The Redskins.com crew breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Sunday's Redskins-Patriots 2015 Week 9 matchup at Gillette Stadium.
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BOTTLE UP BRADY[
At 38 years old, one might assume it's about that time when Tom Brady starts hitting the twilight of his career.
But if this season has proven anything, it's that Brady has actually gotten better with age.
Through seven games – all wins for the Patriots – Brady has thrown for 2,410 yards with 20 touchdowns to just one measly interception. His quarterback rating of 115.8 is almost 20 points higher than his career average (96.6) and his 68.9 percent completion rating this season is more than five percentage points better than his 63.7 percent career average.
So if you're the Redskins on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, how do you begin to stop – or even try to contain – Brady?
First, you need to hit him early and hit him often. Get him nervous and dancing out of the pocket a little. Brady is at his best when he has a clean pocket and can step up and deliver throws all around the field. Getting pressure is definitely possible on Sunday, as Brady has been sacked 18 times so far in 2015 behind what's been at times a patchwork offensive line.
Then, don't give anything away. If you're Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry, you're probably telling your guys that no matter what the call – including heavy blitzes, stunts, various coverages, etc. – to make them all look as similar as you can before the snap to limit Brady's ability to make last-second adjustments.
Finally, be ready for anything. Getting the Patriots' offense in a third-down situation is oftentimes a victory in itself, but it definitely doesn't mean you've won that possession. Brady is well known for snapping the ball as soon as it's ready on third downs and converting it himself via the sneak. Redskins head coach Jay Gruden knows his guys need to be in their stances and ready to go when these opportunities present themselves.
"He does a great job of following the surge and then getting the yard," Gruden said. "I mean, I've seen him do it on fourth-and-four, third-and-four or five and do it. He uses it as an effective weapon when he feels the time is right."
Redskins defensive end Ricky Jean Francois, who played against Brady in that infamous AFC Championship game last season as a member of the Colts, said Washington's defense definitely respects Brady, but their job is definitely to "hound him" and "get him off his point."
"We are going to not let him be Tom Brady, because at any given point if he sees any miscues or assignments that we are not at, you already know that guy can gash you all around the field if he wants to," Jean Francois said. (By Andrew Walker)
You know a player is pretty good when they have a touchdown celebration named after them.
After scoring touchdowns, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's powerful spikes have become known as a "Gronk Spike."
And in 72 career NFL games, the University of Arizona product has crossed the goal line for 61 career scores.
In total, Gronkowski has amassed more than 5,000 yards on 348 yards as well.
"He's such a big body," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "Normally when you got guys that big, they don't catch the ball as well, they don't run routes as well, but I mean to be that big and still run routes like a receiver man, he's a special talent. Probably the best tight end in the league and I think he's shown that. I think teams have game planned trying to stop him, but haven't been able to. Any time you can do that as a player and still make plays and you got a guy like Tom Brady, the best in the business throwing it to you that probably makes it a little easier too for him."
In seven games this season, the three-time first-team All-Pro has caught seven touchdowns. Last Thursday against the Miami Dolphins, Gronkowski tied a season-high in receiving yards with 113.
With playmakers on the outside and even at running back as well, defensive end Jason Hatcher knows this week's mission will not be an easy task.
"They've got a lot of weapons, [Julian] Edelman, [Danny] Amendola, you name it, those guys they got a system they believe in and it works." (By Stephen Czarda)
WILLIAMS VS. JONES
Redskins left tackle Trent Williams had some good experience facing off with Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones when the two met during joint practices in training camp last season. Since then, though, Williams has seen a different kind of player emerge.
Top photos from the Redskins & Patriots joint practice session at the Bon Secours Training Center on Tuesday, August 5, 2014.
"He went from good to great at such a rapid pace, it's almost scary," Williams said of Jones. "He's the nucleus of their defense -- he's one of them at least. He's going to be a handful."
The teams that have tried to contain him so far can attest to that. Through seven games, Jones has racked up 8.5 sacks and also leads the Patriots with 26 pressures and eight quarterback hits. He's also the first player under Bill Belichick to lead the league in sacks (he's tied with J.J. Watt and Carlos Dunlap) through eight weeks.
"He has an array of moves," Williams said. "He's setting them up now. You can tell he's a student of the game because of the things he's progressing in. A lot of it is cerebral, a lot of it basically has to do with growth and knowing when to use what moves and knowing the situations of the game and what to expect. Obviously that coaching staff has done a heck of a job with him, and he's a problem."
Williams will deal with him for the majority of the snaps he takes (Jones was on the field for 89 percent of the defense's snaps against the Dolphins last week), which usually come on the right side. What makes him challenging is that, like many Patriots defenders, he can also play a hybrid linebacker thanks to his athleticism.
That makes even fighting through double teams look particularly easy, something he did often against Miami to help collect two more sacks. Currently, he's well on pace to beat his previous high of 11.5 sacks in 2013.
If the Redskins can start to get the running game back to how it functioned at the beginning of the season, Williams should have a slightly easier job containing Jones, who would like to have his ears pinned back on every play.
"I just have to bring my A-game," Williams said. "I have to be almost perfect and hopefully we can get him neutralized and Kirk can have some time to get the ball off." (By Jake Kring-Schreifels)
SHOCK THE WORLDAs expected, not many people outside of Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va., are giving the Redskins a chance to come away with a victory Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
So, if you're Washington, why not embrace the "Us vs. the World" mentality and see where it takes you?
"We know what's at stake," Gruden said. "We know how good they are, how well-coached they are, how well-prepared they are. We just have to be as prepared as they are and play harder and make some things happen, protect the football."
A win on Sunday for the Redskins would give them their first victory over an undefeated opponent this late in the season since a Week 11 victory over the then 10-0 Minnesota Vikings in 1975. In that contest, Washington used a Ron McDole blocked field goal on the final play of regulation to seal a 31-30 victory at RFK Stadium.
The Redskins certainly can't count on a similar magical play to save them on Sunday, but they're excited to get out on the field in front of a loud, opposing crowd against the reigning Super Bowl champs and execute their game plan to the best of their ability and see where it takes them. "They put on their pants just like we do," Gruden said of the Patriots. "We're going to go out there and compete our butts off and play." (By Andrew Walker)