by Dan Roth, special to Breaking Burgundy
The Packers stifled opposing tight ends to close out the regular season. If Green Bay can keep it up during Sunday’s Wild Card game, it could spell major trouble for the Redskins.
That's because Washington relies heavily on Jordan Reed. With Reed accounting for such a large portion of the Redskins' success through the air, it would seem that the Packers are in prime position to slow Washington's offense. At least that's a narrative floating around this week.
Don't believe it. Redskins head coach Jay Gruden certainly isn't concerned.
“In fairness to Jordan, they haven’t seen a tight end like Jordan in the last couple weeks,” Gruden said. “He’s different. He’s a different animal.”
Here's another reason to believe in Reed Sunday. When facing the league’s better tight ends earlier this season, Green Bay’s defense was far from impenetrable.
There were not many tight ends if any this season better than Reed, who led the Redskins in receiving yards (952) and touchdowns (11). Pierre Garcon, Reed’s closest competitor in each category, had 777 yards and six touchdowns.
As for Reed's closest rival among the tight ends Green Bay faced recently, let's just say the gap is rather wide. Gruden’s assertion holds up to statistical scrutiny.
Jason Witten’s 40 receiving yards in Week 14 were the most of any tight end against the Green Bay’s defense over its final six games. The 33-year-old Witten was arguably the best tight end that the Packers faced over that span. No offense to Witten, but his best days are behind him.
Stats from earlier in the season show several tight ends having success against the Packers.
Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green of the San Diego Chargers combined for 130 yards and a touchdown in Week 6. After Green Bay’s bye in Week 7, the Denver Broncos’ Owen Daniels and Virgil Green combined for 105 yards.
Greg Olson reeled in four catches for 66 yards and a touchdown in the Packers’ loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 8. In Week 10, Kyle Rudolph tore through Green Bay’s secondary for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Reed, whose athletic prowess and relative health helped establish him as one of the league’s premier tight ends this season, represents one of the most challenging tight end matchups for the Packers to date. Despite missing two games, Reed finished the regular season with 11 receiving touchdowns, tied with Rob Gronkowski for the second-most in the league. His 952 receiving yards were the fourth-most at the position.
Contributing to the 25-year-old’s success is that he’s proven nearly unstoppable in one-on-one scenarios. If the Packers plan to slow him down, they’ll have to utilize multiple players to do so. Gruden believes the Redskins have an answer, or rather several answers, if the Packers go that route.
“We’ll try to get him the ball,” Gruden said. “If they choose to double him or take him away, that’s where DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon, our halfbacks come into play, and Jamison Crowder. We feel good about dispersing the field with the weapons that we have. If they choose to take one guy away, we like our matchups across the board.”
The matchups between Washington’s receivers and Green Bay’s secondary will be irrelevant, however, if the Redskins don’t win the battle up front. No matter how open the receivers, Kirk Cousins will need adequate time in the pocket to find them.
“It’s a matter of protecting,” Gruden said. “They have some pass rushers that can be a problem. So, if we can solidify the pass protection, I think Kirk will have time to find matchups and hopefully be effective.”
Dan Roth is a freelance sportswriter and Breaking Burgundy contributor. Follow Dan on Twitter @danrothdc.
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