For the Washington Redskins, Week Three of the NFL regular season brings the second-highest rated passer and two of the more dangerous wide receivers in the league. The Arizona Cardinals invade FedEx Field on Sunday and intend to improve their record to 3-0 for the first since 1974.
Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald are both top-10 wideouts, with a combined 23 catches for 306 yards and four touchdowns. Big plays are the name of the game. But Cardinals' quarterback Kurt Warner (the NFL's second-rated passer with 128.5 quarterback rating) is also capable of long, patient drives as well, presenting an interesting dilemma for the Redskins' defense.
In a win over the Miami Dolphins last week, Warner posted a perfect passer rating, 158.3, while completing 19 passes on 24 attempts for 362 yards and 3 touchdowns. It was the third time in Warner's career he has reached the mark.
With the Cardinals' running game being less than stellar (averaging only 2.7 yards per attempt through two games this season), the Redskins are sure to press the issue this week. Warner has been known to be susceptible to pressure, and the Redskins are sure to press Boldin and Fitzgerald at the line of scrimmage and attack Warner and the running game.
The Cardinals surely noticed the performance of New York Giants' wide receiver Plaxico Burress in the Redskins' Week One loss. Burress used his size to "box out" Redskins' defenders to collect 10 passes for 133 yards. Warner and the Cardinals' offense will hope to do the same thing with Boldin and Fitzgerald.
Cardinals' right tackle Levi Brown and left tackle Mike Gandy could be the keys for the Cardinals. Each will have his hands full this week, as they face Redskins' defensive ends Andre Carter (a half sack and seven tackles)and Jason Taylor (one sack and six tackles).
While the Redskins' defense has posted only four sacks in their first two games, they have provided consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Last week, the Redskins pressured Saints quarterback Drew Brees into a very pedestrian 69.8 quarterback rating, forcing two interceptions. Overall, the Redskins' defense ranks sixth in the league for lowest opposing quarterback rating allowing a 65.3 thus far.
That may not be enough for the Redskins, however, as the Cardinals' defense has also played well, currently ranked seventh in the NFL in total defense. They shut out the Dolphins through most of three quarters in Week Two and forced four turnovers in their Week One win over the San Francisco 49ers.
While the 49ers were able to move the ball well, turnovers ended at least two drives that seemed destined be scoring drives. The Cardinals have also done a good job of putting pressure on quarterbacks, as evidenced by their six sacks in two games. Allowing only a 73.7 quarterback rating and ranked 10th in rush defense, the Cardinals' defense has been solid.
Cardinals' defensive tackle Darnell Dockett wasn't much of a factor, statistically, against the Dolphins, involved in only one tackle, but he is the type of interior lineman that has given the Redskins' offensive line fits for years. Dockett also hails from nearby Burtonville, MD, and he always plays with an attitude when in Washington.
The Redskins will need good performances from quarterback Jason Campbell and running back Clinton Portis to keep the Cardinals' defense off balance. Redskins' Head Coach Jim Zorn showed dramatic improvement as a playcaller and game manager last week.
His lack of experience in this area, and several questionable decisions in the Week One loss to the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, resulted in a very poor performance from the Redskins' offense as a whole.
While Portis is considered one of the better backs in the league, Campbell is still a bit of an enigma. Plagued by inconsistency thus far in his short career, Campbell rebounded nicely from his mediocre performance against the Giants with a very productive outing against the Saints in Week Two.
Campbell engineered two fourth-quarter scoring drives to complete a dramatic comeback win and posted a 104.1 quarterback rating.
Campbell connected with nine different receivers in the win, and in the process he showed what the Redskins' offense is capable of. Campbell will need another solid performance this week, as the Cardinals' defense is sure to load up at the line of scrimmage in an effort to shut down the Redskins' running game.
Averaging 4.2 yards per carry, Zorn has shown that he is willing to let Portis and the offensive line set the tempo for the offense.
Redskins' wide receiver Santana Moss is off to a good start to the season, and he seems to have become comfortable in Zorn's new offense. With 12 receptions for 201 yards, two touchdowns, and a 16.8-yard average per catch on the season, Moss could play a key role this week as well.
Pass protection will be key for the Redskins as well. Campbell has been sacked three times in two games, two by the Saints. But the Saints could not pressure Campbell consistently, and when there was pressure, Campbell handled it very well.
On the "game winning" touchdown pass, Campbell side-stepped the pressure and hit wider receiver Santana Moss in stride for a 67-yard touchdown pass.
Campbell will need to continue his progress under the tutelage of Jim Zorn and show that his performance last week was not part of the roller coaster offensive performances the Redskins have become known for.
Campbell may also put to use a small tool of experienced quarterbacks not seen in Washington for many years. The hard count.
Campbell and Zorn apparently worked on this during the 10 days of practice they had following opening night. They saw that the Giants defensive front seven had been able to get a jump off the ball consistently, and Campbell utilized the hard count to slow down the Saints' defensive line.
This could be critical this week as well, facing the quickness from the Cardinals' defensive front, enabling Portis the opportunity to see wholes develop before he is forced to break a tackle, and the offensive line to set up their pass protection properly.
The Redskins' defense also responded well last week. Holding the Saints' prolific offense to 250 total yards, they also shut down dynamic playmaker Reggie Bush and the Saints' running game, allowing only 2.9 yards per rush.
Following a shaky outing against the Giants in Week One, the defense enters the game against the Cardinals' with confidence. Warner will hope to deflate those feelings.
Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Kurt Warner's ability to get them the ball will be key for both teams. The Redskins' cornerbacks will likely try to press the receivers and force Warner to get rid of the ball in a hurry. Keeping Warner off balance and preventing him from finding his rhythm will be the Redskins' defensive goal.
Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, Jason Campbell, and the Redskins' offensive line will intend to control the ball as they did last week against the Saints. With nearly 10 minute difference in time of possession, the Saints surely wore down in the fourth quarter, making it that much easier for the Redskins' offense to take over the game.
Redskins' rookie Head Coach Jim Zorn is coming off his first ever victory and would like to put together another good overall performance leading into a difficult stretch for the Redskins.
They will be on the road the next two weeks for critical divisional matchups against the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. Already with one divisional loss, Zorn will hope to create some momentum to carry into the upcoming road trip.
For Cardinals' second-year Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt, a 3-0 start to the season would validate the direction he has set for his team. This game is the first of two East Coast games, and Whisenhunt will be taking the unusual step of keeping his team on the East Coast following Sunday's game.
They visit the New York Jets next week, and Whisenhunt hopes to improve his East Coast record, as the Cardinals lost all three trips into the Eastern time zone last season.
The Cardinals and Redskins have faced each other 112 times, with the Redskins holding a 69-42-1 advantage. These games are often close, with the last five games decided by 10 points or less, and this game is shaping up to be played much the same.
There are many connections between Cardinals' players and coaches and the Redskins' franchise. Such connections often lead to emotionally charged games, and I expect this one will be no different.
Which team can better control the line of scrimmage will be the deciding factor in this game, and it should be considered one of the better matchups of Week Three.