Five questions Redskins beat writer Zac Boyer has heading into Washington’s Sunday afternoon game against the Atlanta Falcons.
1. How will Kirk Cousins fare in his first start of the season?
Cousins has been up and down in relief of Robert Griffin III in previous appearances. He threw a pair of interceptions in a loss to the Falcons last season and in a loss to the Denver Broncos in October, but he also led the Redskins to an overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens last December. He was more stable in his last start, a 38-21 victory over the Cleveland Browns almost exactly a year ago, and should gain confidence by starting and being able to get into the groove of the game.
2. Does the Redskins’ offense change with Cousins, and not Griffin, at quarterback?
Not technically. Cousins had an entire offseason to learn the ins and outs of the Redskins’ playbook, working as the first-team quarterback from the end of last season until the start of the regular season with Griffin recovering from right knee surgery. Players have said they don’t expect the playbook to be shortened at all, but don’t expect as many quarterback keepers on the zone-read. The Redskins will try to play to Cousins’ strengths, especially on Sunday.
3. How important is the turnover battle?
The Falcons have a minus-11 turnover ratio, which is the worst in defense-oriented coach Mike Smith’s six-plus seasons with the team. Quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown 13 interceptions, one shy of tying a career high, and backs and receivers have lost a combined seven fumbles. The Redskins have been opportunistic, forcing turnovers in all but one game this season, and will need to do so to have a chance.
4. Will there be another special teams mishap?
It’s a weekly question, but it can never be discounted — especially after the Chiefs scored touchdowns on a 74-yard punt return and a 95-yard kickoff return a week ago. Tight end Niles Paul said after the game that it comes down to individual effort and desire, while strong safety Reed Doughty, the special teams captain, said there were plenty of reasons for the breakdowns. They’ve happened far too frequently this season.
5. Will players be motivated to play?
It’s a heavy allegation to make when saying that players did not give effort or, worse, quit on the team, but with the Redskins out of playoff contention for the first time a week ago, execution was sloppy and performance was poor. Coach Mike Shanahan said he didn’t believe players gave up last week, and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said guys who did won’t be playing the rest of the season, but in wake of the questions swirling around the team all week, it’s still a valid concern.