Game preview: Redskins at Broncos

Game preview: Redskins at Broncos
October 25, 2013, 8:45 am
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2 Minute Drill: Redskins vs. Broncos preview

Redskins Post Game Live

What: Redskins (2-4) at Broncos (6-1)

Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High

When: Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

TV: Fox

Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live on CSN Washington: 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. 

For six games, Peyton Manning and the Broncos were unbeatable.

For almost two months, Robert Griffin III and the Redskins struggled to get into sync.

But when the teams meet Sunday at Mile High, a dinged-up Manning will be coming off his first regular season defeat in more than a year, while Griffin will be a week removed from his most productive performance since his knee surgery.

Could it be the perfect time for the Redskins to face the toughest opponent on their schedule?

They certainly hope so.

After getting bruised and battered in last week's 39-33 loss to the Colts, Manning missed Wednesday’s practice with what the Broncos described as a minor ankle injury. Manning returned to the practice field Thursday and will be under center against Washington, but one major question lingers: If he’s not 100-percent, could Manning’s injury slow the league’s top passing and scoring offense? In Indianapolis, he completed 59-percent of his passes—significantly below his season average of nearly 72-percent.

As for Griffin, he’s as healthy as he’s been all year. He rushed for a season-high 84 yards on 11 carries in Sunday’s win over the Bears and finished with a passer rating of 105.2, also a season best. His speed is back. His make-something-out-of-nothing ability is back. So is the confidence in his game and, more important, his surgically repaired right knee.

Griffin's resurgence helped produce 499 yards of total offense against Chicago, the Redskins’ highest total in a regular season game since 1991. The 45 points were the most they’ve scored in 128 regular season contests. And now, RG3 gets to face a Denver pass defense that's allowing a league-worst 320 yards per game. Only two teams, meantime, have allowed more passing touchdowns than the Broncos.

The opportunity will be there. But will RG3, Pierre Garçon and Co. seize it?

As always, quarterback play will be a big factor on Sunday. But it won’t be the only one. Here are three more keys to the game:

  • The Redskins’ secondary will be without one starting safety for sure. And the unit could be without both. Brandon Meriweather will serve his appeal-reduced one-game suspension Sunday, while Reed Doughty’s status figures to remain unclear until game time because of the concussion he sustained last week. If Doughty doesn’t play, that would leave the Redskins with Bacarri Rambo, Trenton Robinson, Jose Gumbs and Trenton Robinson as the four safeties on the roster. Jim Haslett, though, could also enlist cornerbacks E.J. Biggers, Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall—all of whom can also line up at safety. Whatever alignment/scheme tweaks Haslett chooses, we know this for sure: the Redskins’ pass defense is going to be tested by a Broncos’ Manning-led pass attack that features two players in the top five in receiving yards (Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas) and two more in the top 30 (Wes Welker, Julius Thomas).   
  • The Redskins’ ability to harass Manning in the pocket could be a huge factor in determining the outcome. The Colts sacked Manning a season-high four times (including Robert Mathis' big hit for a safety) and hit him a total of 10 times. The result? Manning had his least efficient game since last season. No quarterback likes to be pressured. And Manning is no exception. “I think that’s the key to the game,” Haslett said. Sunday would also be a good time for Redskins’ pass rushers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo to get on track. The duo has combined for a half sack the past two games.
  • Washington’s special teams units will once again be under the microscope. In back-to-back weeks, the Redskins have allowed Dwayne Harris and Devin Hester to return the punts – 86 yards and 81 yards, respectively – for touchdowns. On Sunday, they’ll face another one of the game’s top returners in Trindon Holliday, the 5-foot-5 speedster who is the only player this season to return both a kickoff and a punt for a score.  “Anytime you have a guy of that stature, some people will think it works against him,” Doughty said. “But he has great balance, great acceleration, great speed and a small target. Obviously, he’s done some special things in a short time in the league.” If there’s one small edge the Redskins’ struggling coverage units will have it’s this: special teams coordinator Keith Burns coached Holliday last season and knows both the player and the Broncos’ schemes well.

In addition to those major storylines, here are three additional items worth watching:

1—Shanahan will be making his return to the city where he spent a total of 21 seasons, including two Super Bowl championships in 14 years as head coach. He raised his family there, owns a home there and still operates a restaurant that bears his name. The Broncos will show a video tribute to Shanahan before the game. Shanahan acknowledges that he has a lot of great memories, but he also notes that a lot of time has passed since he left. “It’s been four and a half years, so it’s not like it was yesterday or the year before,” he said. “So it’s a little bit different…”

2—Stephen Bowen’s availability. In addition to Doughty’s status, we’ll be keeping an eye on Bowen during warmups. He’s got a torn PCL in his right knee, and although he’s played through a similar injury before, it sounds like the defensive end will be a game-time decision after being limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday.

3—What does Jordan Reed do for an encore? The Broncos’ defense has been vulnerable against pass-catching tight ends this season and Reed is coming off his best effort to date. The rookie reeled in a career-high nine passes (on nine targets) for 134 yards and a touchdown against the Bears.