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Washington Vs. 49ers Preview: An Unexpected Return To The Desert

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Fresh off its upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Washington Football Team (5-7) will travel to Glendale, Arizona, to play the San Francisco 49ers (5-7). Here's everything you need to know ahead of the Week 14 matchup:

GAMEDAY INFORMATION:

Date: Dec. 13

Time 4:25 p.m. ET

Location: State Farm Stadium (Glendale, Arizona)

WATCH: FOX

  • Chris Meyer (play-by-play)
  • Greg Jennings (analyst)
  • Jen Hale (reporter)

LISTEN: The Team 980, ESPN 630 and WMAL 105.9

  • Julie Donaldson (host)
  • Bram Weinstein (play-by-play)
  • DeAngelo Hall (analyst)

A stream of the radio broadcast will also be available at WashingtonFootball.com and on select Washington Football Team social media platforms.

ALL-TIME SERIES

  • San Francisco leads the all-time series, 21-11-1.
  • Washington and San Francisco have met four times in the playoffs with San Francisco leading the series, 3-1.
  • Washington's first win over San Francisco came on Nov. 12, 1967, at District of Columbia Stadium. Sonny Jergensen completed a 15-yard pass to Jerry Smith in the fourth quarter to take a 31-28 lead.
  • Washington's most recent win over San Francisco came on Oct. 15, 2017, when quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for 330 yards in a 26-24 victory.
  • Washington has only scored at least 27 points against San Francisco once since 1984. The only exception was in 2005 when quarterback Mark Brunell and running back Clinton Portis scored three touchdowns each.
  • Washington's most recent matchup with San Francisco came on Oct. 20, 2019, which San Francisco won at FedExField, 9-0.

COACHING STAFF

Washington:

  • Head coach Ron Rivera (1st season in Washington)
  • Offensive coordinator Scott Turner (1st)
  • Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio (1st)
  • Special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor (2nd)

San Francisco:

  • Head coach Kyle Shanahan (4th season in San Francisco)
  • Passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur (4th; 3rd as passing game coordinator)
  • Running game coordinator Mike McDaniel (4th; 3rd as running game coordinator)
  • Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh (4th)
  • Special teams coordinator Richard Hightower (4th)

BIGGEST STORYLINES

-- Another challenge for the offense: Washington's offense and play-caller Scott Turner have played some of the best defenses in the NFL so far this season. Prior to squaring off against the Steelers, who boast the NFL's third-ranked defense, it faced the Baltimore Ravens (eighth) and Los Angeles Rams (second). It will face another top 10 defense in the 49ers, who allow a sixth-best 326.3 yards per game.

Washington currently sits as the 26th-ranked offense, but it has steadily improved since Week 6, and that is partly because Turner is growing as a coordinator. His unit has put up at least 318 yards in the past seven games, including back-to-back 400-plus-yard outing against the New York Giants and Detroit Lions.

"Well, the biggest thing is I see a few more things than the stuff we did in Carolina," head coach Ron Rivera said Nov. 23. "That just shows that he's opening the playbook."

The other factor to consider is that Alex Smith, who was named the starting quarterback in Week 9, has been a solid passer. He is completing 68.7% of his passes, which is the second-highest of his career, and is 3-1 as a starter. He threw back-to-back 300-plus yard games for the first time in career against the Giants and Lions, and his 92.3 passer rating was his best of the season.

"Very proud of him," Rivera said after the Steelers game. "This is a heck of a defense we played against today and he was patient and he took what they were giving us and that was probably the biggest thing. I really thought Scotty did a nice job with the play calling in terms of just putting Alex in position to take what they were giving us and we did. We were very patient. Couple times we took a couple shots, but the biggest thing is we were patient.

The 49ers do not have the dominant defense it had in 2019 (second in yards allowed, first in passing yards and tied for fifth in sacks), but they have had some solid games against the Giants and New England Patriots, who scored a combined 15 points. They have also struggled; the defense allowed at least 30 points against the Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills. Washington will need to have a similar game if it wants to get its fourth straight win.

-- A chance for the defensive line to shine: Washington did not bring down Ben Roethlisberger Monday night, marking the first time all season the defense did not record at least one sack, but the defensive line has been one of the best pass-rushing groups all season. It is tied for third in the NFL with 36.0 sacks, 20 of which have come since Week 7. The defensive line had four of the team's eight pass deflections against Pittsburgh, one of which resulted in an interception by Jon Bostic that essentially sealed the game.

"This is what you kind of hope for is that you get to this point of the season and they're ascending," Rivera said. "That's the big thing is that you want to see that growth where they're going up because it bodes well for the future."

