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Sunday, January 6, 2013
Redskins-Seahawks matchups to watch

By Dan Graziano

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Good morning. Lovely weekend here in our nation's capital. There's a great deal of excitement about the Washington Redskins' first home playoff game since 1999. The Redskins will take on the Seattle Seahawks at 4:30 p.m. ET at FedEx Field. Here are a few matchup-related notes I have left over from the time I spent with the Redskins earlier in the week:

Pierre Garcon
Pierre Garcon and the Redskins receivers will be challenged by a big, physical Seahawks secondary.
1. Redskins WRs versus Seahawks DBs: The Redskins' wide receivers are big and physical and love to block, but Seattle's secondary has unusual size. Of the six defensive backs 6-foot-3 or taller who started at least 10 games in the NFL this season, three -- Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and Kam Chancellor -- play for the Seahawks. I heard lots of talk this week in Ashburn about how physical those defensive backs are. "They try to beat you up all the way down the field," Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said.

"We just have to keep their hands off of us and make sure we're allowed to run our routes," Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon said. "Just have to get into their shoulder pads and block them like you would anybody else. They can try to jam us; that's part of the game. We have to be physical. We've shown a lot of physicality this year."

One thing to look for is tighter splits, with the wide receivers playing closer to the line and further from the sideline than normal. Washington showed this in last season's game against Seattle (with less physical wideouts), and there are a couple of potential benefits. It allows the receivers more space in which to operate -- forcing the defensive back to guess which direction they're going as opposed to when they're wide and the sideline limits their range. And it might give a safety at least some hesitation, wondering if the play is a run or a pass and whether those receivers are in tight to run-block. If the Seahawks hesitate in coverage, Robert Griffin III has shown he has the ability to make them pay with his downfield accuracy.

2. Redskins' interior offensive line versus Seahawks DT Brandon Mebane: Watch Mebane's ability to generate pressure up the middle, especially to the "play side," where the run play appears as though it will go. The Redskins' best way of countering the speed of the Seattle defense is likely with cutback runs by Alfred Morris (as well as play-action passing, but that goes without saying). If Mebane can penetrate and get to Morris before he cuts back, the Redskins could find their run game limited and their play-action game negatively affected as a result.

The left guard situation is particularly worrisome for Washington. Either starter Kory Lichtensteiger is going to be playing hurt or backup Josh LeRibeus will be starting in his place. If LeRibeus plays, the Redskins must worry about the timing of the blocks on the cutbacks. Washington started the same five offensive linemen in 15 of its 16 regular-season games, and the ability of that line to work together with comfort and familiarity had a lot to do with the success of the Redskins' top-ranked run game. If LeRibeus isn't in sync with the guys who have been there all season, that could create problems.

3. Redskins DBs versus Seahawks WRs: Seattle doesn't have a top-flight, game-breaking wide receiver, though Sidney Rice and Golden Tate have been more than serviceable for rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. Last week against the Cowboys, Washington used an unusual number of "zero" blitzes that left cornerbacks on wide receivers one-on-one. The ability of DeAngelo Hall to handle Dez Bryant in solo man coverage was one of the more surprising aspects of that game, and Redskins coaches say they spent the week challenging Hall to step up his game because of how hot Bryant was. Will Hall be able to muster that same kind of intensity to play Rice or Tate? Will the return of Cedric Griffin from his drug suspension change the Redskins' coverages and reduce the need for Hall to play man all game? Wilson runs around outside the pocket like Ben Roethlisberger, keeping plays alive for a long time with his legs. The coverage by the Redskins' secondary needs not only to be tight but also persistent. The cornerbacks have to stay with the receivers longer than they're used to due to Wilson's ability to extend plays. This is a new challenge for a defense that has been able to overcome a lot of issues in recent weeks.