Some say it’s the battle of the quarterbacks tonight, I say it’s the battle of relevancy as the San Francisco 49ers face-off against the Washington Redskins for tonight’s Monday Night Football game.
Going into this game both teams are looking to remain relevant in the NFC but only one team can come out with a victory. When it comes to the 49ers they are currently sitting third in the NFC West with a record of 6-4 and while the chances of them winning the division is out, they are still competing for a wild card spot. So they can’t afford any losses, especially being one-game behind the Arizona Cardinals and the regular season coming to an end. As for the Redskins, it’s a whole different matter, while their playoff hopes are just about diminished, that doesn’t mean they have given up. They have nothing to lose at this point and I’m sure they would love to ruin someone else’s season which makes them a threat.
Now there is no doubt that both teams have had their struggles this season but that doesn’t change the fact that both teams are still capable of winning this game but only if they follow certain keys to victory.
49ers Keys to Victory
If the 49ers plan on having any success it all starts with the offense getting back on track and that starts with quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Going into this game, Kaepernick must improve his on-field awareness and take what the defense gives him. If he does, the 49ers will have better success not only moving down the field but also in the red-zone which continue to be a problem for the 49ers this season. Kaepernick also needs the assistance of his receiving core, whether it be Mario Manningham, Vance McDonald, Vernon Davis or Anquan Boldin.
However, for the passing game to succeed, the 49ers will need help in others areas as well. Starting with the play calling by offensive coordinator Greg Roman. He must stop abandoning the run and putting all the pressure on Kaepernick to make plays through the air. The 49ers run game is one of the best in the NFL averaging 141 rushing yards a game. If Roman stops abandoning the run, the offense will probably have better success. Running the ball helps to keep the offense balance, keep the defense on their toes, move the chains and open up passing opportunities. It also helps to put the 49ers in better third down situations something they have had a problem with this season. So the 49ers must run the ball early and often. Lastly the 49ers must consistently execute in the red-zone and take advantage of every scoring opportunity because while the Redskins offense is known for the slow starts they are also known for their comeback wins.
Defensively, it all starts with creating consistent pressure and getting to quarterback Robert Griffin III. The Redskin offensive line hasn’t done the best job of protecting him and Griffin hasn’t done the best job of staying poise under pressure. So I look for the defensive line to control the line of scrimmage and create pressure on Griffin. However, they will also need to control the line of scrimmage to help contain the run game which won’t easy since the Redskins are ranked 1st in the NFL in rushing yards. If the defensive line is able to control the line of scrimmage, it should open up opportunities for the linebackers Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith to make plays in the backfield.
Which leads me to the pass defense who must be prepared for fight. Despite Griffin’s short comings this season at quarterback, he can still beat you. However, if the secondary plays their part, they should be able to pull off a win. First they must bracket and contain wide receiver Pierre Garcon which won’t be easy because of his speed and good hands but it’s a must if they want to win. I think their best bet is to bracket him and force Griffin to beat them with his other weapons. However, if the 49ers choose this option the rest of the secondary must handle their own, specifically they must step up and limit Griffin’s other options and limit the big plays. However, for them to succeed the 49ers must wrap up and finish tackles, both in the backfield and open field.
Redskins Keys to Victory
I talked earlier about Kaepernick’s struggles this season and now it’s time to talk about Griffin’s struggles because the Redskins will need him if they plan to have any form of success in this game. Going into this game, the offensive line needs to give Griffin time in the pocket, the 49ers pass rush is not elite so they should be able to pull it off. When it comes to Griffin I want him to be aggressive but smart, I think he will have some opportunities to take some deep shots down the field but he should only take those shots if they are open because he can’t afford any turnovers. He must also do a better job of making the right reads and spreading the ball around using his various receivers, if he does that they should have some success offensively in this game. I know he hasn’t done it much this season but I would also like to see Griffin use his elite ability to get out of the pocket and make plays happen with his legs at times in this game as well.
Which leads me to the next key which is the run game of the Redskins which has been great this season and it must continue in this game. Despite the fact that I want to see Griffin run more, I still want to see the Redskins attack the 49ers defense with running back Alfred Morris. Running the ball allows the Redskins to control time of possession and keep the 49ers offense off the field but it also keeps them balance and helps them to move the chains. So if the Redskins should learn anything from the 49ers, it’s to not abandon the run game when it clearly is working for them.
Defensively, it gets more complicated for the Redskins but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance to win this game. If anything, their goal should be to bend but not break, the 49ers haven’t been extremely efficient this season in the red-zone which is good news for the Redskins. So if the Redskins are able to force a few three and outs and make them settle for a couple of fields goals instead of touchdowns, the Redskins defense will have done their job. However, I would like to see this defense try to create some turnovers, the 49ers haven’t done the best job of taking care of the ball, so it’s time for Redskins to capitalize on it. If the Redskins are able to create pressure on Kaepernick with Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, that should open up some turnover opportunities in the secondary for DeAngelo Hall who loves to make prime-time plays and receive prime-time attention.
Overall it should be a great game and it could very well go down to the wire considering both teams current records and struggles this season. While some fans feel most of the Monday Night Football games this season have been predictable, this game is anything but predictable. So I guess you will have to just tune in to find out who wins this one or you can be lazy and just check the score on your Sportcenter app, your choice.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com