When Washington Redskins cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson line up on Sunday and peer across the line of scrimmage into the backfield, they’ll see one of the last quarterbacks a maligned secondary would want to face.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is as hot a player as any in the National Football League through four games. In his fifth NFL season, his 112.1 passer rating leads the league, and that’s a big reason why the Falcons (4-0) are undefeated.
“He reads coverages extremely well,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “He knows where to go with the ball. He doesn’t have any wasted steps. He makes most of his decisions off the first hitch or the second hitch. He doesn’t hold the ball too long. He has all the things you look for. He is a natural thrower. You can see he is playing very well.”
That doesn’t exactly bode well for Washington’s secondary, and the match-up problems don’t stop there.
Veteran Roddy White and second-year receiver Julio Jones comprise one of the most talented receiver tandems in the NFL. Future Hall-of-Fame Tony Gonzalez, meanwhile, will challenge Washington’s linebackers.
All that talent is why Atlanta enters Sunday’s game ranked third in the NFL in points per game (31.0) and 10th in yards per passing play (7.28).
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett expects Jones and White to present a major challenge.
“One (White) is big, athletic and can go out and catch the ball, and the other is really fast, great route runner, make all the catches,” Haslett said. “And [they’re] maybe the two best blocking wide receivers in the National Football League. They go up and throw their bodies around. They’re tough. They’re physical. They’ve got a mean streak to them.”
Preventing big plays remains a key this week. White had a 59-yard reception in the Falcons‘ win over Carolina last week. Jones has caught a pass for at least 29 yards in three of Atlanta’s four games. Running back Michael Turner also caught a 60-yard touchdown on screen.
The Redskins‘ secondary limited big plays by covering tightly in the first half in last week’s win over Tampa Bay. But during the Buccaneers’ comeback in the second half, Wilson was in coverage on a 65-yard catch-and-run by Mike Williams and Hall came up inches shy of breaking up a 54-yard deep throw to Vincent Jackson.
“Sixty perfect snaps, one bad judge of a ball and the sky is falling down,” Hall said. “It’s kind of part of the beast.”
“You can play 75 plays and have 74 magnificent plays that you’ll write home to mom about,” Wilson said, “but it’s always that one play that I wish I could take away from the last two games. If I could just take away one play from each game, I’d write home and say I had a perfect game.”
Perhaps the weather will help slow Atlanta on Sunday. It’s expected to rain throughout the game, with temperatures in the low 50s. The Redskins, though, would rather rely on a strong pass rush and an offense that controls the game.
“It’s a total group effort,” Hall said. “It’s our offense being able to sustain drives. It’s our pass rush being able to get in his face. It’s us in the back end being able to cover; linebackers dropping in some zones or playing man if they got to. It’s not one guy shutting another guy down. It’s a simple formula, but it’s hard to execute.”