Redskins versus Cardinals: Keys to the Game
1. Bottle up Andre Ellington:
-The Redskins run defense has been pretty good this year, but we’ve seen some signs of cracks. Ellington presents a fast back who the Cardinals will probably look to rely on given their QB situation right now. If they can get Ellington going and stay in 3rd and short situations it is really going to make it tough for the Redskins defense to find success stopping the pass today. Ellington isn’t just a threat as a runner though as he presents a pretty significant as a receiver out of the back-field as well. The Cardinals love to get the ball to Ellington in space and they figure to throw to him 4-7 times a game. If he is unaccounted for he will definitely make the Redskins pay through the air as well.
2. Blitz early and often:
-Now if it was Logan Thomas playing QB, the game plan should be to blitz every single play and let the rookie try to beat you. With Carson Palmer there is a bit more concern of him being able to exploit the blitz, but at the same time it is clearly what the Redskins have to do to win this game. If Carson Palmer gets 2.5-4 seconds in a clean pocket, one of his receivers are going to come open. It doesn’t matter if the Redskins have 7 or 8 guys in coverage, someone is going to mess up, and Palmer is smart enough to figure out this defense. Palmer is coming back from a nerve issue so it is likely he doesn’t have his full velocity as it is, the Redskins can compound that as an issue if Palmer is forced to throw on the run or can’t step into his throws in the pocket, given extra pressure. The Redskins need to challenge Palmer who is sure to have some rust if he does actually play.
3. Limit Penalties:
-Last week the Redskins did a great job limiting their penalties, and it is something they need to be disciplined again this week as well. Penalties were a major issue for the Skins the first 4 weeks, so they can’t get sloppy again and start committing penalties. This is not a team that can afford to give up free yardage. It’s definitely going to be harder to stay focused on the road, but it is something the Redskins have to do if they want to win.
4. Use your passing weapons as decoys in the run game:
–Darrel Young is questionable for this game and that is going to make Alfred Morris‘s job that much more difficult. One thing the Redskins can do to make Morris’s job easier in this game is to spread the field and take defenders out of the box. The Cardinals have been a really good run defense so far, but if the Redskins can force their linebackers and safeties to line up outside of the box it could free up some room for Morris to work with. No matter what it is going to be tough sledding for Morris against this defense, particularly if he’s without his lead blocker, so the Redskins should try to take defenders out of the play schematically.
5. Use the Tight ends as safety valves:
-The Cardinals love to blitz so on a number of drop backs Kirk Cousins may need to unload the ball quickly, this is where Jordan Reed and NIles Paul need to come up big. There will be natural holes in the defense where the Cardinals are blitzing from and the Redskins need their tight ends to exploit those holes and present a quick, safe target for Cousins when he is in trouble.
6. Try to get the running backs involved in the passing game:
-The past couple of weeks the Redskins have gotten some big plays from Roy Helu and even Alfred Morris in the passing game, and that would be a good trend to continue this week. The Cardinals love to blitz and one of the best ways to combat that blitz is to throw screens to take advantage of that aggressiveness by the defense. If the Cardinals blitz and they don’t recognize a screen is coming they could be out of position and give up some big chunks of yards on some safe throws. Sometimes the Redskins will be forced to keep the backs in to pick-up the blitz, but they should look to leak the back out if the line can handle the blitz on their own. This can be another quick safety valve for Cousins, so he doesn’t have to sit in the pocket to wait for his downfield routes to develop, an their will be likely holes to exploit with the defense blitzing.
7. Make positive plays on special teams:
-Another week another special teams miscue. Last week the Redskins allowed a key 4th down conversion on a fake punt and made a poor attempt at an onside kick. In addition to those big plays the Redskins saw their typical short kick-offs and good returns allowed (both Punt and Kick). What they continued to lack was positive plays from their special teams unit. Even Tress Way‘s booming punts were called into question as he often out-kicked his coverage. Week in, week out the Redskins continue to give up yards and points on special teams and it is absolutely killing both their offense and defense. Now it would be nice of course if the Redskins could have some big special teams plays of their own, but at this point they should just be happy if they can be above average. They need to get a couple solid returns to set up good field position and conversely they have to limit that from the Cardinals.