Double Coverage: Redskins at Falcons

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
10:00
AM ET
Garcon/JacksonUSA Today SportsPierre Garcon and Steven Jackson will be looking to take advantage of woeful defenses on Sunday.
If you thought this season was bad for the Atlanta Falcons, take a look at what's happening with the Washington Redskins.

Head coach Mike Shanahan is under fire. Second-year quarterback Robert Griffin III hasn't been himself. And the Redskins won't even get a chance to draft high, with their top pick set to go to the St. Louis Rams.

Despite all the drama in Washington, the Falcons still have a challenge on their hands. The Redskins named Kirk Cousins the starter for Sunday's game. When the teams met last season, Cousins completed 5 of 9 passes for 111 yards -- including a 77-yard touchdown -- after Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon knocked Griffin out with a concussion. Cousins also threw two interceptions in the Falcons' 24-17 win.

"I don't think they bat an eye if they have to go with Cousins," Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said.

Fans might want to cover their eyes if this battle of 3-10 teams is a dud. ESPN.com Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure and Redskins reporter John Keim discuss Sunday's game:

McClure: John, I thought the Redskins had a chance to be a playoff team after what I saw from them at the end of last year. Now, everything seems to be imploding. Can you talk about Mike Shanahan's status and why it has been such a difficult season for him and the team?

Keim: For now, Shanahan is the head coach of the Redskins; how long that lasts is anyone's guess. Safe to say it will not last into next season. Things are just too toxic, and the friction between the head coach, his offensive coordinator -- son Kyle -- and quarterback Robert Griffin III is at the heart of this situation. Shanahan has one year left on his contract, but it makes no sense for owner Dan Snyder to continue this relationship. That was an underlying concern in the spring and summer, but you figured if they won enough it could be overcome. But their defense has been abysmal, their special teams dreadful and their offense inconsistent.

Griffin lost some explosiveness because of his knee surgery, but he is healthy. He's just not very good in the pocket, or, at best, he's inconsistent. The line is not built to protect a pocket passer, especially one who takes a bit longer. That clearly has held them back, but so has an average-at-best receiving corps -- although Pierre Garcon has been excellent. Until recently they've been rather healthy. It has been a typical Redskins disaster. Seasons that begin with high hopes rarely end with any fulfillment.

When you lose in Washington, things get out of control with various stories. We don't hear much from Atlanta. Why is that? How has this team dealt with having a similar situation as Washington?

McClure: I think a lot of that has to do with the head coach. Although some fans have questioned Mike Smith throughout this season, Smith has done a good job keeping things together and trying to remain positive. He received a vote of confidence from both owner Arthur Blank and general manager Thomas Dimitroff based on his track record, which included five consecutive winning seasons before this year. And Smith has the respect of his players, who have firmly supported him throughout. Not to mention the Falcons have a stand-up quarterback in Matt Ryan, who never points fingers, and a veteran spokesman in tight end Tony Gonzalez. I think the Falcons realized a team isn't going to lose its top playmaker (Julio Jones) and have a sudden rash of injuries every season, so they fully believe they can rebound next year.

At the same time, the Falcons know they have to improve up front along the offensive line and be better defensively in terms of limiting explosive plays. Although the Redskins have struggled, surely they see an opportunity to expose the Falcons in those two areas, correct?

Keim: Well, you would think. But the Redskins haven't had a lot of explosive plays and their rush hasn't overwhelmed anyone other than the Oakland Raiders. I will say, the Redskins' offense still gets players open, but for whatever reason -- lack of time, quarterback indecision -- they're not always hit. That's a big reason why their passing game has been inconsistent this season. A lot is on the quarterback, but it's not the lone reason. Defensively, Brian Orakpo is playing well, but they haven't had enough consistent pressure from anyone else lately. Until Sunday against Kansas City, the Redskins had done a good job of stopping the run and making teams one-dimensional. But Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs dominated them up front.

Why has the Atlanta defense struggled so much? Just injuries?

McClure: I think injuries have factored into the equation. Early in the season, the Falcons lost defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann (Achilles) for the year. Then linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, the spiritual leader of the defense and team, missed seven games after suffering a Lisfranc foot sprain. But a lot of the defensive issues have come down to fundamentals and technique. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan counted 28 missed tackles in recent games against New Orleans and Buffalo. Plus, the pass rush has been inconsistent all season, which has led to the explosive plays through the air.

On a positive note, some of the young players such as rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, and linebacker Paul Worrilow have come of age. How has the Redskins' 2013 draft class come along this season?

Keim: Their 2013 class hasn't been all that productive. Second-round corner David Amerson has been a regular all season as their No. 3, but he has been inconsistent. He has been more physical than I anticipated and he has made plays. But I'm not yet sold that he'll become a solid starter, which they definitely need. Third-round tight end Jordan Reed has been terrific -- when healthy. But he missed the past three games because of a concussion. I really like him, but durability was an issue for him entering the draft. The rest of the class hasn't done much. Safety Bacarri Rambo misses too many tackles and looks like a backup. Nobody else has done anything. So it's not as if the Redskins can develop a lot of young players from this group. I don't think this class will be one of their most productive.

The Falcons still have good talent on offense, but the numbers have been mostly dreadful since Julio Jones was hurt. Obviously he's a great player, but are you surprised at the impact his loss has had?

McClure: Not surprised at all, John. You can't take an explosive receiver such as a Jones out of a high-powered offense and expect things to flow the same. It changes the way defenses approach the game, when Jones is on the field. He had catches of 25-plus yards in four of five games before going out with the injury, including an 81-yard touchdown against the St. Louis Rams. Harry Douglas has done an admirable job filling the void, but he would be the first to say he's no Julio Jones. I'd put Jones in the same category as Calvin Johnson, when healthy. And where would the Lions be without Johnson? I expect a totally different Falcons team with Jones back next season, provided he returns to full strength with no setbacks.

 

Vaughn McClure

ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter

John Keim

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter

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