- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 8, 2015

FOXBOROUGH — After the Washington Redskins‘ 34-20 loss to the New York Jets in Week 6, coach Jay Gruden refrained from making any judgements about quarterback Kirk Cousins‘ fourth two-interception performance of the season.

“I’d like to see what happens when we get our full cast of characters back,” Gruden had said after the game.

When the Redskins play the New England Patriots on Sunday, Cousins should finally get the feeling of what it is like to have all of his options available on offense.

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is expected to return against the Patriots — his first game since tearing his left hamstring against the Miami Dolphins in Week 1. The Redskins faced the Jets without both Jackson or tight end Jordan Reed, who returned in Week 7 against Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Left tackle Trent Williams, center Kory Lichtensteiger and running back Matt Jones were all out as well against the Jets.

In the Redskins‘ 31-30 comeback win, Reed had his best game of the season, catching 11 passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns. The Redskins have anxiously been awaiting the return of Jackson, who was only expected to miss three to four weeks initially.

Running back Chris Thompson, who injured his lower back against the Jets and missed the game against Tampa Bay, is also expected to return. He is listed as probable. Williams and Jones returned against the Buccaneers, too. The only one yet to return is Lichtensteiger, who is listed as questionable.

Although most of the Redskins‘ offense is healthy, they could be very shorthanded on defense. Cornerbacks Chris Culliver, DeAngelo Hall and Bashaud Breeland, plus linebacker Keenan Robinson are all listed as questionable. Nose tackle Terrance Knighton did not travel to New England because of a migraine headache. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who had surgery Oct. 26 on his broken right hand, is also questionable, though he expects to play with a cast.

Sunday’s game is the first of a challenging three-game stretch. After playing the Patriots, the Redskins host the New Orleans Saints the following week and then visit the Carolina Panthers. The combined records of those three teams is 18-4 entering Week 9.

With that, here’s a look at the details for Sunday’s matchup and three things to watch.

Logistics

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

Records: Redskins 3-4, Patriots 7-0

Television: FOX (Kevin Burkhardt, play-by-play; John Lynch, color; Pam Oliver, sidelines)

Radio: ESPN 980 (Larry Michael, Sonny Jurgensen, Chris Cooley, Doc Walker)

Weather: 54 and sunny

Lines: Patriots -14.5, over/under 52 per Bovada

Projected Starters:

Redskins offense: QB Kirk Cousins, RB Alfred Morris, WR Pierre Garcon, WR DeSean Jackson, TE Jordan Reed, TE Derek Carrier, LT Trent Williams, LG Spencer Long, C Josh LeRibeus, RG Brandon Scherff, RT Morgan Moses.

Redskins defense: DE Chris Baker, DE Jason Hatcher, OLB Trent Murphy, ILB Keenan Robinson, ILB Perry Riley, OLB Ryan Kerrigan, CB Chris Culliver, CB Will Blackmon, CB Kyshoen Jarrett, SS Trenton Robinson, FS Dashon Goldson.

Patriots offense: QB Tom Brady, RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Julian Edelman, WR Danny Amendola, TE Rob Gronkowski, TE Mike Williams, LT Sebastian Vollmer, LG Josh Kline, C Bryan Stork, RG Josh Kline, RT Cameron Fleming.

Patriots defense: DE Rob Ninkovich, DT Sealver Siliga, DT Alan Branch, DE Chandler Jones, LB Jamie Collins, LB Jonathan Freeny, LB Dont’a Hightower, CB Malcolm Butler, CB Logan Ryan, S Patrick Chung, S Devin McCourty.

Injury report:

Redskins: Out — NT Terrance Knighton (migraine); Questionable — CB DeAngelo Hall (toe), WR DeSean Jackson (hamstring), CB Chris Culliver (knee), C Kory Lichtensteiger (neck), CB Bashaud Breeland (hamstring) ILB Keenan Robinson (shoulder), OLB Ryan Kerrigan (hand); Probable — CB Quinton Dunbar (illness), RB Chris Thompson (back), ILB Perry Riley (lower leg), C Josh LeRibeus (probable), DE Jason Hatcher (knee).

Patriots: Out — LT Marcus Cannon (toe), RG Tre Jackson (knee), DE Jabaal Sheard (knee); Questionable — LG Shaq Mason (knee), WR Keshawn Martin (hamstring), LB Jamie Collins (illness); Probable — WR Julian Edelman (knee), RB Dion Lewis (abdomen).

Stats:

All-time record: The Redskins are 6-3 against the Patriots.

Last regular-season meeting: Dec. 11, 2011: 34-27 loss at FedEx Field.

Three things to watch:

** The return of Jackson should be big for the Redskins‘ offense. Without the speedy receiver, Cousins has not had much of a deep threat on the field. Reed is a solid intermediate option, but there is nobody on the team — and not many players in the league — that has the same impact Jackson has. He demands respect from opposing defenses because of his ability to produce the home run-type play. His absence has also impacted the running game. Without a deep threat, defenses can stack the box with seven or eight defenders and load up against the run. Even if Jackson does not produce, his presence on the field alone needs to be accounted for and should help open up some looks for Washington.

“Well, he can open up everything because I think he gives you the ability to run underneath, intermediate and some things down the field where he’s able to stretch coverage,” Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay said. “Any time you’re able to get a player like him back – if that’s what ends up happening on Sunday – it opens up some options because he can do a little bit of everything. We’ll look to see if he’s playing if we’ll be able to utilize those things.”

** The Redskins entered the bye week hoping to correct the run defense. In the last three outings, they’ve allowed opponents to rush for 592 yards. Washington faces another tough test against the Patriots‘ dynamic duo of Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount and will be without Knighton, a key run stopper. Inside linebacker Keenan Robinson is also listed as questionable. If Robinson is unable to play, Will Compton will be called on. Either way, with Knighton out, the Redskins‘ inside linebackers and defensive linemen need to improve their tackling against the run — a major area of concern the last three games.

** The Redskins have talked all week about the challenge of defending Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and most of them had the same message: It is near impossible to stop Gronkowski, but they hope to at least slow him down. Gronkowski is on pace to break the NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end in a single season, which he set in 2011. This season, Gronkowski has 40 catches for 646 yards and 7 touchdowns. Teams have tried defending him different ways and it will be interesting to see how the Redskins approach the matchup.

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