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3TFO: Falcons @ Redskins, Week 5
Trey Cunningham | 2012/10/05
This NFC showdown throws together two teams who’ve not met since 2009. In that contest the Jason Campbell-led Washington Redskins lost in Georgia to the Atlanta Falcons 31-17. There were a number of noteworthy events in that game involving players who will participate in Sunday’s game. Michael Turner trampled the defense for 166 yards, Fred Davis dropped a pass that turned into a pick-six and, most infamously, former Falcon DeAngelo Hall nearly got in a fight with current Falcon head coach Mike Smith.
Present circumstances find the undefeated Falcons fresh from a narrow escape at home against the division rival Carolina Panthers. The Redskins, sitting at 2-2, also barely escaped Tampa Bay last week with a victory, despite leading 21-6 at halftime. Led by Rookie of the Year candidate Robert Griffin III, the Redskins have beaten two other NFC South teams (the Buccaneers last week and a Week 1 upset over the New Orleans Saints), though neither of those opponents look anywhere near as good as the Matt Ryan-led Falcons, and both games came down to the final play.
With defensive issues on both sides (with Atlanta’s defense exposed last week), on paper this looks to be a shootout. Can RG3 and company upset this juggernaut and earn their first home victory since Week 2 of last year? Let’s take a look at some of the matchups that will be important in this contest.
Ryan Kerrigan vs. Tyson Clabo
One of the contests to keep an eye on will be sophomore LOLB Ryan Kerrigan versus veteran RT Tyson Clabo. Kerrigan is currently our highest rated 3-4 OLB. He leads this group in hurries (15) and is tied for the lead with Aldon Smith in hits (five), despite his teammate Brian Orakpo going down early in Week 2. Of his 39 rushes last week, he was blocked by a fullback, tight end, or running back nine times, doubled four times, chipped by a running back once (though he seemed to dodge a few other attempted chip blocks), and went unblocked twice (both resulting in hurries). It is rarely a good idea to try and block this man with anyone other than a lineman — watch Doug Martin’s futile attempt at 11:21 in the third quarter last week for one example. Therefore, Kerrigan will likely spend much of the afternoon against Clabo. It is possible he could switch sides occasionally, but the mere six snaps he spent not lined up left in the past three games suggests Jim Haslett won’ t do that often.
Clabo has been well above average ever since we started watching every play of every game in 2008. This is especially true in pass protection, as his lowest overall grade in this area was a stellar +10.7 in 2008. After giving up two sacks, a QB hit and two hurries in the first two games (with some of that coming against Denver’s Von Miller), he was solid the following week in San Diego. Clabo did have a meltdown last week, to surrender an alarming three sacks, five hurries and a hit. The former stud tackle will need to step up his game all day in order to keep Kerrigan out of Ryan’s.
John Abraham vs. Trent Williams and Tyler Polumbus
While the 13th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, pass rusher John Abraham, may not be getting any younger he is still harassing signal-callers. In 2012 he has put them on the turf five times and hurred them seven more times. Though he primarily lines up as the right defensive end, he has not always won his individual matchups with left tackles this year. Denver’s Ryan Clady only coughed up a single hit to him, while Carolina’s Jordan Gross gave up nothing. The Falcons, however, allow the veteran to play both sides, including last week where he had more success in 24 of his 60 snaps on the left side. This week he will be up against one of the better pass blockers in the league, and one of the worst, so expect him to once again be moved.
Tackles Trent Williams and Tyler Polumbus will be responsible for protecting their prized rookie QB from Abraham. Williams, a fourth-overall draft pick, began to live up to his high draft price last year and has continued that level of play this year. While he only played 14 snaps in Week 3, he only allowed a single sack, three hurries, and a lone knockdown hit to Robert Quinn with 4:45 left in Week 2 that didn’t show up on the stat sheet because of a penalty. With Williams dominating the left side, Polumbus, who was supposed to be the backup to the oft-injured Jamaal Brown, has been a major liability on the other side. Although he was perfect in New Orleans in Week 1, the undrafted lineman has given up a sack, three hits and 10 further hurries since, with Chris Long especially having his way with Polumbus in Week 2. With two wildly different targets to choose from, it will be interesting to see if Abraham continues to play more on the right side or takes advantage of the glaring weakness on the offensive line’s left side.
Falcons Trio vs. Redskins Defense
While Matt Ryan has a slew of weapons, there is no doubt he prefers throwing to three specific individuals. They are, of course, future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez (26 catches), along with wideouts Roddy White (27 catches) and sophomore Julio Jones (16 catches), all of whom have three TD catches. They will be facing a defense that is 1-yard shy of giving up at least 300 yards passing to their first four opponents. It is quite possible the only thing that will stop this trio is themselves, as they have combined for seven dropped passes, including a TD pass Jones couldn’t haul in on MNF against the Broncos. Also aiding the Redskins is Jones’s hand injury — we don’t know the severity of it, but offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter admitted the second year receiver isn’t “100 percent”.
Gonzalez has beaten a slot cornerback, a safety, and a linebacker for scoring catches, so every Redskin defender needs to be careful. Rookie DB and current primary slot defender Richard Crawford would be a mismatch against the veteran playmaker. The safeties shouldn’t fare much better here. Reed Doughty’s coverage limitations haven’t been exposed yet this year but are well known (-9.8 coverage grade last year), while Madieu Williams, the only safety that’s started every game, has made some plays (like his pass breakup on Vincent Jackson at 11:52 in the first quarter last week), but has also played a role in allowing four TD passes. The lone scoring catch the aging Williams has given up when he was the sole defender responsible was the most egregious, a 33-yard TD to Lance Moore on fourth-and-10 that allowed the Saints back in the game. There’s also the strong possibility linebackers Perry Riley and London Fletcher end up covering Gonzalez here. Both have positive coverage grades through four games, but both have also given up a combined five TD passes.
Limiting explosive wide receivers Jones and White will be an even more difficult task. The Redskins weren’t afraid to leave Crawford on Vincent Jackson several times last week and were fortunate it didn’t cost them like it did in Week 3 when Andrew Hawkins burned the rookie for a 59-yard catch-and-run TD. However, logic dictates that Haslett will have his top two corners DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson following the two wideouts. Hall is currently tied at seventh place for most yards given up among CBs (268), with Tracy Porter and Dunta Robinson, but has still shown flashes of why he’s been to the Pro Bowl, with three passes defended and a pick that set up a TD last week. Wilson has fared better, on eight less targets than Hall (20), but has seemed especially vulnerable in the last two weeks where he got embarrassed by Armon Binns on a 48-yard TD pass and he gave up 123 yards last week despite defending two passes. The safeties also have to be aware at all times as White needed only two catches to burn Panthers’ safety Haruki Nakamura last week to the tune of 108 yards and a score. The Falcon’s passing attack is poised for a monster day, but can this maligned defense step up their game to help their squad pull off the upset? This matchup, perhaps more than the others, will help determine that answer.
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