Saturday, December 10, 2011
Things to watch: Patriots-Redskins
By Mike Reiss ESPNBoston.com
LANDOVER, Md. -- Key areas for the New England Patriots in their road game Sunday against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field (1 p.m. ET):
1. Force Grossman into mistakes. Defenders talked this week about a more aggressive approach that would include press coverage and present opportunities for defensive linemen to have more time to create disruption against quarterback Rex Grossman. On the season, Grossman has thrown 10 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, so he's capable of helping his team ... or the opposition. The Patriots would like to force the issue. The Redskins' minus-13 turnover differential is tied for last in the NFL.
Will the Rex effect be positive or negative for NE?
2. Protection on the edges. The Redskins are tied for third in the NFL in sacks per pass play (33 in 408), and rookie Ryan Kerrigan (6.5) and third-year man Brian Orakpo (6) lead the charge. They play outside linebacker in the Redskins' 3-4 and naturally are also a factor in the sub defense. One week after facing dangerous Colts ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, Patriots offensive tackles Matt Light and Nate Solder have another tough test.
3. Exploiting the Gronkowski matchup. Tight end Rob Gronkowski needs one more touchdown catch, his 14th, to set the single-season NFL record for a tight end. The Colts didn't cover him at times in the red zone this past Sunday, and if the Redskins do the same, it will be easy pickings. One would think Gronkowski will get extra attention, which means quarterback Tom Brady can look elsewhere for favorable matchups. Either way, Gronkowski figures to be a huge factor.
4. Putting the lockdown on Helu. Redskins running back Roy Helu is coming off back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances, and if he hits the mark Sunday, he will be the first rookie to do so in three straight games in Redskins history. The Redskins rank 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game (87.5), but they've produced better results lately. One of the last things the Patriots want is to make life easier for Grossman by letting the running game become a factor.
5. Banks must be closed Sunday. The Patriots didn't have to look hard for footage of kickoff returner Brandon Banks, as Banks' 39 kickoff returns are an NFL high. His 904 kickoff return yards rank second in the NFL. Banks is one of the smallest players in the NFL at 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds. He entered the league as a rookie free agent out of Kansas State in 2010.
6. Get Edelman going in the return game. The Redskins are one of the NFL's best coverage units, both on kickoffs and punts. They rank second in the NFL in kickoff coverage, with opponents averaging 19.9 yards per return (on 21 total returns). They rank sixth in punt coverage, with opponents averaging 7.3 yards (on 27 total returns). This is a good challenge to see whether the Patriots can get receiver Julian Edelman going against one of the NFL's top coverage units.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.