Three Keys to the Game
Get The Running Game Going: It's critical that the Patriots establish some semblance of a running game so that the play action will have a chance of working. If the Patriots continue to just throw the ball, the matchup favors the Redskins who have solid players in their secondary and should be able to cover better than the other teams the Patriots have faced this year. The Patriots managed just 84 and 75 yards in their last two games against Miami and Dallas respectively. The performance made New England one-dimensional, but it didn't matter because of what Tom Brady was able to do through the air. With Washington's defense, that may change.
Stop The Redskins Runners: If New England is going to go far in the postseason, then they'll need to find a way to stop opponents' rushing attacks. If the game is close, the Redskins will continue to stay competitive by running the ball. New England has had difficulty keeping runners in check. Miami gained 6 yards per carry, and Dallas managed over 6 yards per carry. While much of that yardage came after the Patriots established big leads and were playing nickel coverage, it is still a concern. If New England can make the Redskins one-dimensional, they they'll be able to tee off on Jason Campbell, and that is in their advantage..
Special Teams: The Patriots have the top special teams return unit on kickoffs (1st overall), but their punt returns have been less impressive managing only a little over 10 yards per return (13th overall). If the Patriots can force the Redskins into punts then they will have plenty of opportunities to get a good return.
Score Early: Nearly all of the Patriots games have started with New England jumping out to an early lead. The Patriots have outscored their opponents 72 to 7 in the first quarter and 155 to 45 in the first half. They've scored on their first possession every game this season. If the Redskins want to have any hope of being able to use their best matchup against New England - their rushing attack - then they'll need to avoid getting behind early. Otherwise, the Patriots will be able to harass the Redskins receivers and frustrate Jason Campbell all day.
Stop The Big Play: It sounds simple, but no team has been able to do it so far this season. The Patriots have managed to get big plays from their receivers with much of the yardage coming after the catch. Aside from a pair of acrobatic catches on bombs thrown by Tom Brady to Randy Moss last week, the Patriots receivers have turned short catches into long gains. With Sean Taylor and LaRon Landon manning the backfield for the Redskins, those big gains after the catch could be curtailed. They're going to have to win the battle somewhere, and this may be the biggest key for Washington.
Get Pressure Up The Middle: Another simple idea, but one that no team has been able to accomplish aside from Dallas, is to pressure Brady up the middle. Pressure from the edge typically works on most teams, but because Brady can get rid of the ball so quickly, unless the pressure makes Brady move out of the pocket, typically it's too late to do anything to slow him down. Given enough time, Brady is able to pick apart any defense. The Redskins have the personnel to get to Brady without blitzing, but if that push up the middle doesn't get to him, then it won't matter how well the receivers are covered, Brady will find the open man. He's especially good at using his check downs to avoid taking a sack, so Kevin Faulk, Kyle Brady and the other backs and tight ends will need to be a factor for New England.
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