It’s a rare treat to write about an upcoming Redskins playoff game, much less one they can reasonably be expected to win. Nonetheless, that is what exactly has come, shall we say, to pass.
Which leads directly to one of the two key components I believe Redskins vs Packers will come down to.
1. The Redskins passing offense.
The first key to continuing the 2015 Redskins unlikely march to respectability (and beyond?) for another week will be whether or not the passing game can remain at or near the productivity level of the past month.
The Redskins running game hasn’t scared anybody since week three—it has become the occasional body shot, thrown less to affect serious damage than to keep the opponent from comfortably keeping his hands high protecting only his chin. And It has worked. The passing game, on the other hand—the relentless effective jabs and occasional right cross—has progressively ramped up over the second half of the season to the point where the Redskins come into this game boasting arguably the hottest passing offense in football.
There has been a lot of talk—understandably so—about the Redskins having to mitigate against an elite quarterback in the Pack’s Aaron Rodgers if they have realistic hopes of winning Sunday night. Truth is, given recent trajectories, it could reasonably be argued that the Packers will have to mitigate just as warily against a currently lethal Redskins passing attack.
As Kirk Cousins, DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed, Pierre Garcon, et al, go Sunday night, so will go the Redskins. If those guys show up, the Reskins have a better than even chance of being the ones holding helmets high as they run off the field Sunday evening. They have become the identity of a surging, suddenly legitimate and increasingly confident team, and its strongest case to legitimacy as an NFL playoff contender.
2. The Redskins defense on “off-schedule” plays.
Washington’s defense has been operating on the edge all season. Playing with leads down the stretch, they have been able to back off defensively, forcing opponents to put together long drives and consume enough time to ultimately allow let Skins to walk away winners.
They don’t put consistent pressure on the passer rushing only down linemen—they rely heavily on sending extra rushers to generate pressure. In this particular game, against a Packers offense that has struggled the second half of the season, the concern is less with their ability to contain on-schedule plays, but their ability to track down Rodgers and maintain coverage down the field once plays breaks down and Rodgers starts moving. That’s where the Redskins shortage of true defensive playmakers—both up front and in the backfield—will ultimately prove their biggest test.
Few are better than Aaron Rodgers at buying time, sliding, rolling, and ultimately delivering accurately on the move. The Redskins will probably need some breaks—a couple of crucial drops, perhaps a tipped ball INT, or more likely, what has been their defensive salvation several times this year, their knack for tearing the ball loose from receivers after the catch.
Their ability to cause/recover fumbles this season may well be the reason the team was able to hang around .500 long enough for Kirk Cousins and the passing offense to finally catch fire as they have over the past few weeks. The Redskins are almost certainly going to need turnovers to beat the Packers. Seasoned elite QB’s rarely tank it in playoff games—we have to assume Aaron Rodgers is going to “bring it” all day long. No lead may be truly safe until time finally runs out.
Some general thoughts, since you’ve come this far:
- It’s not hard to envision the Skins starting fast Sunday night, and even building a substantial lead heading into the 4th quarter. But unless the Washington ball-control passing game—and maybe even some well-timed runs—can achieve meaningful time of possession down the stretch, it’s also not hard to envision a frenetic finish with Rodgers going sandlot, moving around and gunning his team back into the game.
- Washington is the hotter team heading into this one—that’s not in question. What is in question is whether or not that will carry over into the first playoff game in which they can reasonably be considered favorites for this coaching staff, this quarterback, most of this roster, and this franchise in many years.
- Will Cousins be the Cousins we’ve seen over the last half a season, completing 70% of his passes and directing multiple long scoring drives? Will he be the stone cold killer in the red zone—51 of 84 (60.7%), 22 TD, 0 INT, 4 TD rushing, QB rating 109.7—he has been all year? Or will the biggest stage and brightest lights of his young career push him a step back?
Many long years of disappointment and shattered hopes make it easy to look at this one and see the Redskins coming out flat, making mental errors, turning the ball over, giving up big plays on defense, and ultimately failing to get the job done. No long-suffering Redskins fan can be faulted for harboring those demons.
But this Redskins team has also seemed to change the paradigm.
It’s only been ten weeks since they were 2-4, trailing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at home, 24-0 in the second quarter, staring into the abyss of a bye week at 2-5 and a road trip to then-undefeated New England on the horizon. The quarterback looked average at best, the running game was stuck in the neutral, the head coach—close to halfway into his second season sporting a 6-16 record with no clear signs of evident improvement—and the team reeling with significant injuries.
It was hard to see much light in all that darkness.
The Redskins came back and won that Tampa game, in historic fashion—nothing short of the greatest comeback in the storied 78-year history of the franchise. They have since shouldered aside a host of “yeah, but’s” … you know them by heart by now … “can’t win a road game” (they’ve won three straight) … “can’t win in prime time” (they beat Philadelphia in their own house to claim the division title) … “don’t have a quarterback” (you don’t hear much “interception machine” or “not clutch” talk these days) … “the head coach is a failure” (don’t tell that to the guys who play for him).
I do believe the magic they’ve harnessed over the past month isn’t illusion. I think this team is what the vast majority of Redskins fans hoped they would be, heading into the season—a rebuilding team showing signs of turning into a pretty good one—and maybe a bit ahead of schedule. There were few predictions of this team finishing above .500 this year, much less hosting a playoff game and having a legitimate shot at winning.
Hey, I hear the demons still—they’re tenacious little ****ers. But the harder and longer I look at that light coming from down at the other end of the tunnel with this team, the less it looks like the oncoming train I’m so used to getting flattened by and more like, well, a legitimate NFL team on the rise.
This is where I think I’m required to post a prediction:
It will almost certainly not be easy. In fact I can practically guarantee it won’t be.
It might come down to a last-second field goal by the revelation that has been Dustin Hopkins.
It might come down to a Rodgers Hail Mary as time expires falling harmlessly to the turf or nestled in the arms of a Redskins DB playing only because it seemed we lost every-damn-body who was supposed to be playing back there along away this year.
It might be one Alfred Morris, offering a symbolic skyward middle digit to all his critics and converting a crucial 3rd and 2, with 1:30 left in the game and GB out of time-outs, allowing Kirk Cousins to genuflect in Victory Formation a couple times as the faithful gutturally levitate FedEx.
This has all happened very fast, this apparent Redskins Revival, and there’s been precious little time to really step and back assess the big picture … but as I sit here today, I find myself believing.
Feels good. Damn good.
Redskins 27, Packers 24