including a 53-yard touchdown against the Eagles in Week 2, followed by a 69-yard score against the Chargers last week.
Washington's ability to prevent those sudden big plays will be determined by how often Brown can quickly get to the No. 27.
Brown's cause will be helped by the defensive line's ability to create more pursuit lanes for him to attack.
In particular, the absence of Morse should let one of McGee, McClain or Ziggy Hood own the interior and keep the inside 'backers clean and free to flow to the ball. It will help inspire a monster night for Brown.
The Redskins need a lot to go their way to leave Kansas City with a W. Fortunately, this team has the playmakers on both sides of the ball to attack the key weaknesses in the Chiefs' lineup.