Game breakdown: 49ers/Redskins

Taking a look deep inside Sunday's game between the 49ers and Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, with snapshot game details, series history, game plans, matchups to watch, NFL rankings for both teams, personnel updates and a look inside both camps before the intra-conference game during which the Niners will attempt to start 4-0 on the road for the first time since 1992.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
SITE: FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland
SURFACE: Natural grass
RECORDS: 49ers 6-1, 1-0 in NFC West, 4-1 in NFC, 1-1 vs. NFC East; Redskins, 3-4, 1-2 in NFC East, 3-3 in NFC, 2-0 vs. NFC West
LAST WEEK: 49ers defeated Cleveland Browns 20-10; Redskins lost to Buffalo Bills 23-0
NFL RANKINGS: 49ers: No. 23 in total offense, No. 10 in total defense. Redskins: No. 19 in total offense, No. 14 in total defense.
TV: FOX (Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa)

SERIES HISTORY: 25th regular-season meeting. 49ers lead series, 14-9-1. San Francisco also won three of the four playoff meetings. The 49ers won seven straight from 1988 to 1998 including two playoff wins. It's surprising these teams didn't meet more often in the playoffs in the go-go 1980s and '90s when the franchises were winning Super Bowls. Possibly the most historic game was in 1983, when the Redskins topped the 49ers 24-21 in the NFC title game that included a questionable pass interference call on Ronnie Lott. Lott is still upset about it. The most memorable recent matchup for the Redskins came in Week 16 in 1999 when Washington won 26-20 in overtime in San Francisco on a touchdown pass from Brad Johnson to fullback Larry Centers to clinch their first playoff spot in seven seasons and what has proved to be their only NFC East title since their 1991 Super Bowl championship.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The 49ers' top-ranked run defense can overwhelm the ground game of the Redskins, which is limping following Tim Hightower's torn ACL. QB John Beck lacks the protection and downfield threats to consistently work out of third-and-long. San Francisco's ground-and-pound approach with RBs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter is setting QB Alex Smith up for high percentage passes. Washington needs to flip the script, get Smith in dangerous down-and-distances and allow OLBs Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan to make impact plays.

FAST FACTS: The 49ers are the first team since the 1920 Buffalo All-Americans to rush for a touchdown while not allowing one in each of their first seven games. ... Beck is 0-6 in his career as a starter.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Players who started Game 4 for Washington's offense who will be in the same spots for Game 7 on Sunday: WR Jabar Gaffney, TE Fred Davis, RG Chris Chester, RT Jammal Brown.

"Didn't (Former 49ers WR) Jerry Rice play Z? Greatest receiver of all time." -- 49ers QB Alex Smith, when asked if Michael Crabtree's move from split end to flanker means he'll be featured more.
"It's still a situation where we can turn it around, but we have to do it, but not talk about it." -- Redskins TE Fred Davis on Washington's three-game slide.

49ERS GAME PLAN: Jim Harbaugh said this is going to be old-fashioned football with 50- degree weather and the game played on grass. The Redskins are only ranked 21st against the run, but they are geared to stop it with their big, linemen, who like to two-gap.

REDSKINS GAME PLAN: Coming off being shut out for the first time in 25 games while allowing a franchise-record 10 sacks, Washington's offense is a mess. The running game managed just 26 yards on 12 carries in that 23-0 loss to Buffalo. LT Trent Williams, who missed the past two games with a sprained ankle, could return against the 49ers, who have the top-ranked run defense led by ILBs Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. OLBs Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks and DE Justin Smith, who have combined for 15 sacks, will be licking their chops to add to their totals against the struggling Redskins. Washington needs WR Anthony Armstrong (zero catches against the Bills) to step up for QB John Beck. Washington's defense, which allowed an average of just 253.5 yards and a total of six touchdowns during the team's 3-1 start, has surrendered an average of 463.3 yards and a total of seven touchdowns during the current 0-3 downturn. San Francisco is second-to-last in the league in passing yards, but QB Alex Smith has the lowest interception percentage. The 49ers are vulnerable to sacks, which is good for a Redskins pass rush that has 23, led by DE Adam Carriker and OLB Brian Orakpo (4.5 each, one more than DE Stephen Bowen's 3.5. The Redskins need to try to slow 49ers ace RB Frank Gore and somehow force turnovers. They've only got 10 takeaways. The 49ers have only lost six.

--- 49ers WR Michael Crabtree, who was recently switched to flanker vs. Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall, who likes to gamble.
--- 49ers offensive line, which allowed one sack last week vs. Redskins pass rushers Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker, who have nine sacks between them.
--- Redskins WRs Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Armstrong et al vs. 49ers CB Carlos Rogers: With longtime leading pass-catcher Santana Moss sidelined, Rogers, a Redskins starter the past six years, will go against WRs with whom he's less familiar in his return to Washington. The emotional corner, who's having a fine first year in San Francisco, expects the Redskins' coaches to challenge him with double-move routes that he was beaten on while playing in Washington.
--- Redskins ILBs London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh vs. 49ers RB Frank Gore: Gore, who's fifth in the NFL with 675 rushing yards while averaging 4.8 per carry with five touchdowns, goes against a Washington defense that allowed 505 yards to Philadelphia, Carolina and Buffalo on 108 carries the past three weeks. Fletcher (82) and McIntosh (67) have been credited by the Redskins' coaches with 149 of the defense's 504 tackles.

