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A pair of young quarterbacks look to turn around their disappointing play in 2013
Colin Kaepernick and the 6-4 San Francisco 49ers are in Landover, Md., tonight to take on Robert Griffin III and the 3-7 Washington Redskins on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" from FedEx Field at 8:30 p.m. ET. The Redskins have had an extremely dismaying season, sitting in the basement of the league's worst division. Washington has lost three of their last four games and Mike Shanahan's seat appears to be growing warmer by the week
San Francisco also is looking to snap a two-game slide of its own, with gut-wrenching losses to Carolina and New Orleans by a combined four points. This is the 26th regular season meeting between the two historic NFC organizations. The 49ers hold a 15-9-1 all-time record against the Redskins.
3 Things to Watch
It’s been a long week in Washington, following the Redskins' 24-16 loss to the Eagles. After Robert Griffin III threw an inexplicably poor interception to end the game, respected team veteran Santana Moss took issue with how Griffin had publicly handled his own responsibility on the play. Griffin raised eyebrows when he said that his own offense was predictable enough for the Eagles defense to read. Additionally, Mike Silver of the NFL Network, reported that, while at Baylor, Griffin asked his coaches to refrain from putting his bad plays up on the boards in meeting rooms. Apparently, Washington coaches have not agreed to the same consideration. Perhaps because of this, along with a variety of other reasons, is why we are hearing that Griffin is unhappy with Mike Shanahan. A relationship that has been in question since the coach’s handling of Griffin’s knee injury last year, could be coming to a head as rumors are swirling that the two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach actually preferred Ryan Tannehill to the Heisman Trophy winner. Such reports have triggered a landslide of PR issues for Washington. It’s not clear whether the locker room is fully behind its quarterback, but what is clear is that Redskins have spent the week doing damage control, backtracking and clearing the air internally. With so much time being spent on non-football issues, it’s likely that the on-field product will suffer tonight.
A season ago, it seemed we were on the precipice of a new-age of NFL quarterback. Behind players such as Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton, it appeared that the read-option, dual-threat quarterbacks had become all the rage. Pocket passers were out as these young quarterbacks splashed onto the scene, taking the NFL by storm with their highlight-reel plays. With 5,000 combined passing yards and 1,230 combined rushing yards, they were the new NFL. The only problem? It appears defenses have caught on. Over seven starts last year, Kaepernick averaged 259 passing and rushing yards per game. This year, the Nevada product has only thrown for over 200+ yards in just two games. In fact, he has thrown for 150 yards or less in five of his 10 games, with a career-low 91 yards against Carolina two weeks ago. For Washington, Griffin’s yardage is on par with last year's numbers, thanks to a healthy supply of garbage time completions. However, he hasn’t been utilized to near the same extent in the rushing game, as he is averaging a full yard less per attempt and has yet to register a rushing touchdown. Both quarterbacks had sparking TD-INT ratios in 2012, but have struggled with accuracy and turnovers in their second seasons as starting quarterbacks. Griffin’s completion percentage is a full six percentage points lower, while Kaepernick is carrying a meager 56.2 completion rate. Kaepernick’s accuracy issues are being seen in his seven interceptions, already more than double the three he threw a season prior. Griffin, who enjoyed the best-ever touchdown-to-interception ratio for a rookie quarterback in at 20 to 5 in 2012, has thrown 14 touchdowns to 10 picks so far this season. It will be interesting to see if either of these quarterbacks can turn things around over the season’s final stretch, as the Redskins and 49ers are still looking for the dynamic playmaking quarterbacks they are used to seeing.
Will Sunshine RBs run to daylight?
Redskins running back Alfred Morris and 49ers running back Frank Gore were both born and raised in the Sunshine State. Morris, hails from Pensacola, Fla., and attended Florida Atlantic, while Gore stayed home to play for the University of Miami. Despite being six years apart, both rank among the top backs in the NFL. Morris is the prime option for the Redskins' top-ranked rushing offense, which averages 155.2 yards per game. Morris, the NFL’s second-leading rusher a year ago, is currently third in the NFL with 918 rushing yards. He is tied for league lead in yards per attempt (5.1) , among all players with more than 100 attempts. Morris, not often thought of as an explosive player, actually leads the league with nine rushes of over 20 yards. Who is tied for second on that list? Well, that would be Frank Gore, of course. Gore isn’t experiencing any sort of 30+ downhill slide as he is seventh in the NFL in rushing yards and fourth in rushing touchdowns. Morris will probably find less rushing room this week against a stingy 49ers’ defense that allows just 103 rushing yards per game. While the Redskins' defense is ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in rushing defense, they have held the league’s top two leading rushers (LeSean McCoy and Adrian Peterson) under 80 yards. It is important to note that Washington has allowed the most rushing touchdowns, 15, of any team in the NFL.
Key Player for Washington: Fred Davis, TE
Davis has been the forgotten man in Washington. The surprising play of Jordan Reed, along with the Redskins’ overall tight end depth has resulted in the veteran being listed inactive since the Dallas game on Oct. 13. Davis was the Redskins' best pass-catching tight end in 2011 and '12, catching a combined 83 receptions and averaging 13.5 yards per catch in 19 games before rupturing his Achilles tendon. A free agent at the end of the season, there’s no doubt Davis will be trying his hardest to showcase his skills for the NFL’s other 31 teams.
Key Players for San Francisco: Linebacking Corps
The combination of NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith is undoubtedly the best combo the NFL has seen in a long time. They are perhaps the best the league has seen since the Ravens’ threesome of the early 2000s or the Steelers’ foursome of the late '90s. Yes, these guys are that good. Bowman and Willis combine for a terrifying middle of the defense, with 146 tackles and eight tackles for a loss. Despite Smith missing significant time, the 49ers' outside linebackers have 11 sacks between them, with eight tackles for a loss and an interception.
Call it a hunch, but I think the Redskins will start to turn things around in the final month and a half of the season. San Francisco's defense is great, but its offense hasn't been very impressive with a passing attack that ranks last in the NFL. The Niners will be a completely different team when they get top wide receiver Michael Crabtree back, but until then they will remain a one-dimensional attack. All the numbers point to San Francisco's superior defense, but I think Washington will take a week of frustrations out on a team with the tough task of traveling west-to-east for a late-night game.
Washington 24, San Francisco 20