ASHBURN — The Redskins quickly face a critical game early this NFL season. At 0-1 and with a second consecutive home game to start the year, Washington could find itself in an early hole when it faces NFC East rival Dallas on Sunday afternoon.
The Redskins have plenty of issues to correct heading into the Cowboys game. Neither team can afford to fall to 0-2. Doing so with both losses at home and one to an NFC East rival would be difficult to overcome given how hard the schedule is down the stretch. Here are five storylines to watch entering this weekend’s matchup:
Stop the run
Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams torched Washington for 146 yards on 26 carries in the 38-16 loss Monday. A lot of that damage was done in the second half. But it continued a trend that lasted almost all last season. Yes, some of that was because the Redskins chose to double Antonio Brown and stay light in the box. That won’t happen this week – Dez Bryant or not. They can’t afford it. Dallas has a formidable offensive line and rookie Ezekiel Elliott and veteran Alfred Morris – despite a rough first week against the New York Giants – won’t be easy to contain. But it starts there for the Redskins.
Josh Norman vs. Dez Bryant?
Defensive coordinator Joe Barry admitted that No. 2 cornerback Bashaud Breeland struggled vs. Antonio Brown last week. No surprise there. But is he willing to switch up his plan from last week and allow top corner Josh Norman to follow Bryant around the field? Reading into his quotes from Thursday, that doesn’t seem guaranteed. There were a lot of reasons given about how the plan was solid and Pittsburgh just made great plays vs. Breeland. And while there’s some truth to that, the trigger needs to be pulled quicker this time if Bryant – who had just one catch in Week 1 – gets going early.
Red zone efficiency
The Redskins were so good in this area last season. But the Steelers limited them last week in that area and those two early stalled drives led to just six points. That’s too many points left on the table and in close games that can make all the difference. There were reasons for it. Penalties certainly didn’t help Washington there. But they have to finish drives against Dallas. The margin for error is too small to settle for field goals.
It’s fair to say the Redskins will move the ball through the air. Especially, with rookie wide receiver Josh Doctson getting increasingly healthy (sore left Achilles tendon) there are too many weapons here not to have success. Maybe Dallas will chose to go the Pittsburgh route and drop eight men into coverage and dare quarterback Kirk Cousins to force things deep or take underneath passes that aren’t sexy. Whatever strategy the Cowboys choose, the Redskins still have to have some running presence to keep them off balance. Matt Jones wasn’t good enough last week against the Steelers (24 yards) and Washington totaled 55. This is a pass-first team. It’s been that way since halfway through last season. But they have to show some balance. Let’s see if they can exploit the Dallas front seven any better.
The Redskins came through the preseason and the Steelers game in reasonably good shape, but this week at practice has taken a toll on some key players. Ruled OUT for the game already: Backup inside linebacker Martrell Spaight (concussion), who began exhibiting concussion symptoms. He participated in individual drills at practice on Friday, but was immediately ruled out afterward. That’s bad news for a player who missed all but one game last season with a concussion.
Meanwhile, left tackle Trent Williams is confident he will play despite a left hip/glute injury that kept him out of practice Friday. It would probably take a lot more than that to keep him off the field, but still something to keep an eye on. Other players who were listed as questionable: Inside linebacker Su’a Cravens, defensive end Chis Baker (elbow/rib) and rookie wide receiver Josh Doctson (sore left Achilles) are also questionable, but also practiced in full on Friday and should play.
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