ASHBURN – The Redskins are 1-1 and feeling much better after a win in Los Angeles last Sunday. There’s not much time to strut, though. The Raiders are coming to town.
Oakland is one of the NFL’s best teams. The Redskins face a difficult task in containing the Silver and Black’s multifaceted offense Sunday night in primetime. Washington needs a win to pull its record above .500 for the first time this season and to avoid heading into another tough game in Kansas City in a hole.
Here are some of the factors, on offense and defense, that are likely to define who wins and who loses on Sunday Night Football at FedEx Field.
When the Redskins have the ball
Kirk Cousins has had an iffy start to 2017. For Washington to keep up with the Raiders attack, Cousins will need to look more like he did last season when he was both an efficient passer and an aggressive one when going downfield.
Cornerback David Amerson, a former Redskin himself, should spend some time matched up against former Raider Terrelle Pryor Sr., but, in general, the Redskins should try to attack Oakland’s corners on the outside. Washington has averaged 4.9 net yards per passing attempt while Oakland has averaged 7.7, but the Redskins have the personnel to do better. If they’re going to keep pace, Cousins’ connection with players like Pryor and Josh Doctson will need to show development.
It’s not just making big plays, however. After a great outing in the run game last Sunday, Washington would do well to show that that success on the ground wasn’t just a fluke in order to keep the Raiders defense guessing. The Raiders have put up five sacks in two games, and it’s not just because of MVP-caliber defensive end Khalil Mack. Oakland has been getting its defensive backs, particularly safety Karl Joseph, involved when it dials up the blitz.
The effect of this is twofold. First, sometimes the blitzers get home. Second, it can distract attention and blockers from Mack, making it more likely that he’s able to make big plays. Particularly if Mack goes after Redskins right tackle Morgan Moses, who is dealing with a sprained ankle, Washington will need to devote multiple blockers to him and be clear about assignments.
That’s a nearly impossible task if the Raiders are dealing with a one-dimensional offense. The Redskins will need to make the Raiders respect both the run and the pass in order to force the defense to be reactive, not aggressive.
“I think it’s good to be able to win in multiple ways,” coach Jay Gruden said. “It’s going to be important.”
When the Raiders have the ball
It’s just through two games, but Oakland is averaging an NFL-high 35.5 points per game entering Sunday’s contest. Quarterback Derek Carr is thriving in Todd Downing’s offense and has thrown five touchdown passes with no interceptions. Out of the backfield, Marshawn Lynch, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington have the Raiders ranked fifth in the league with 144.5 rushing yards per game.
“There’s nothing they’re not doing well,” Gruden said.
One challenge with Carr is his quick release. With clean, efficient passing he’s completing 75 percent of his passes.
“It gets frustrating for pass rushers,” Gruden said. “You know, you say, ‘Rush the quarterback, rush the quarterback,’ and the ball’s gone — at one point I think the average was under two seconds that he gets the ball out of his hands. So, the big thing is to make him feel the pressure if we don’t get home. We’ll get our hands up, maybe bat some balls, but still I think if you make the quarterback uncomfortable, even if you don’t get the sack, it can be equally as important as getting the sack.”
The other way to slow Carr’s release is to have good enough coverage that he’s not immediately sure where to throw. Bashaud Breeland and Josh Norman have both gotten off to good starts, but they’ll have their toughest challenge in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Kendall Fuller’s development should help the Redskins attack the Raiders underneath game, particularly when they move Cooper into the slot.
On the ground, of course, the challenge is Marshawn Lynch, who has 121 rushing yards through the Raiders first two games. The Redskins are going to need to tackle soundly at multiple levels to bring him down. Washington’s run defense has been better so far this season — holding both the Eagles and Rams under 100 yards rushing — but Lynch presents another challenge especially given Mason Foster’s shoulder, which he dislocated on Sunday.
“I am not going to stop him,” Gruden joked. “Hopefully, I think it’s just going to be a group effort like it is with every great back in the NFL that you face. Todd Gurley’s a different type of back but, you know, it takes more than one. He might jump over one guy and the next guy’s going to have to come get him. Marshawn might stiff arm one guy but the next two or three guys are going to come get him. It’s got to be a group effort and we’ve got to run to the football — all 11 of them on defense have got to pursue to the football with great passion.”