Reporting Grant Paulsen
The Washington Redskins have a chance to send a second message in as many weeks.
A week after beating the New York Giants for the first time since 2007, the Redskins will get a chance to start a season 2-0 for the first time in four years. Sunday’s adversary, the Arizona Cardinals, doesn’t seem to present as many problems as the Giants did. But that’s why a win this weekend might mean more than Washington’s week-one victory did.
See, the Redskins have excelled at first impressions for a while; the club has won eight of its last 11 season-openers. But what happens after that quality first showing? What do the Redskins do on the second date? And the third? And in weeks sixteen and seventeen?
Beating New York was an accomplishment. The Giants had topped the Redskins in six straight, nine-of-ten, and 16-of-21 games. Proving that they could beat New York was pivotal to Washington establishing some early-season confidence and credibility.
But it’s a lot easier to play inspired football when opening the season at home, against a division opponent, and in a contest taking place on the 10th anniversary of the Sep. 11. attacks. The energy and emotion displayed at FedEx Field last Sunday was palpable and re-capturing it this weekend will be difficult.
The case can be made that this weekend’s game against the Cardinals could be a more telling match up than last weekend’s was. Sure, the Redskins can motivate themselves to play quality football within their division when inaugurating a new campaign. But can they beat a team they probably should?
Winning games against inferior opponents has been a challenge for Washington over the past several seasons. Losses to the Panthers, Chiefs, Lions and Rams at different times when those teams were bottoming out recently come to mind. Good teams beat teams they should.
If the Redskins want to be good, they’ve got to find a way to handle teams like Arizona.
That isn’t to say that the Cardinals aren’t good, but rather that they are beatable. They are 12-20 on the road under head coach Ken Whisenhunt (compared 21-12 at home). They’re also 14-20 outdoors under Whisenhunt (who has coached them to a 19-12 record indoors, on turf).
Arizona travels about as well as an only child in grade school going to their first sleepover. They aren’t the same team outside of Phoenix and their struggles on the East coast in 1 o’clock games have existed for years. They’ve also lost seven straight and nine-of-ten to the Redskins.
But the Cardinals do have a few stud performers.
Quarterback Kevin Kolb has thrown for 300 yards four times in eight NFL starts and finished last week with the league’s third-highest passer rating. His top target is one of the finest wide receivers in football, Larry Fitzgerald, who has caught 283 passes and scored 31 touchdowns over the past three seasons. He’ll give the Redskins’ secondary fits (just like he did the last time he was at FedEx Field, catching seven passes for over 100 yards and a touchdown).
But a win would allow the Redskins to have a pair of games in hand, against conference opponents, with the toughest stretches of their schedule still to come. A victory would also be Washington’s fifth in six games (counting the preseason) over the past seven weeks. And while that win-loss count is irrelevant, the impact stringing wins together can have on a locker room is a very legitimate reality.
When the Redskins have the ball:
Rex Grossman will have a chance to throw for 300 yards for the fourth time in five starts with Washington. Arizona’s secondary is anchored by a rookie cornerback making his second NFL start and another corner who spent most of last season on the practice squad.
Tim Hightower needs to average more than 2.9 yards-per-carry this weekend. Hightower won’t have any problem getting motivated for Sunday’s game. He’ll be rushing against several of his best friends as he plays the team that drafted, developed and eventually traded him this to the Redskins this July.
When the Cardinals have the ball:
DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson and Kevin Barnes will have to find a way to slow Larry Fitzgerald down. He’s going to get his numbers. How many passes he catches won’t matter nearly as much as how many big plays he makes. Washington can win if he’s running short routes and padding his numbers on smoke screens. But if he’s running free up top, Washington could be in big trouble.
The Redskins’ defensive line has to continue generating pass-rush: The unit got four sacks against the Giants last weekend. That’s pretty amazing when you consider that Washington got nine sacks from defensive linemen during the entire 2010 season. If Stephen Bowen, Adam Carriker, Barry Cofield and Chris Neild are winning their individual match ups and attracting extra attention up front, Washington’s blitzing linebackers should have a much easier time registering a sack for the first time this season.