As I outlined a week ago in the preview for the Panther game, there are two basic formulas/blueprints that teams are likely to adopt to try and knock off the Falcons.
Like Carolina, Washington will likely adopt the one that involves running the football and trying to shorten the game so that the explosive Falcons offense stays on the sideline. Carolina was nearly successful in pulling off that gameplan, but made a few too many mistakes and allowed too many big plays from Atlanta to get the win. Washington will try to do what Carolina could not do.
Washington’s gameplan will involve a heavy dose of their ground game. Alfred Morris is having a solid season and looks like a great fit behind Washington’s zone-blocking line. He is the newest back in the long line of runners that has shined in Mike Shanahan’s offense. The Redskins will likely also try and take advantage of Robert Griffin III’s mobility much like Carolina did with Cam Newton to supplement Morris.
Washington will want to get out to a fast start, because they don’t really have the playmakers on the outside to really try and come from behind against Atlanta. Griffin is off to an excellent start this season, but he’s still not quite developed enough as a passer to think he can drop back and throw the ball a bunch of times and win that way. He’ll likely rely on his legs to extend plays and try and make something out of nothing, which he has done numerous times already this season.
That is an area where they could attack the Falcons defense. It’s going to be difficult for the Falcons to get Griffin down because he is especially adept at avoiding sacks, extending plays, and creating things with his arm and legs in the face of pressure.
However like Carolina, pound for pound Washington just can’t match up with the Falcons. Thus why they will also need to take advantage of some costly mistakes by the Falcons. They will need to create some turnovers and hope the Falcons make some mental errors and shoot themselves in the foot a couple of times.
They will try to pressure Matt Ryan, something the Panthers were successful with last week. Losing Brian Orakpo a few weeks ago really hurt their ability to do so. But they still have Ryan Kerrigan who is a solid player and has been productive thus far this season (4 sacks). They will also need other players like Rob Jackson, Stephen Bowen, and others to step up their play and provide pressure.
Defensively, the Redskins biggest problem is going to be their ability to match up on the outside. Their pass defense is one of the weakest in the NFL, and DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson will have their hands full going against Julio Jones and Roddy White. They will also have trouble covering Tony Gonzalez in the middle of the defense, with strong safety DeJon Gomes looking overmatched for much of this season.
The Redskins might have a few tricks up their sleeves. Mike Shanahan always has some wrinkles and with a player like Griffin there’s no doubt that the Falcons can expect a trick play or two, which the Redskins hope they can capitalize off of and generate some big plays.
Another area where the Redskins may need to exploit the Falcons is on special teams. Neither Niles Paul nor Brandon Banks have been all that great returning kickoffs and punts this season, but if they can step out this week and make some plays, it could go a long way to helping them win the field position battle.
For the most part, the Redskins will attempt to copy the Panthers and hope that at the end things will bounce their way. If they can get to a strong start and then wear down the Falcons defense with their ground attack, they will have a chance to win. And Griffin’s improvisational abilities could give the Falcons defense fits. The Redskins will hope that the Falcons did not learn anything from their near-loss to Carolina, and hope that they can do a bit more and be the first team to beat the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons.