Despite having an offensive line that is battling through injuries and a lack of experience together, the Redskins still are a team that wants to run the football. With over 1,000 combined rush yards through nine games, getting Adrian Peterson and company going on the ground is crucial for offensive success.
The Houston Texans on the other hand, love stopping the run. One of the top run defenses in the NFL, the front seven has been a handful for opposing teams all season long. On Sunday, the matchup between two 6-3 teams should come down to the battle in the trenches.
"Certainly, they are one of the most disruptive fronts in football. I think when you just talk about just creating problems, penetration. They're all over the place. They obviously are really, really talented,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “They get up the field. They're well-coached. I think together as a defense they've been together a long time. The bulk of that defense has been together, so they know what they're doing. They play fast, but certainly, I think it does start with how disruptive they are up front."
As a whole, the Texans defensive front has been strong all season, with two men standing out as particularly unfavorable matchups for any offensive line. Usually the bookends of the defensive line, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney have played a large part in Houston’s overall success this season.
Watt, who missed time in both 2016 and 2017 due to injury, seems to have found his groove again. With nine sacks in 2018, Watt is back to terrorizing defenses just as he did from 2012-15, where he was a four-time Pro Bowler, four-time First-Team All-Pro, three-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time NFL Sack leader.
Clowney, the first-overall pick in 2014, continues to show progression as he enters the second half of his fourth season in the league. After racking up a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2017, Clowney already has 5.5 in this campaign. But, he’s done much more for the Texans defense than just take down the quarterback. As Redskins.com’s Dante Koplowitz-Fleming explained in this week’s Know Your Opponent, Clowney has been a key force in stopping the run. Together, the two present a tall task for the Redskins offense.
“Man, they got J.J. Watt, they got Clowney. Good, solid lineman as well. They do a good job of disrupting things,” running back Adrian Peterson said. “As an offense, especially upfront, the guys got to execute what they’ve been asked to do.”
Execution will be key for the Redskins offensive line, but they’re not the only ones who will have to deal with Watt, Clowney and company. While Peterson’s main concern will be looking for running lanes, the running back understands that when it comes to the passing game, he will have to help contain the rushers as well.
“You have to do some extra little things as well to help, chipping, as those guys are coming free,” Peterson said. “Quite honestly, they’re playmakers. You have to be prepared to go down and hit them in the mouth. It’s a different mindset.”
As for that offensive line, execution won’t come easy. While the new faces have another week to get more comfortable in schemes, cohesion is only part of the process. Avoiding mistakes and costly penalties, such as holding calls that wiped out big plays against the Buccaneers, will be a key focus for the men up front.
Last week, the line was able to do enough to secure a win, but it wasn’t a perfect performance by any means. The Redskins defense was able to save the day by forcing turnovers, but that won’t always be the case. For Washington to compete against a playoff-caliber team on Sunday, the offense will have to contribute more.
“Obviously it’s our job, we have to pick up the slack,” offensive lineman Morgan Moses said. “We can’t lean on the defense anymore, we got to step up our game as an offense and find our rhythm. We have the pieces, we have the tools.”
The Week 11 matchup will feature a heavy focus on the players on the line. The Texans are bringing a strong front to Landover, and the Redskins ability to contain it could be the difference between a positive or negative result.
"This will be a big challenge for us,” Peterson said. “But we’re up for the task.”