Game preview: Chiefs at Redskins

Game preview: Chiefs at Redskins
December 6, 2013, 9:00 am
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3 and out: Orakpo, RGIII, and injuries

What: Chiefs (9-3) at Redskins (3-9)

Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: CBS

Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet: noon and 4 p.m. 

For the Redskins’ players and coaches, auditions for next season begin when they step on the field Sunday to face Andy Reid and Chiefs.

With the playoffs mathematically out of reach, ownership’s focus has undoubtedly turned to reshaping the roster this offseason. And, considering the team’s ugly record and even uglier four-game losing streak, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the changes are sweeping and significant.

The two-year, $36 million salary cap penalty imposed by the NFL expires at season’s end, which could create as much as $20 million in cap space to spend on free agents in 2014. Meantime, the Redskins have 20 players who could become free agents, including 12 key contributors on defense. (Among them are starters Brian Orakpo, London Fletcher, Josh Wilson, Brandon Meriweather, Reed Doughty, Perry Riley and DeAngelo Hall.)

How those players perform over the coming four weeks could go a long way toward determining who will be re-signed and who will be looking for employment.

RELATED: [ Need to Know: The top five Redskins free agents ]

It all sets up an interesting dynamic at Redskins Park. The men upstairs are in evaluation mode, with an eye on the future. The men downstairs, meantime, must remain in the present, preparing for the Chiefs, who have dropped three straight games after opening the season 9-0.

“Free agency, all that type of stuff, you’re thinking about it but you can’t really think about it,” Fletcher said this week. “The minute you start thinking about that and focusing on that, it affects your performance. It’s not ideal to have more than half your defense not under contract. That’s not something you see most teams do, but it is what is.”

Fletcher also offered some advice to management.

“There are some good young football players to lock up,” he said. “You look at Perry [Riley]. You look at ‘Rak. Those two guys just come to mind because they are young guys just coming off their rookie deals. Those are cornerstones that you need to keep around. D-Hall is having a great year. Meriweather has played some really good football down the stretch as he’s gotten healthy. So, there’s guys who are playing good football that are free agents. But when the wins don’t come, people always want change.”

There will be change. But Fletcher—and the players he mentioned—will have a say in whether they return or not. And the process of deciding who stays and who goes begins Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field.

ALSO: [ K. Shanahan: Relationship with RG3 remains "same" ]

With that as a backdrop, here are our three keys to the game:

  • Orakpo has been on a tear lately, racking up 5.5 sacks the past four games to boost his season total to 8.5. But can he stay hot against Alex Smith and the Chiefs? Smith is completing almost 60-percent of his passes, but that number plummets to 46-percent when he’s under pressure, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Smith, meanwhile, has been sacked 32 times, the seventh highest total in the league. So opportunities will be there.
  • Robert Griffin III is coming off his best performance—statistically speaking—of the season. In last week’s 24-17 loss to the Giants, Griffin completed a season-high 75 percent of his passes, did not throw an interception for just the third time this season and rushed for 88 yards, his highest total since Week 7 of last season. Griffin’s task, though, will be significantly tougher Sunday against a Chiefs’ defense that’s yielding only 17.8 points per game. Only three teams are allowing less.
  • It’s possible the Chiefs will be without star pass rusher Justin Houston, whose 11 sacks rank fourth in the league. Houston has an elbow injury and did not practice again on Thursday. If Houston is sidelined, that could be a huge boost for Griffin and his beleaguered offensive line. Griffin has been sacked 19 times the past four games, including five times by the Giants. On the season, he’s been sacked 33 times. That’s the sixth most in the league and three more than he absorbed in 16 games as a rookie.

Those are the big story lines. But here are three more the team at CSNWashington.com will be keeping an eye on:

1st—The Chiefs are 7-1 all time against the Redskins, which includes a five-game winning streak dating to 1983. And, of course, they’ll have Reid, the former Eagles’ coach, on the sideline. Reid has the third most road wins against the Redskins (10), ranking just behind Tom Landry (15) and Steve Owen (12).

2nd—Injuries were a major concern for the Redskins at the outset of the week. But a number of key players—Fletcher (ankle), Hall (hip) and Trent Williams (foot)—returned to full practice Thursday. Among the remaining question marks: Darrel Young (hamstring), Reed Doughty (concussion), Jordan Reed (concussion) and Brandon Meriweather (sternum). Those four were limited Thursday.

3rd—An interesting stat to keep in mind: The Chiefs have the best starting field position in the NFL (their own 31.9 yard line). The Redskins, on the hand, have the worst average starting field position (their own 23.6).