Before the Redskins take on the Texans at FedExField, Redskins.com's Jake Kring-Schreifels and Dante Koplowitz-Fleming provide the storylines and matchups to follow on Sunday.
1. Contain Deshaun Watson
The biggest takeaway from Thursday's open locker room at Redskins Park was that the age old footballism of "Contain _ mobile quarterback" was alive and well among Redskins players.
And for good reason. The Redskins plays the Texans this Sunday, led by second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has gained traction around the league as a big-play machine since he took over the offense in his rookie year.
Watson's danger as a mobile quarterback doesn't always show up in his rushing totals. He's had big games on the ground of course, but what he does best is use his legs to set up huge plays through the air, something that safety D.J. Swearinger Sr. made sure to clarify when talking to reporters on Thursday.
"He's different because when he runs he's trying to look downfield. He has the wheels to get loose, but when he's scrambles he's trying to look downfield, that's what makes him dangerous," Swearinger said.
This has led to multiple touchdown passes of 45 or more yards. Watson has of course leaned on DeAndre Hopkins, who has worked hard to become known as the best receiver in the league at coming down with contested balls, which is a good way to earn the trust of your quarterback.
"We know our hands are gonna be pretty full going against a guy like that, he's an All-Pro and an All-Pro for a reason," Josh Norman said. "He's been that way since he came in, last year he showed that and now this year his uncanny ability to make catches in traffic, acrobatic, wow-ing catches even when defenders are draped on him, he does a great job of all those things..."
So, the Redskins are aware of the connection between Watson and Hopkins but stopping it is a whole other story. Swearinger elaborated on why Watson is so difficult to contain.
"And when he does take it down he has the wiggle. Cam [Newton] and Dak [Prescott] don't have the wiggle like he does, he has more of the Michael Vick wiggle," Swearinger said. "He's not as fast as Michael Vick but he has the wiggle, that's tough."
Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick did a good job of scrambling to avoid their pass rush last week, and that Watson has the ability to do the same thing in order to limit their pass rush.
"I know it's his second year but he just feels the pressure. That's the best thing that I think this quarterback does, is he feels pressure up the gut, he feels it on the edge, he does a great job of scrambling, getting out of situations where he knows that he'll get pinned in," Manusky said. "Overall, he does a great job of keeping his head up the field and seeing the routes that he has in front of him. So overall, he does a good job."
Check out these photos of the Redskins' preparing for their Week 11 game against the Houston Texans Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
2. Limit mistakes
Last week against the Buccaneers, Washington won a low-scoring game that should not have been as close as it was. The final score, 16-3, reflected a lot of missed opportunities by both sides. The Buccaneers mistakes were obvious, they turned the ball over four times and only scored three points despite piling up 501 yards.
Washington, on the other hand, missed plenty of opportunities to blow open a big lead against Tampa. The Redskins had eight penalties for 52 yards, with a few holding calls that wiped out big plays.
For example, at the end of the first half Washington got the ball with 2:03 left on the clock. On the first play from scrimmage, Kapri Bibbs caught a screen pass and took it 40 yards, setting the Redskins up 10 yards away from the red zone.
But it wouldn't last. Left guard fill-in, and a Redskin for all of three days prior, Jonathan Cooper, was flagged for a holding call, setting the offense back to their own 17-yard line. The Redskins managed to drive down the field and set up a field goal that gave them a 6-3 lead, but the missed red zone opportunity was obvious. Lucky for Cooper, and the offense as a whole, the Redskins defense pitched a shut out in the second half and secured the win.
The week before against Atlanta didn't go as well. In that contest, Washington was penalized 10 times for 147 yards, putting an exclamation point on the loss at home. On the first drive of the game, left guard Shawn Lauvao got a holding call, and the Redskins went three-and-out. It was a tone-setter on a Sunday that didn't go their way.
But mistakes can be put in a positive light when you're sitting atop your division. Ultimately, they are proof that the Redskins can be a better team than they have been so far. Quarterback Alex Smith said as much at his press conference Tuesday.
"I think looking at the film there's such small things that we talk about that we're so close to – all of a sudden – it being a 28-point game very easily. I think even if you count the drive before the half – the two-minute drive – I felt like on a third-and-four that we didn't execute on easily, could have been converted into a touchdown potentially," Smith said.Yeah, not very far away from scoring a lot more points. So, situational things we do talk about. But certainly, the turnover we had where we only walked away with three (field goal) – hit the ball to Vernon [Davis] – all of a sudden, I think you convert two or three of those and all of a sudden it is almost a 30-point game."
That potential touchdown to Vernon Davis does stand out as a huge missed opportunity. With a little over nine minutes left in the game, and with a six point lead, the offense could have made the rest of the game a little easier on the defense.
Washington ran a play-action roll out to the right side, and had tight end Vernon Davis run a deep post down the field. The play-action pulled Davis' man inside, giving him instant separation. The single high safety bit hard on Davis' fake outside, and he was wide open down the middle of the field. Alex had to throw the ball maybe a hair earlier than he wanted to (it looks like he didn't quite get his feet set), but these are the type of game-changing opportunities that the Redskins haven't been able to capitalize on. This drive ended in a punt, giving the Buccaneers the ball back down 13 in the fourth quarter. Washington's defense came through with their third turnover of the game.
The Texans are a better team than the Buccaneers, and the Redskins probably won't be able to make the same mistakes and come out on top.
3. Win the battle in the trenches
This is always a point of emphasis, and the winner usually finishes with the higher score. But it's a particular focus this week considering who is lined up on the other side of the football.
The Texans defense has done a solid job of stifling opponents' run games, especially in the midst of their six-game win streak. They're currently holding opponents to 3.6 rush yards per carry, good for second in the league, and limit offenses to 92.9 rush yards per game, sixth best in the league. Those stats come primarily from the two-headed monster up front.
Houston's J.J Watt and Jadeveon Clowney provide a formidable duo along the defensive line. Certainly that starts with pass rushing – they've combined for 14.5 sacks thus far – but it extends to stopping the run, where each has played considerably well, as both are tied for fifth in the league in run stops among edge defenders at 16.
It takes a shift in mentality to play against them, according to running back Adrian Peterson, who should have no trouble getting into it.
"You have to do some extra little things as well to help, chipping, as those guys are coming free," Peterson said. "Quite honestly, they're playmakers. You have to be prepared to go down and hit them in the mouth. It's a different mindset."
On the other side of the matchup, the Texans have remained dedicated to the ground game, relying on quarterback Deshaun Watson to do some lifting, too. He's certainly complemented his running backs with his scrambles and athleticism, but Alfred Blue and Lamar Miller are part of a group averaging just 3.9 yards per rush. What's strange is that they also run the ball third-most in the league, and are averaging 120 yards per game.
That means the Redskins defensive front should be ready for a steady does of the run. Last week, the Buccaneers, who don't run the ball with much success, found some with Peyton Barber in the backfield. A variety of issues, including missed tackles, played a part in his success, and so the Redskins must force Houston into being one-dimensional as much as possible.