The Redskins.com crew breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Sunday's Redskins-Browns 2016 Week 4 showdown at FedExField.
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FLUSTER THE ROOKIEFor the first time since last December, the Browns will have the same starting quarterback for back-to-back games as rookie Cody Kessler will be making his second career NFL start.
Kessler wasn't expected to be a factor for the Browns this season, as he opened up the year No. 3 on Cleveland's depth chart behind Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown. But both veterans suffered injuries opening the door for Kessler – a third-round pick out of USC – to take the reins of the Browns' offense.
In his debut last Sunday against the Dolphins, Kessler went 21-of-34 for 244 yards, throwing neither a touchdown nor an interception.
While he isn't as elusive as Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, the Redskins are hoping to use experience to their advantage. That starts with one of Kessler's college teammates, Su'a Cravens.
"Blitz him, can't scramble and gets rattled easy," Cravens said of his quick scouting report of Kessler.
But while he may get impacted easily by pressure, Cravens also admitted that Kessler doesn't make very many mistakes.
"He doesn't take risky throws," Cravens said. "He's a guy that's not going to turn the ball over, be any sudden change, he's going to work with what we give him and throw the check downs and throw the smart pass. He's really good at the far field out as well, too. We're looking for him to open it up underneath our defense."
"Great poise" was also shown out of Kessler against the Dolphins.
"He had a tough first drive but after that I think he came back," Gruden said. "He could have really gone in the tank after that first drive and really been nervous but, he wasn't rattled at all. He came back and put his team in position to win the game. That's all you can do as a quarterback and he showed great poise. He's very accurate quarterback, without a doubt. We knew that coming in when he came out of college from [U]SC and like I said before, [Browns head coach] Hue Jackson does a great job of protecting him, throwing the quick games and the boots and all of that stuff and making it easy for the quarterback. But, Cody did a nice job of rebounding."
KEEP IT UP ON THE LINE
Even though the Redskins were be without center Trent Williams and guard Shawn Lauvao, each of whom started the first three games of the season, during the second half of the team's victory over the New York Giants last week, Washington got creative by moving Trent Williams from left tackle to left guard for the first time in his life during last week's win against the Giants.
Despite admittedly being confused – "It was extremely difficult," Williams said – the four-time Pro Bowler was solid at the position. The line as a whole, featuring Ty Nsekhe at left tackle and Spencer Long at center, keyed a game-winning drive that featured 37 yards of rushing.
This week, Long will continue to play center while Williams will move back to tackle. Arie Kouandjio, meanwhile, will get the first start of his NFL career.
"My mentality is, like you said, next man up," Kouandijo said. "I've been here for two years, just been waiting for my opportunity and here it is.
"During the weeks where I'm not sure if I'm going to play or not, I try to do my best to prepare too. This kind of adds motivation, it's easier to spend more time studying and stuff like that when you know you're going to get in."
Long will be backed up by veteran John Sullivan, who was signed this week after Lichtensteiger was placed on Injured Reserve.
"I think the first go around will be as a backup role – which is very important, we found that last week," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said regarding Sullivan. "If you're up as an offensive lineman, whether we dress seven or eight, we've learned over the last couple of years that you have to be ready to play. He'll be ready to play."
No matter the combination, the Redskins offense should be in good hands. Washington has allowed just four sacks this season – the fourth-fewest in the NFL. Potentially more importantly, the running game appears to be finding its way as Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson combined to run for 88 yards on 23 carries last week.
FINISH IT OFF DOWN CLOSE
While the Redskins were able to squeak past the Giants last Sunday thanks in part to kicker Dustin Hopkins making all five of his field goal attempts, the offense continued to struggle in the red zone going 0-of-4.
On the season, the Redskins are just 3-of-14 on the season inside the 20-yard line, a percentage that must drastically improve if Washington wants to remain in a competitive spot down the stretch.
"We can get there, but we just have to be able to execute and put up points because that's how we're going to win games," tight end Vernon Davis said. "Everybody knows that. We just have to, like I said, keep working at it and be able to execute."
Wide receiver Jamison Crowder said the offense as a whole just has to "come together as a team and try to figure it out what it is that we could do better."
"Hold yourself to a higher standard regardless of what position you're being put in, go out there and overcome it," Jackson said. "We'll figure it out, hopefully we will get it taken care of, and start scoring more touchdowns in the red zone."
Gruden also admitted that the team may try to mix up some of the play calling, too.
"If it's work with a quarterback, maybe implementing more runs down there, whatever it is," Gruden said. "But, I think each week poses a different game plan type of way you want to attack the defense. We haven't been very good the first three weeks, but we feel good about moving forward that we'll do better against the teams coming up on our schedule, hopefully. We have to."
STOP THE DYNAMIC TERRELLE PRYOR SR.The Browns have a weapon in Terrelle Pryor Sr. and they're not afraid to use him.
Check out these photos of the Redskins' defense and special teams preparing for their Week 4 game against the Cleveland Browns Friday, Sept. 30, 2016, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
In last week's overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins, Pryor did a bit of everything. He completed 3-of-5 passes for 35 yards, ran for 21 yards and a touchdown on four carries and caught a career-high eight passes for 144 yards.
"He's a playmaker no matter where he's lined up," Redskins safety David Bruton Jr. said. "Whether it's at receiver, quarterback, running back, whatever, and he's able to make plays. We definitely have our work cut out for us, we definitely have a big challenge ahead of us with him. We definitely have to know where he is at any given time because we don't want him to be the guy that beats us."
Pryor Sr., who was selected by Oakland in the 2011 Supplemental Draft out of Ohio State, never quite found his way as a passer, but his athleticism has never been questioned. He's quickly become the Browns' most dangerous weapon. His 31 targets at receiver are tied for the fifth-most in the league through three weeks this season.
Pryor's ability to play multiple positions eased the load on rookie quarterback Cody Kessler, who entered the season as the third-string quarterback, but will be starting his second game of the season on Sunday.
"He kind of reminds me of a little bit of Josh Gordon on film," safety Will Blackmon said of Pryor. "He has those long strides, deceptively he looks like he's not moving quick, but he's covering a lot of ground. We have to try and get some turnovers.
"He's a former quarterback, so we're always alert for the possibility of something happening."