The Redskins.com crew breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Sunday's Redskins-Packers 2016 Week 11 showdown at FedExField in Landover, Md.
"Redskins-Packers: Ingredients For Victory" is presented by Papa John's.
Every Monday after a Redskins game, get a Large Cheese Pizza for just $9.99. Receive a FREE TOPPING for every Redskins touchdown. DOUBLE THE FREE TOPPINGS when the Redskins win!
FEED FAT ROB SOME CHEESENow entrenched as the Redskins' starting running back, Rob Kelley has perhaps his toughest task to date: facing one of the league's top rush defenses.
Through nine games, the Packers have allowed the fourth fewest rushing yards per game (84.4) and only five rushing touchdowns.
In his two games as Washington's starting running back, though, only one of Kelley'd 43 carries has produced negative yardage, though.
His early down success has opened up the Redskins' offense for more play action opportunities to get opposing defenses on their heels.
"It does make a difference," Redskins quarterback Trent Williams said this week. "It keeps our offense going in a positive direction. Play-action game can be effective for us. Some weeks it's there, some weeks it isn't. We just try to run the plays that are called and we try to put defenses in a tough spot where they have to think about a lot of different responsibilities throughout the course of the game."
When the Packers have been at their best defensively, they've stopped some of the league's best running backs. Six different times this season they've held the top running backs for opponents under 60 yards.
But when they crack, teams have exploited their weaknesses. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot (157) and Titans lead back DeMarco Murray (123) had some big yardage outputs against Green Bay.
If the offensive line can create holes for Kelley, the rookie could also be in for a big day.
"They're big up front," guard Brandon Scherff said. "They're very fast. They do all of the things right. We just need to focus on what we do during practice, what [offensive line] coach [Bill] Callahan talks about and just go out there and try to execute."
DON'T LET NO. 12 GET YOU
The highest career quarterback rating in NFL history is 103.3, and it belongs to Aaron Rodgers. Although Rodgers is almost a full 10 points below that mark this season, the Redskins don't view him as anything less than one of the league's elite passers.
"Any time you're facing him you've got to work a little harder," Redskins cornerback Josh Norman said. "I can't put a time limit on how hard we work. We're facing definitely a cerebral assassin in that guy over there. I know how he works, so looking forward to it. Always got to be on our P's and Q's when you face an elite like that. Looking forward to the challenge."
Despite what would be considered a down year for Rodgers, he's still third in the NFL with 22 touchdown passes. The Packers are 1-4 in their last five games, but the Rodgers-led offense is averaging 27.8 points per game over that span. Quite obviously, defense has been the issue for the Packers, but Washington would like to avoid a shootout with No. 12 running the Green Bay offense.
"He's a quarterback who can extend plays and make a lot of plays especially with his feet," Redskins linebacker Preston Smith said. "He can spin out of sacks and you think he's going down, he'll spin out, get up and throw a 60-yard pass or a touchdown across the field that you think wouldn't happen with a normal quarterback."
Rodgers's numbers don't instill fear like they used to – for example, he's 20th in completion percentage this season – but his reputation precedes him and he's still got plenty of weapons. Wide receivers Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb are the only trio in the NFL with 45 or more catches each. Nelson especially, who is in his first year back from a torn ACL, has shown no signs of slowing down with an NFL-best eight touchdown receptions.
Redskins players, coaches and fans alike remember taking an 11-0 lead over Green Bay in the Wild Card round of last season's playoffs before Rodgers and the Packers stormed back with 35 of the next 42 points to win 35-18.
"I think at times we played very well last year, but when you go against a guy like No. 12 [Aaron Rodgers], you have got to be on it every snap because he demands that type of perfection because if you slip, if you're off, he's going to make you pay for it," Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. "It was just a great example to say, 'Hey, we played well at times, but we can't have lapses, not against a guy like this. You have got to bring it and be on it every snap for 60 minutes.'"
How could the Redskins potentially stop Rodgers, a player that can chuck it all over the field?
With the 53rd pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Washington Redskins selected linebacker Su'a Cravens out of USC. Take a look at his collegiate career in photos.
Throw the quick-rising Su'a Cravens at him.
Cravens has made plays all over the field, mostly playing at inside linebacker, but the defensive coaches know that he has the ability to shine in different roles.
"I think Su'a is a playmaker," defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. "I think if we can be creative with putting him in different positions – whether it's standard just linebacker positions or other positions – around a formation to be able to make plays... So I think again he's getting into a nice flow, a nice rhythm. We talked a few weeks ago, he kind of got stunted with that when he had the injury when he was out for a few weeks. Su'a is a good player and he works at it and he craves – no pun on words there – he craves making plays. And I just think he's going to get better and better the more he plays."
Playing time has only been increasing for the youngest player on the active roster, as the 21 year old appeared on a career- high 37 defensive snaps in win over the Vikings last week. He was also on the field during the Vikings' drive at the end of the fourth quarter, when they attempted to score a go-ahead touchdown. The hard work that Cravens has put in earned him this increased playing time and while his stats may not be the flashiest on the roster, he has often been involved in big plays. His performance has even caused some of the veterans on the team to take note.
"[I'm] super impressed. [Cravens] has that instinct in him, so you spark plug that, you see what you see out there," cornerback Josh Norman said. "I enjoy playing with that. He's one of my little dogs you let off the leash here and there and let him go crash dummy some people. It's fun to see ….It gets everybody fired up, electrify people and you can see it touch others. We get more people like Su'a Cravens then, wow."
A big test in how much he can do and the variety of ways the Redskins can use him will be on display Sunday night against an offense that has struggled to find consistency this year. And they better be ready for the Redskins and Cravens to bring everything they have.
"I feel that I'm a player that can make plays and trust in my abilities, so whenever they call my number I'll get the job done," Cravens said. "This team knocked us out of the playoffs last year. We're going against a great quarterback, and they're going to come in here and try and do the same thing to us. That's enough motivation we need."
USE THAT ONE-TWO PUNCH AT TIGHT END
It wouldn't have been shocking to say that Jordan Reed would once again have a good season, but for Vernon Davis to be averaging nearly 15 yards per reception on his 26 catches this season?
Not only that, for the 32-year old to catch nearly 89 percent of the balls thrown his way.
Davis is experiencing a rebound season, proving he still has rare speed from the position while sealing the outside for the running backs to bounce a few carries towards the sidelines.
"I mean, he hasn't lost a step. He can fly," Gruden said. "So, he has been one of the biggest pleasant surprises on this football team without a doubt because he has really done a good job in the running game. I think that's where he has helped the most. You know, these 4.6 yards a carry that I think we are averaging right now, a lot of it is because of our tight end – blocking in the core, cut off on the backside or what have you – and he's a big part of that. Love the kid, man. He brings a lot to this football team as far as leadership goes and then ability-wise he has done a great job."
Along with Reed, the two face a Green Bay defense that has struggled stopping tight ends at times this season.
The Packers have allowed more than 550 receiving yards to tight ends this season along with four touchdowns.
Reed scored his first NFL touchdown against the Packers in 2013 while catching nine receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown against Green Bay in January's playoff game.
Davis, meanwhile, has crushed the Packers throughout his career, as the veteran tight end has caught 22 passes for 449 yards and six touchdowns in five regular season games against Green Bay.