5 Storylines: Redskins vs. Browns

ASHBURN, Va. — The Redskins found a way to win at a place they never do and in the process began crawling out of an early hole in the NFC title chase.

Now the schedule lightens with the winless Cleveland Browns coming to FedEx Field on Sunday. But they can’t exactly afford a step back. At all. As quarterback Kirk Cousins pointed out this week, “What do we have to feel comfortable about?”

He’s not wrong. Washington is 1-2 and still in desperate need of a win at home, where it has already lost twice. Get to .500 against one of the league’s worst teams and move on to Baltimore. Lose? They don’t want to think about that. Here are five storylines for Sunday’s 1 p.m. game.

The return of Robert Griffin III

Oh… wait. The sad saga of Griffin continues as a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury in Week 1 knocked him out for months. Expect him on the sidelines at FedEx Field on Sunday with the Browns. But it’s not the homecoming he wanted. Instead of sticking it to the Redskins for perceived mistreatment – or at the very least getting a nice reception from the crowd – Griffin will instead watch this game from a sling. And so what was once one of the most compelling games of the NFL season descends into relative irrelevance. Maybe that’s for the best. Redskins fans already watched Alfred Morris return home and score a touchdown on the home team in a Cowboys uniform. Seeing Griffin do the same would have been hard to take.

Rattle Browns rookie QB Cody Kessler

The Redskins’ pass rush hasn’t been great. Only Trent Murphy has multiple sacks (three) and that’s not something anyone expected before the season. But he, Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan – in a nice rotation right now – have a chance to feast on a rookie quarterback. Cody Kessler, a teammate of Redskins linebacker Su’a Cravens at USC, actually played reasonably well in last week’s loss to Miami. But he gave way some to wide receiver Terrelle Pryor and fumbled early in the game. Kessler doesn’t have a big arm. Expect the Redskins to press the line of scrimmage and confuse him with zone coverages, too, to confuse the sixth-round pick.

Finish drives. Finally

Again an issue last week. It’s great kicker Dustin Hopkins made five field goals and was named NFC special teams player of the week and month. But that only happens because Kirk Cousins and the offense continue to leave points on the board. And the Redskins’ touchdowns came on big plays – a 55-yard tunnel screen to Jamison Crowder and a 44-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson. Those plays are necessary. But when Washington gets in tight it hasn’t been able to take advantage. Teams are hyper aware of tight end Jordan Reed in this area. The other receivers help clear things out. It’s time to take advantage with the running backs.

Spencer Long’s debut at center

He spent all offseason learning to play the position. And now Spencer Long gets a chance to put that into practice. Kory Lichtensteiger (calf) is on IR and veteran John Sullivan was just signed this week. So Long has to gather quick chemistry with Cousins. Neither thinks that will be a problem. On the left side of the line Trent Williams will shift back to left tackle. His time at guard for Shawn Lauvao (sprained ankle) was probably a one-time appearance. That means Arie Kouandjio will have to contribute for the first time at left guard. Will be interesting to see how Washington’s revamped offensive line does. If Long struggles, Sullivan is now a viable option at that spot.

Don’t overlook the Browns

Cleveland is young, scrappy and hungry. Are the Browns good? Nope. There are way too many holes on that roster for coach Hue Jackson to game plan around. But Cleveland was ahead 20-0 on Baltimore at home and lost. Then it battled Miami all game last Sunday on the road and lost in overtime. Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor was fantastic last week in all phases – as a quarterback, a receiver and a running back. The Redskins will be ready for that this week. But Kessler avoided major mistakes and if the Browns get star cornerback Joe Haden (groin) back it will give a huge boost to the secondary. Washington is favored by 7.5 points and should win. But if they play flat early it could be a long slog on Sunday to a win that won’t get the Redskins much credit.

Follow Redskins reporter Brian McNally on Twitter.

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