by Dan Roth, Special to Breaking Burgundy
The Redskins have to wait until the final game of regular season play wraps up Monday night before they know which of three possible opponents—the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings or Seattle Seahawks—they’ll face in the NFC Wild Card round.
Washington can hold onto one certainty, though. No matter what team they meet in the playoffs, the Redskins defense will square off with a substantial running back.
The Packers rushing attack, headed by the 5-foot-11, 234-pound Eddie Lacy and rounded out by the 6-foot-2, 218-pound James Starks, brings plenty of bulk from the backfield. For the Vikings, Adrian Peterson, the NFL's leading rusher, offers a blend of both elite power and speed in a 6-foot-1, 220-pound package. Meanwhile, Marshawn Lynch, who is reportedly poised for a playoff return, provides the Seahawks with 215 pounds of “Beast Mode.”
“Marshawn is like a bowling ball,” Redskins defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois said. “You got Peterson, if he gets past the first level, that man is hitting the end zone. You got Lacy that’s like a big, bowling ball, Alabama running back, but he’s still shifty. He can catch you out of the backfield.”
Although much of the focus has been placed on the potential quarterbacks the Redskins could face, most notably the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, it’s important that the Redskins don’t become too preoccupied with opposing signal callers.
“You’re talking about, eventually, NFL Hall-Of-Fame quarterbacks,” Jean-Francois said. “You’ve got to pay attention to them first. But, at the same time, you have to pay attention to the other ten guys that are on the field, and each one of these teams has a running back that can power that ball.”
The message gains importance in light of how the defense has stacked up against similar, sizeable tailbacks this season. In Washington’s Week-9, 27-10, loss to the New England Patriots, Tom Brady handed the ball off to LeGarrette Blount 29 times. The 6-foot, 250-pounder used those touches to bulldoze the Redskins defense to the tune of 129 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Blount wasn’t the only big back to run wild against the Redskins. In the Redskins 34-20 loss to the New York Jets, Chris Ivory amassed 146 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. In the Carolina Panthers’ Week 11, 44-16, rout of the Redskins, Jonathan Stewart had 21 carries for 102 yards. Nonetheless, Jean-Francois doesn’t see size as the determinant of a running back’s success.
“Size don’t mean nothing,” Jean-Francois said. “A big enough heart…that’s all that counts.”
Several diminutive runners had success against the Redskins defense this season. The pint-sized backs that caused the most trouble, however, were the ones that packed a punch. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers racked up 136 rushing yards on 19 carries from the 5-foot-9, 223-pound Doug Martin in Washington’s Week 7, 31-30, comeback win.
During the Redskins’ Week 10, 47-14, blowout win over the New Orleans Saints, the defense faced just five rushing attempts from Mark Ingram, who is not known for his speed. Still, the 5-foot-9, 215-pound back managed to break one for 70 yards.
Not all trends point downwards against the run for the Redskins, however. Washington has seen a marked improvement in the seven games since Will Compton became an every-game starter, conceding just one 100-yard rushing performance to the Panthers’ Stewart.
At 124.4 yards per game, the Redskins run defense allows the sixth most rushing yards per game league wide. In Compton’s nine total starts this season, however, that figure drops from 124.4 to 108.1. Though the big backs of Washington’s potential playoff opponents loom large on the horizon, the main concern of the team is Sunday’s test against the Dallas Cowboys and formidable running back Darren McFadden.
“Right now, we know what type of guy we’re dealing with out of McFadden. We’ve got a guy who can hit the edge…that can run inside if you need, can run screens, can catch the ball out of the backfield,” Jean-Francois said. “You give him the ball and he makes two defenders miss, man, he’s going to hit the end zone. He’s fast enough to do it.”
Dan Roth is a freelance sportswriter and Breaking Burgundy contributor. Follow Dan on Twitter @danrothdc.
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