Game preview, picks: Packers at Washington
From Robert McGinn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
~Teams: Green Bay Packers (4-5) vs. Washington Redskins (5-3-1)
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
Where: FedEx Field.
Series: Packers lead, 20-14-1.
Line: Redskins by 3.
Weather: 40s and windy.
Coaches: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (116-67-1) vs. Washington’s Jay Gruden (18-23-1).
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
ON THE OUTSIDE: When the teams last met in the NFC wild-card playoffs, Bryan Bulaga limited OLB Ryan Kerrigan to one pressure. Kerrigan, a leverage-power rusher, was neutralized. One personnel man ranked the Redskins’ pass rushers as Preston Smith first, Kerrigan second and Trent Murphy third. “They have three guys that can rush,” another scout said. “None of those guys are flame-throwing guys that scare the (expletive) out of you.” Smith beat JC Tretter, who was forced to play the entire game at left tackle for the injured David Bakhtiari, for a sack-safety in the first quarter. “Smith rushes the passer extremely well,” one scout said. “More athlete. He’s fast and strong enough. Kerrigan is up the field. High, high motor to find a way to get to the quarterback. Murphy has a wide array of moves. His biggest asset is his ability to stay after it. Similar to Clay Matthews. He plays throughout the whole down.”
THIN AGAIN: The Redskins played without three of their top six defensive backs in the playoff game. They’ll play this one without starting safeties David Bruton and DeAngelo Hall, both of whom are on injured reserve. “Down the middle they’re weak,” one scout said. “They don’t have a nose who can hold the point. Their two inside linebackers are very average and their safeties aren’t very good. They’re downhill, try-and-hit-you guys. They’re not real good in the secondary overall. The Vikings picked them apart. (Josh) Norman is a good corner but other than that they have a hard time matching up. Their offense is better than their defense. The offensive coordinator (Sean McVay) does a pretty good job keeping you off balance. He calls a pretty good game.”
DUAL THREATS: In the playoff game TE Jordan Reed had receptions for 24, 22 and 20 yards. In the seven games that Reed has played this season, he has averaged 58.4 snaps and backup Vernon Davis has averaged 31.6. “Reed is a really good receiving tight end but he can also block, too,” nickel back Micah Hyde said. “Their tight ends are playing lights out.” LB Jayrone Elliott said Davis has better straight-line speed than Reed, but he gave the edge in run-after-the-catch ability to Reed. “You saw Davis’ wheel routes,” Elliott said. “He runs three verticals. That’s guy’s amazing. Both of them are amazing. Looks like (Davis) has had a resurgence in his career. He’s a freak. He’s playing great ball right now.”
PASS RUSH: Nick Perry had four pressures in just 26 snaps, leading a pass rush that was outstanding in the playoff game. Julius Peppers did much of his damage against the Redskins’ interior from an inside berth in dime. In the second half, he detonated hump moves against LT Trent Williams half a dozen times and almost got home twice. It might have been his best game of the year. With Williams serving a four-game suspension, the Redskins will turn to Ty Nsekhe at left tackle for a second straight week. He held up surprising well against Minnesota’s Everson Griffen last Sunday. “They didn’t lose much with him in the game,” an NFC scout said. “He’s big, long, moves his feet OK. Pretty grooved with his angles. He ties you up in the run game, and he’s tough. He’ll try to fight you.”
NEW RUNNER: Neither of the Redskins’ two ball carriers in the playoff game, Alfred Morris nor Pierre Thomas, is still with the team. Matt Jones, who sat out with a hip injury, reclaimed his job this season only to be replaced in Game 8-9 by rookie Robert Kelley, a free agent from Tulane. “I don’t know what the deal with him was in college,” said one personnel director. “We had a free-agent grade on him. We missed him. He’s a good back. He runs hard, he’s got good feet and vision. The Vikings couldn’t tackle him. Kelley is really aggressive. He’s downhill. He breaks tackles.” Another scout pointed out that Kelley runs more effectively the more carries he gets.
VIEWS OF THE GAME
Ten months ago the Packers beat the Redskins by 17 points on the same field. Great coaches, great quarterbacks and great organizations come together to win games just like this. With a victory, the entire outlook for their season and playoff chances would change. No reason they can’t win.
BRIAN MURPHY @packersinsider / email@example.com
Last January, I gave the Packers very little chance at Washington, and the way the game started, I was sure I was right. Then everything flipped and the Packers rolled. They even almost won the next week at Arizona to advance to the NFC Championship game at Carolina. Once again, I see the Redskins winning, but hoping I am wrong again. If Clay Matthews is 100% Clay Matthews, the defense could be a lot better. Still, with Shields and Randall still unfit and unable to play, the Packers secondary could get exposed, as they were earlier this season against Stefon Diggs and Marvin Jones Jr. Nothing would surprise me, from a Packers rout like 10 months ago, to a Redskins rout of the Packers like we saw Tennessee put on the Packers last week. Washington 34, Packers 24
As easy as it would be to assume the Packers are going to continue spiraling out of control and implode again, I’m thinking the bleeding stops for one night here. The return of Clay Matthews and availability of Jared Cook, James Starks and David Bakhtiari are enough to give the Packers a chance. This could come down to a Mason Crosby field goal. Packers 27, Washington 24
Let’s make this simple: Washington is better now than it was in a playoff loss to the Packers last season. And there’s no question the Packers are a worse team than the one that traveled to our nation’s capital for an impressive win last January. I don’t see the Packers getting it done for a second time. Washington 33, Packers 24
Maybe the Packers’ defense bounces back this week, assuming Clay Matthews returns from a hamstring injury. But Washington has a lot more weapons in the passing game (Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, DeSean Jackson if healthy, Jamison Crowder, Pierre Garcon) than the Packers, and that could be the difference. Washington 28, Packers 24
A week after Delanie Walker torched them, the Packers have to worry about a pair of tight ends in Washington. The Packers should get Clay Matthews and Jared Cook back, but no amount of reinforcements will change this fact: Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis will be tough covers. Washington 27, Packers 21
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