The Washington Redskins might secretly be hoping for a case of jet lag for their opponents on Sunday; the kind that puts a West Coast team at a disadvantage when traveling East for a 1 p.m. game.
Washington (3-4) will host the surging San Francisco 49ers (6-1) at FedEx Field, and to have any chance of winning, will need to find a way to stop 49ers running back Frank Gore. The 28-year-old is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, has gained 675 yards rushing, and scored five touchdowns this year. He’s also rushed for at least 125 yards in four straight contests.
49ers quarterback Alex Smith also looks completely different this season under new head coach Jim Harbaugh. The formerly ineffective Smith has nine touchdowns and two interceptions, with a total of 1,267 yards and a 95.7 quarterback rating this season. He’s also completed a career-high 63.2 percent of his passes.
“They’re running the football extremely well,” said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. “They’re not throwing it often, but when they do throw it, they’re very effective. Any time you’ve got the top rush defense in the National Football League, you’ve given up the fewest points and you run the football, that’s a pretty good situation to be in as a quarterback.”
It will be up to defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to come up with an effective game plan. Step one will be containing Gore.
“What makes him so impressive? That he can carry the ball 35 times and he doesn’t wear down,” Haslett said. “He’s got great explosiveness. He keeps his legs churning all the time. He’s a great running back. He can do everything. He can block. He’s a heck of a football player.”
Haslett’s assessment of Smith was a little less glowing.
“He’s doing a good job of managing the game,” he said. “They don’t put him in a bad position to really screw it up. He’s not taking a lot of sacks and obviously they have a great running game.”
The Redskins are taking a three-game losing streak into Sunday’s game, and would love to get back to the .500 mark. The 49ers, meanwhile, are enjoying a five-game winning streak.
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall said he knows what he and his teammates need to do to come away with the victory.
“They have an intense running game. It’s one of the best in the NFL,” Hall said. “They want to run the ball, there’s no secret about it, so you have to go out there and stop them. Our game plan is to put as many bodies up there as we can. There’s probably going to be a lot of single coverage from us on the back end, but we’re going to try and keep as many guys around the ball as we can and try to stop those guys from running.”
Linebacker Brian Orakpo said that not only do the 49ers run the ball well, but they also rarely hurt themselves with turnovers.
“Alex Smith does a great job of controlling that offense. They don’t really make too many mistakes,” Orakpo said. “We’ve got to do a good job of stopping the run. Frank Gore is a phenomenal running back, so we have to do a good job of wrapping him up.”
Reluctant to fall back on the “must-win game” cliché to describe the upcoming game, Orakpo did admit that he’s concerned about the team’s recent slide.
“Obviously, we’ve known ourselves to play better than what we’ve been doing the past three games,” Orakpo said. “We have to do a better job as far as playing together, being more consistent week in and week out and we can get back on track like we started the beginning of the season.”
Cornerback Josh Wilson has some familiarity with the 49ers, having spent three seasons in the NFC West with the Seattle Seahawks.
“I played in that division for a long time. I’ve seen his ups and downs,” Wilson said of Smith. “He’s not taking as many chances as he used to. He’s grown up and made some better decisions and that’s why their record is what it is.”
But at the end of the day, it’s not about the other team, it’s about getting back to doing what we need to do. If we take care of our responsibilities, we’ll be alright.”