- The Washington Times - Friday, November 18, 2016

In the Washington Redskins’ Week 11 matchup against the Green Bay Packers, much of the focus will be on quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers, 32 has struggled at times this year, ranking just 13th in the NFL with 2,410 passing yards, and his seven interceptions are just one fewer than his total just last season.

But the Redskins’ defense isn’t viewing Rodgers as just some struggling, middling quarterback. They still see him as one of the league’s top passers, and they will treat him as such.

“We’re definitely facing a cerebral assassin in that guy,” Norman said of Rodgers. “I’m looking forward to it. Always got to be on your p’s and q’s when you face an elite like that, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

The Redskins are all too familiar with what Rodgers is capable of doing, having lost 35-18 to the Packers in the wild-card round of last year’s playoffs. Rodgers completed 21 of his 36 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns in the win.

That game was a point of emphasis for the Redskins this week, according to defensive coordinator Joe Barry. Barry showed his defense a specific play the Packers ran with 5:43 left in the third quarter. With the Packers down 18-17, Rodgers and his offense opted to go for it on a fourth-and-1 opportunity. They handed the ball of to running back Eddie Lacy, who sprinted for an 11-yard gain. The Packers would score a touchdown on the ensuing drive, taking the lead, a lead in which they would not concede.

Barry pinpointed that fourth-and-1 play as the moment in which the game was lost.

“What I was trying to get the point across to the guys is anytime in the National Football League you have got to play 60 minutes, you have got to play every snap,” Barry said. “You have got to be perfect and on your A-game every snap, because, obviously, the other team is trying to do that. I think at times we played very well last year, but when you go against a guy like [Rodgers], you have got to be on it every snap because he demands that type of perfection because if you slip, if you’re off, he’s going to make you pay for it.”

But the Redskins defense has changed dramatically since that game in January. By signing Norman, Washington’s pass defense has improved exponentially. The emergence of pass rushers such as Trent Murphy and Preston Smith puts wrinkles in opposing offenses. And rookie Su’a Cravens provides a different form of versatility to a defense.

Rodgers himself recognizes these changes in the Redskins’ defense.

“Obviously adding Josh [Norman] to the mix is a big add,” he said. “You have Will [Blackmon] moving from corner to safety. The front is very similar — obviously you have [Su’a] Cravens, who has been playing a good role for them and [Cullen] Jenkins. [It’s] a similar scheme that they ran last year, they’re just doing a little bit better, I think.

“You have some guys who maybe weren’t big contributors last year who are kind of stepping up and being more of an impact player this year — I think like a Trent Murphy, who’s had a good start to the season,” Rodgers said of Washington’s defense. “Obviously Preston [Smith] has come along and made a nice jump in his second year. Those guys are playing well.”

The Redskins pass rush is going to be particularly useful in this matchup. Rodgers is a mobile quarterback, a quarterback that has the ability to extend plays by simply shuffling outside of the pocket. And with elite wide receivers such as Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb (who has been limited in practice this week with a hamstring injury) that know how to improvise routes to help extend plays, getting to Rodgers as quickly as possible is crucial.

“He can even spin out of sacks,” Smith said. “You think he will go down, he’ll spin down and get up and throw a 60-yard pass or throw a touchdown when you think you have a normal quarterback.”

But the Redskins have a little competition going that will be particularly friendly in this matchup. The guys responsible for sacking quarterbacks all year have a friendly wager going on to see who ends up with the most by the end of the year. So far, Murphy and Ryan Kerrigan are tied for the lead with seven each. 

Smith has 3.5 sacks, a little bit behind in the race for the top spot on the team. But Smith says that his spot in the standings doesn’t really matter to him, he’s just focused on making positive plays on defense. 

“I just want to keep working,” Smith said. “Keep on trying to get wins for the team and trying to do my best to create big plays.”

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