Before the Redskins host the Green Bay Packers at FedExField, Redskins.com's Jake Kring-Schreifels and Dante Koplowitz-Fleming provide the storylines and matchups to follow in Sunday's home opener.
1. Win the time of possession battle
What’s the best way to limit the opposing team’s best offensive player? Don’t give him the ball. The Redskins offense can help the defense immensely by converting third downs and milking the clock if it means keeping Aaron Rodgers off the field.
Through two games the Redskins rank first in the NFL in average time of possession at 35:44. That being said, they rank 27th in points per game at 16.5, so they’ll have to do more with those opportunities if they want to keep pace with the Rodgers-led Green Bay offense.
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden told reporters Wednesday that the offense needs to put itself in better situations if they want to be better at converting third downs.
“We didn’t maintain drives. We didn’t get the field position. We didn’t get favorable down and distance. We had a lot of third down and longs, second and long,” Gruden said. “The big thing is to try and convert on third downs, get more looks, let our guys come off the ball more, wear the defense out. That wasn’t the case. We weren’t able to do that.”
The Redskins may look to pass on first down more often this Sunday, as so far this season they’ve ran it on first and ten 33 times for an average of 3.8 yards per play. On the 26 passing plays the Redskins have run on first-and-10, they’ve averaged 6.7 yards per play, setting them up for much more manageable second and third downs.
When the Redskins faced four or fewer yards on third down they’ve converted 63.6 percent of them. When they faced five or more yards, they converted on only 4-of-16 third downs, good for 25 percent.
To win, Washington will have to hold onto the ball and keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. To do that, they’ll need to consistently convert on third down. And ultimately to do that they’ll need to keep themselves in manageable downs and distances, ideally third-and-four or fewer yards-to-go.
2. Get the wideouts involved
So far through two games, Washington’s leading receivers are Chris Thompson, Jordan Reed and Adrian Peterson. While having backs and tight ends that are weapons in the receiving game is a valuable asset, it’s still necessary to have receivers that can stretch the field and create big-time, momentum-changing plays.
That’s exactly what Washington signed wide receiver Paul Richardson Jr. to do this offseason. In 2017, Richardson caught 44 passes for 703 yards, averaging 16 yards per reception. Through two games this season, he’s caught 8 passes for 85 yards, coming in at 10.6 yards per catch. Those numbers will need to go up if Washington wants to keep pace with the Packers high-octane offense.
Luckily for Washington, it's already seen a little bit of what Richardson can do for their offense.
With 29 seconds left in the first half of Sunday’s Week 2 game against the Colts, Richardson slipped past cornerback Kenny Moore who was up in press coverage and faded out toward the left sideline, where quarterback Alex Smith dropped a pass right into his hands for a 34 yard gain. Richardson’s speed and route running will be key in the Redskins developing a deep passing game, and that play was a good omen for what could come this Sunday against Green Bay.
When asked Wednesday about the Redskins lack of a deep passing game so far this season, quarterback Alex Smith said he’s confident his chemistry with the wide receivers will improve.
“I think it's hard looking at the numbers with these first two weeks just the defenses we played, the style that they've played necessarily hasn’t dictated a lot of balls going outside to those guys. I feel really good about it. Those guys all work extremely hard. They're all crazy talented,” Smith said. “You don't know when that opportunity is going to present itself. I think all those things, it comes in bunches.”
Putting Richardson in the slot, like he was for the the play described above, might be one way to get the receiver involved against Green Bay. Against the Packers last week, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen was targeted seven times when he lined up in the slot, catching all seven balls for 73 yards and a touchdown per NFL Next Gen Stats.
Check out these photos of the Redskins' preparing for their Week 3 game against the Green Bay Packers Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
3. Don’t fall for Rodgers’ tricks
It’s easy to notice the more dramatic things that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers achieves on the football field – the back shoulder throws, the fourth quarter comebacks, the Hail Mary’s, this year doing some of that on a hobbled knee.
What’s harder to remember is that Rodgers is one of the best at exploiting the little things. Particularly, that’s hurrying the pace of the offense as defenders rotate and run off the field, looking for 12-men on the field flags that prompt him to throw the ball deep without worry.
“Yeah, he does a great job with when teams try to sub in. He gets quick to the line and tries to get that 12 on the field penalty,” safety D.J. Swearinger Sr. said. “He does a great job of going fast when guys not lined up and throwing a deep ball. We definitely got to be on point.”
Head coach Jay Gruden used some graphic imagery to explain how the team will try to combat those types of penalties.
"One, we got to get the call in fast, and then we've got to line up and eliminate the substitutions – unless somebody's tongue is falling out of their body,” Gruden said. “So we've got to make sure we keep our guys in there, be prepared to play seven, eight-play drives and limited substitution. If they sub, we can sub, otherwise guys have got to stay in and play."
“We've made sure that we get in our situations where [if] we have a chance to sub, we will,” defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “There are other chances you might get caught, so we're going to be playing with the guys that we have out on the field if he's there and he does that."
That requires a good communication flow, which didn’t happen last week. The Redskins would like to believe that while on defense, Rodgers won’t be able to use a hard count like he would at Lambeau Field. However, Swearinger mentioned this week that the secondary struggled with being able to effectively communicate with the noise at home.
It wasn’t an excuse, just an adjustment the unit didn’t seem prepared for. Manusky knows that must change to ensure cohesion and slow down the Packers offense.
“I don’t care what call as long as we're on the same page,” Manusky said. “A couple times we were off the page and things happened to us. You know, we kind of honed it up a little bit this week in regards to playing him [Aaron Rodgers] because we know he's such a true professional and knows so much about the game and safety rotation all that kind of stuff, so we kind of honed it up, limited a little bit of calls and then we'll play from there."