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What To Watch: Three Difference Makers For Packers-Redskins

There's more worth noting about Sunday night's matchups than Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers.

By Jacob Troxell, special to Breaking Burgundy

The Washington Redskins were eliminated from the playoffs by the Green Bay Packers on their home turf upon a cold January night 315 days ago. But on Sunday night, the Redskins can return the favor. With the temperature hovering around 32 degrees once again, if there is revenge, it will be served cold, and bury the Packers’ season at 4-6.

For the second straight week, the Redskins will face a team on a three-game losing streak. The Packers got smacked by the Tennessee Titans 47-25 last Sunday, the most points they have allowed in a regular-season game since the New Orleans Saints put up 51 against them at home in 2008. Aaron Rodgers is on pace to put up Aaron Rodgers-like numbers (22 touchdown passes, seven interceptions), but the injury-prone, merry-go-round backfield the Packers have is just 19th in rushing yards (102.4 per game), and their inconsistent defense has looked like Swiss cheese the past few weeks, allowing 30 points or more in four of their last five games.

After a befuddling tie against the Cincinnati Bengals before their bye week, the Redskins and their fourth-ranked offense (407.8 yards per game) regrouped and put up 26 points against the burly, third-ranked Minnesota Vikings defense, the most points the Vikings have allowed in a game all season. However, it was not all rainbows and butterflies. the Redskins did not improve much on their red zone offense, which is now last in the NFL (38.89 touchdown percentage) and had to settle for four field goals as a result.

So how do these two match up? Here are three matchups, or games within the game, to watch for on Sunday night that will be sure to impact the outcome of the game.

LT Ty Nsekhe vs. Packers pass rush

With Trent Williams missing the second game of a four-game suspension, Nsekhe will need to have another solid week in relief of the All-Pro left tackle. The 31-year-old has played for 10 teams in his professional football career, and many of those teams included Arena Football League squads, but the veteran carried on.

Never giving up hope of success in the NFL, Nsekhe earned his third career start and shut down one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL last week, Everson Griffen, who has six sacks on the season. This week he will see a healthy dose of 15-year veteran Julius Peppers, who is second on the Packers with 3.5 sacks. The Redskins have allowed the second-fewest sacks in the NFL (12).

Packers running backs vs. Redskins front seven

Ever since running back Eddie Lacy was placed on injured reserve after five games, the Packers have not found a solid replacement for him. Backup running back James Starks also went down with an injury, and wide receivers Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb saw some action in the backfield. Running back Don Jackson was even brought up in desperation from the practice squad, but he was placed on IR this week.

The Packers claimed former Seattle Seahawks running back Christine Michael off of waivers Wednesday, so it’s unclear who will get the bulk of the work between him or Starks, who returned last week to play 55 of 78 snaps. Starks is averaging just 2.4 yards per attempt this season. while Michael has gained 4.0 yards per attempt but is adjusting to an entirely new offense.

The Redskins’ rushing defense is 23rd in the NFL, but it held the Vikings to a mere 47 yards rushing last week. Against a young, gelling defense, the Packers will need to establish the run and balance their attack. In their four wins, the Packers averaged 117 yards on the ground, but in losing efforts, they gained just 90.8 rushing yards. Whether it is Starks, Michael or even Montgomery, someone has to get into a rhythm for the Packers.

TE Vernon Davis vs. Packers in the pass and run game

After moving into the starting lineup for a couple of games, Davis has not faded away since Jordan Reed's return from a concussion in Week 8. Not only did Davis log playing time on 54 percent of the Redskins' offensive snaps against Minnesota, he caught three passes for 66 yards and a touchdown, compared to Reed’s two for 41.

While Davis outperforming Reed may not be a trend, the Redskins’ two-tight end formation definitely is. Just look at the success quarterback Kirk Cousins has had when two tight ends are on the field, specifically his 75.5 completion percentage and 10.7 yards per attempt average.

Much like how the New England Patriots have used double-tight end sets in recent years to keep defenses off-balance, the Redskins have done that this season. Davis is a sturdy run blocker as is Reed. With talented, flexible players at the tight end position comes versatility in that offense's play-calling, and hopefully for the Burgundy and Gold, more success in the red zone as well. The Packers are allowing the sixth-most yards per catch to opposing tight ends this season (12.94).

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