Inside the camps


If someone said the 49ers would start 6-1, the follow up could be: Linebacker Patrick Willis and tight end Vernon Davis must be having big years.

Surprisingly, Willis' and Davis' contributions have been in the non-quantifiable areas of coverage and blocking. After starting the year with 22 receptions in the first five games, Davis has caught only five passes in the last two. Willis, who has led the NFL tackles in twice, is now ranked 25th in tackles.

"At the end of the day, I've done all that," Willis said. "Whether it's leading the league or it's leading the team in tackles. To me, the most important thing is winning, and that's something I haven't been able to do."

Willis also said he has been asked to cover tight ends more often in man coverage this year in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's scheme. It means that Willis often vacates the box where most of the tackles occur in order to stay with the tight end.

"I'm taking pride in it," Willis said. "It's something that a lot of people said I couldn't do. Me, I like proving those guys wrong... I just want to be a complete linebacker when it's all said and done."

Davis can barely contain his frustration about his lack of opportunities. But he admits to having little quarrel with his team's sparkling record.

"It means a lot to me to be 6-1 because I've never been in this position before," Davis said. "And like I said, if I can go and not get passes and then get into the Super Bowl and be Super Bowl MVP, that means a lot more to me."

When asked if he went to the Super Bowl, but wasn't the MVP?

"I can live with that too," he said.


Swift receiver Anthony Armstrong debuted in 2010 by finishing third in the NFL with 19.8 yards per catch while eventually supplanting veteran Joey Galloway as the starter opposite longtime No. 1 receiver Santana Moss.

Armstrong's second season hasn't gone nearly as well. He injured a hamstring in Week 3 at Dallas and missed the next two games before catching one pass for nine yards at Carolina and being blanked last week against Buffalo. He has just five catches for 47 yards for the year to rank eighth on the Redskins, a year after being behind only former Pro Bowl picks Moss and Chris Cooley.

"It's tough to make long drives down the field five yards at a time, you gotta get some big plays in there," said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, whose attack had six completions over 40 yards at this time last year but has just one this season.

"It's always frustrating when you can't get a ball in your hands," said Armstrong, who filled in for the injured Moss as the starter opposite veteran Jabar Gaffney. "Sometimes that's the way the tables turn. It's kinda been frustrating all year. I haven't been able to make too much of an impact. Eventually it will come. You just keep working, running routes and getting open and the balls will be on the way."

Armstrong said it took him a while to get going in 2010, too, but only briefly. He had just three catches for 47 yards while playing in two of the first three games but he had catches of 57 and 84 yards the next two weeks and his Game 6 production – five catches for 46 yards – virtually matched his totals so far in 2011.

"Any time you have a pulled hamstring, all of a sudden your (elite) speed's not there and you've got to get back in football shape and (opposing defenses are) much more aware of his speed (using) a little more bump coverage," coach Mike Shanahan said. "But he's feeling better so he's got an opportunity more so than the last few weeks."

Personnel news


--- DE Ray McDonald missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, but he's still hopeful he can play in Washington. McDonald has 34 quarterback pressures and three sacks. He was listed as doubtful on Friday's injury report, but said he still expects to play on Sunday.

--- CB Tramaine Brock (broken hand) is back practicing and is in a battle with veteran Shawntae Spencer for the fourth cornerback spot.

--- WR Michael Crabtree has been moved from split end to flanker so he's featured more often. Now he'll be on the same side as TE Vernon Davis which could cause problems for safeties.

--- LB Aldon Smith is winning recognition for his 6.5 sacks so far this year, but defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said he still needs to work on dropping into coverage.

--- FB Bruce Miller, who injured his thumb against the Browns, was not on the injury report this week.


--- TE Fred Davis, who sprained his left ankle in last Sunday's loss to Buffalo, was limited on Thursday after not practicing on Wednesday. Logan Paulsen (shoulder) should make his first career start Sunday at San Francisco if Davis is unavailable.

--- OT Trent Williams, who missed the past two games with a high ankle sprain, was limited the past two days. Sean Locklear has been starting in Williams' place.

--- FS Oshiomogho Atogwe (knee) didn't practice again on Thursday after returning last week against Buffalo following landing on the inactive list the week before at Carolina.

--- CB Phillip Buchanon (neck, knee) was limited again on Thursday and is questionable for Sunday after being inactive against Buffalo.

--- ILB London Fletcher, who played against the Bills on a tender hamstring that limited him in practice last week, was limited again on Thursday but is expected to extend his consecutive starts string to 171 on Sunday.

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