Pittsburgh's offensive line was the primary reason for Washington's struggles to rush Roethlisberger. It has allowed a league-low 10 sacks this season and has an adjusted sack rate of 2.4%, according to Football Outsiders. That will not be the case against the 49ers, who are tied for 18th with 27 sacks allowed. Quarterback Nick Mullens has taken at least one sack in three of the past four games.

San Francisco is tied for seventh in sacks allowed per game over the past three weeks, but Rivera remains confident in the defensive line's recent progress.

"We don't know what's going to happen in the next few weeks, but we're going to come out and play hard and give our best effort and see what happens. We really believe right now -- at least I do -- that the players have bought in and they're beginning to believe in what the potential in this unit can be, what this group of guys can accomplish."

-- Continuing the push for postseason contention: Washington and San Francisco head into Sunday's game with 5-7 records, and each team has a different reason for their struggles. The 49ers have battled injuries all season with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle likely out for the remainder of the season. Defensive end Nick Bosa -- the 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year -- suffered a season-ending torn ACL in Week 2.

Washington, on the other hand, started 1-5 and went through two quarterback changes before winning four of its past six games. And yet, both teams remain in playoff contention; both teams are one game back for the No. 7 seed, and Washington is tied with the Giants at the top of the NFC East. A loss for either team will likely cripple their wild card hopes.

In terms of momentum, Washington seems to have the advantage. It is fresh off an upset over the previously undefeated Steelers and on a three-game win streak for the first time since 2018. San Francisco has lost four of its last five after starting 4-3.

Rivera doesn't want to dismiss the 49ers, though; they have beaten the Patriots, swept the Rams and dominated the Giants. Washington took a step forward Monday night, but it continues to build towards becoming a consistent winner under Rivera.

"This is about our culture and how we handle these types of situations. I'm interested in seeing it, I really am. I'm excited about it. I really do think it's a big step in terms of our culture and where we are in terms of a football team."

INDIVIDUAL STATS LEADERS

Washington:

  • Passing Yards -- QB Alex Smith (1,363)
  • Passing TDs -- QBs Dwayne Haskins Jr., Alex Smith and Kyle Allen (4)
  • Rushing Yards -- RB Antonio Gibson (659)
  • Rushing TDs -- RB Antonio Gibson (11)
  • Receiving Yards -- WR Terry McLaurin (977)
  • Receiving TDs -- TE Logan Thomas (5)
  • Tackles -- LB Jon Bostic (86)
  • Sacks -- DE Montez Sweat (6.0)
  • Interceptions -- CB Kendall Fuller (4)

San Francisco:

  • Passing Yards -- QB Nick Mullens (1,958)
  • Passing TDs -- QB Nick Mullens (9)
  • Rushing Yards -- RB Raheem Mostert (388)
  • Rushing TDs -- RB Jerick McKinnon (5)
  • Receiving Yards -- WR Brandon Aiyuk (541)
  • Receiving TDs -- WR Brandon Aiyuk (4)
  • Tackles -- LB Fred Warner (91)
  • Sacks -- DE Kerry Hyder Jr. (7.5)
  • Interceptions -- LB Fred Warner and CB Jamar Taylor (2)

TEAM STATS LEADERS

Washington:

  • Total offense -- 26th (324.7 YPG)
  • Scoring offense -- 25th (22.0 PPG)
  • Passing offense -- 25th (223.2 YPG)
  • Sacks allowed -- 29th (38)
  • Rushing offense -- 24th (101.5 YPG)
  • Third-down offense -- T-26th (38.0%)
  • Total defense -- 4th (310.9 YPG)
  • Scoring defense -- 8th (21.7 PPG)
  • Passing defense -- 3rd (203.8 YPG)
  • Sacks -- T-3rd (36.0)
  • Rushing defense -- 10th (107.1 YPG)
  • Third-down defense -- 9th (38.1%)
  • Time of possession -- 17th (30:16)
  • Turnover differential -- T-23rd (-4)

San Francisco:

  • Total offense -- 14th (366.2 YPG)
  • Scoring offense -- T-19th (23.8 PPG)
  • Passing offense -- 13th (256.3 YPG)
  • Sacks allowed -- T-18th (27)
  • Rushing offense -- 18th (109.8 YPG)
  • Third-down offense -- T-17th (41.3%)
  • Total defense -- 6th (326.3 YPG)
  • Scoring defense -- 13th (24.0 PPG)
  • Passing defense -- 10th (219.9 YPG)
  • Sacks -- T-21st (21)
  • Rushing defense -- 9th (106.4 YPG)
  • Third-down defense -- 8th (38.0%)
  • Time of possession -- 6th (31:14)
  • Turnover differential -- 26th (-5)

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