Friday, October 25, 2013
Redskins-Broncos matchup of the day
By Jeff Legwold
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It won't always be an eye-to-eye, man-to-man matchup, but it won't be a rare event Sunday when Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher is staring across the line of scrimmage at Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
Fletcher makes the calls in the Redskins defense from his inside linebacker position and is a testament to preparation, good fortune and performance over the long haul. Fletcher, after all, has gone from not even being deemed worthy of a draft pick in 1998 to his 16th season in the league. He hasn't missed a game in his NFL career.
And there's Manning, who was the top pick of that '98 draft and is a testament to performance and preparation over the long haul as well. He also had the drive to return from four neck surgeries to leading the league in touchdown passes after seven games this season. The two are a seen-that, done-that duo who will play a little football chess Sunday in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"Two-hundred and forty-five consecutive games as a starter -- that really tells you all you need to know about London Fletcher," Manning said. "Playing middle linebacker, always answering the bell every Sunday, tells you two things: How tough he is, there's no question he's dealt with injuries during his career but he always answers the bell. But also what a professional he is, taking care of himself. Being a pro, being there for his teammates every Sunday. It's extremely impressive."
The Redskins figure -- with the Broncos sporting several injuries in the offensive line -- to be aggressive in their approach. Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is expected to throw a wrinkle or two Manning's way, with Fletcher as his eyes and ears on the field.
Opposing defenses have played pass-first against the Broncos thus far. The linebackers determine if those defenses can stop the Broncos run game with six and seven-man fronts as the Colts did this past Sunday night. And if the Broncos want to kick-start their run game this weekend, they are going to have to figure out how to consistently get a blocker on Fletcher.
No small task since Fletcher has had 13 consecutive seasons with at least 116 tackles before this one, 11 of those with at least 130 tackles. Fletcher is the guy who has to try to match Manning's audibles at the line of scrimmage, even as Manning tries to create the mismatch somewhere in the formation.
"London has seen everything in the book," Manning said. "I've played against him a number of times and he's a great veteran. He's smart."
It was a struggle at times for the Redskins against their first three opponents. They started 0-3 with each offense topping 400 yards while scoring 33, 38 and 27 points, respectively. But the Redskins have won two of the past three. The Redskins often tuck Fletcher in behind nose tackle Barry Cofield to keep the blockers away and Fletcher often gets a free run to the point of attack because of it.
"That front seven is tough," said Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. "I know statistically people look at them, ‘Oh, they're in the back half.' But they got behind a few times and they were playing catch up, and sometimes you get hurt on defense. [But] they're a tough team to run the ball against."