Redskins Gameday: Ten thoughts

1. When the Washington Redskins turned their season around in 2012, there was a different feel in the locker room. You felt more confidence, more belief that the Redskins would play better and probably win more. Yes, it seemed like some guys were a bit crazy for their optimism – Darrel Young, DeAngelo Hall, Robert Griffin III – but it turns out they weren’t. I do not get that same vibe this season. There is definitely more frustration and confusion about the struggles. Nobody is saying, “We’re about to do something special,” as Young did after the bye last season.

2. That’s why Sunday is an absolute must win for Washington. Sure the Redskins could get to 3-6 if they lose here and then win at Minnesota. This is a different team. Last year, there seemed to be more confidence. This year, they need to build some and the only way left for them to do so is win. Please, no more talk about progress or encouraging signs in 15- and 24-point losses. Those days are done. A loss Sunday will lead to a lot more frustration, questions and whispers about why it’s so bad. It’ll lead to more speculation about Mike Shanahan’s future – should he receive a contract extension or not? It’ll lead to more questions about Griffin, his relationship with the coach, his development and more. You’ve been warned.

3. Speaking of Griffin, it’s way too early to say he can’t become this or that as a quarterback. This is the first season he’s had to become more of a pocket passer. Baylor did not prepare him at all for life as an NFL passer; that’s not a knock on the Bears but it’s just reality. Griffin needs a full (and quiet) offseason of work. One without documentaries. Sometimes it’s smart to slide into the background.

4. It’ll be interesting to see how the Redskins fare against San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who is having an outstanding season. One attribute I’ve always liked about Rivers is his ability to lead receivers into the open area for a catch. He had one such throw against the Colts that resulted in a touchdown. For a guy with such a high completion percentage (helped by a lot of short throws), Rivers is unafraid to stick the ball into tight windows. Makes it tough on defensive backs.

5. After Sunday, the Redskins will have faced Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Peyton Manning and Rivers. That’s six of the NFL’s top-12 rated passers – and three of the top four (Drew Brees the lone exception). “He’s as good as all the quarterbacks we’ve played,” Redskins corner Josh Wilson said of Rivers. “He can make some of the best unorthodox throws you see out there. No matter who’s out there he’s been successful.” It’s why the Chargers can keep playing well despite a number of injuries along the offensive line. “It’s cool to play against the best in the league,” Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said.

6. Speaking of the line, San Diego uses a lot of man blocking, unlike most teams Washington plays who feature zone blocking. Facing zone blocking teams are a pain-in-the-butt for a front seven that often is left guessing who will be blocking them and from what angle. The Chargers have size at tackle – King Dunlap on the left side is 6-foot-9, 330 pounds while Jeromey Clarey is 6-6, 320 pounds. An interesting matchup against Brian Orakpo and Kerrigan. Rivers has been sacked only 11 times.

7. It’s sort of amazing what San Diego’s defense has done lately, going 11 quarters without allowing a touchdown. Yeah, Jacksonville accounts for four of those quarters, but so does Indianapolis. Opponents only convert 36.3 percent of third downs against this defense – and that’s an area where the Redskins’ offense struggles.

8. But here’s your optimistic stat: In the first three games of the year, against good running backs (Houston, Philadelphia, Tennessee), San Diego was 28th against the run and 29th in yards per carry. The Redskins have a good back in Alfred Morris and rank first in yards per carry. I don’t think San Diego can get away with playing mostly seven-man boxes like Denver did last week. The Redskins ran well, but Denver rarely used eight-man fronts. The Redskins need to hurt the Chargers on the ground.

9. San Diego’s defensive front does not have a great pass-rusher, but it has a number of good players. The Chargers also use a lot of looks to try and create a pass rush. Against the Colts I saw four-man fronts (they’re a 3-4 team); there were slot blitzes; they slanted the line against run looks, forcing cutbacks into defenders. Nobody on the defense has more than three sacks, but they do have 12 players who have recorded at least half a sack. The secondary lacks playmakers.

10. Finally, the Chargers have one of the best tight ends in Antonio Gates, who, like the Redskins’ Jordan Reed, uses his basketball footwork to get open. He’s a big target (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) who leads the team with 42 receptions. You don’t cover him with just one guy. So it’ll be up to a variety of players – at times linebackers London Fletcher or Perry Riley among others. You do not use a corner against him. “He’s a very savvy guy,” Fletcher said. “He uses change of directions, change of speeds very well. He has very good deceptive speed. He knows how to position to run his routes.”