Game preview: 49ers at Redskins

Game preview: 49ers at Redskins
November 25, 2013, 8:30 am
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Haslett: Kaepernick will run at the drop of a hat

What: 49ers (6-4) at Redskins (3-7)

Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.

When: Tonight, 8:40 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet: 7:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.

When the NFL scheduled was released in April, tonight’s game between the 49ers and Redskins at FedEx Field was supposed to be a matchup between two MVP candidates at quarterback and, perhaps, a pair of Super Bowl hopefuls.

Fast forward seven months and, well, it’s not quite the clash of the titans many had hoped to see.

A year after seizing the spotlight with their versatility, quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III aren’t the star attractions they were in 2012. Kaepernick’s passer rating (81.8) ranks 26th, five spots behind Griffin’s subpar 83.6 rating. They’ve also been less effective with their legs as opposing teams have adjusted how they defend the zone read option that Kaepernick and Griffin directed so effectively last season.

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“Teams have spent more time studying that type of stuff,” Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said. “That’s why defenses have been able to play the zone read, the pistol and quarterback options better than they had in previous years.”

The struggles have not been limited to one position, though. Both teams find themselves in desperation mode, as well.

The Super Bowl runner-up 49ers have lost consecutive games (to the Panthers and Saints) and, at 6-4, are third in the NFC West. They currently sit just outside of the NFC playoff picture.

The Redskins, meantime, have dropped three of their last four games and are (extreme) long shots to make the postseason for a second straight season. In all likelihood, they would have to win each of their remaining six games just to have a shot. And, frankly, that’s probably too much to ask of a club that hasn’t won back-to-back games since last season. The locker room leaders say the team remains focused, united and unfazed by mounting outside distractions. Tonight's performance will either back up or debunk that assertion.

“We’ll be a mad football team Monday night and I think that’s a good recipe for us,” Griffin said. “We’re where we’re at because of what we’ve done. We’re where we’re at because of what I’ve done.”

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With all that as a backdrop, here are the three keys to tonight’s game:

  • Oh, the drama. On Sunday morning, NFL Network’s Mike Silver reported that Griffin asked the Redskins' coaching staff to not show his negative plays in film review sessions (as the Baylor coaching staff had agreed upon during his college days). The Redskins’ “rebuffed” the request, according to Silver. Shanahan told CSNWashington.com shortly after the report aired that Griffin never made such a request, adding, that it's “completely false.” Regardless of whether the report was grounded in reality or not, it was yet another distraction for two men who don’t need one as they attempt to get the program back on track—and secure a win on national television.
  • Keep Vernon Davis in check. In addition to the threat posed by Kaepernick, running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Anquan Boldin, the Redskins also must find a way to limit Davis, a former Pro Bowler and D.C. native. He leads all tight ends in yards per catch at 16.3. San Francisco is 5-1 when he catches a touchdown pass, and he’s been on the receiving end of eight of Kaepernick’s 11. It’s unclear how the Redskins intend to defend him, but safety Brandon Meriweather will likely be involved. “He’s big, fast, athletic, can catch,” Meriweather said. “He’s using all of his tools well. He’s a force. You have to be physical with him, hit him at the line and hope you have somebody over the top to help.”
  • The stingy 49ers' defense. San Francisco's defense is yielding only 17.8 points, the fourth best mark in the league, and 323.8 yards per game. Brooks has 6.5 sacks, five passes defended, an interception and a forced fumble to lead an impressive linebacker corps that also includes Prince George’s Co.-native NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. Cornerback Tramaine Brock has four interceptions, which is tied for second most in the league. Indeed, defense is not the reason for the 49ers’ disappointing record. It’s the fault of an offense that's failed to reach double-digits in three of the team’s four defeats. Interestingly, tonight's game will mark the first time this season the Redskins have faced a defense that currently ranks among the top 15 in the NFL.

Those are the big storylines, but they’re not the only ones the team at CSNWashington.com will be monitoring. Here are three more:

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1st—Although temperatures are expected to hover around freezing at kickoff, field conditions shouldn’t be a problem. The Redskins re-sodded the field at FedEx during the break between home games and the new surface will make its debut tonight. The team decided to re-sod mid-season after the stadium’s poor field conditions were roundly criticized following January’s playoff loss to Seattle.

2nd—Because of the injuries to No. 1 tight end Jordan Reed (concussion) and No. 2 wide receiver Leonard Hankerson (knee), the Redskins will turn to Fred Davis and Josh Morgan. Davis has been inactive the past five games after losing his job to Reed and Morgan was scratched from last week’s game in favor rookie punt returner Nick Williams. Will Davis and Morgan—both pending unrestricted free agents—take advantage of their second chance?

3rd—After a rough debut last week, it’s unclear if Williams will get another shot at returning punts. If he doesn’t, will Shanahan turn to Morgan or veteran Santana Moss? This much, however, is certain: whomever is tapped must do a better job for the Redskins, who rank second to last in average yards per attempt (5.8).

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