Game Plan: What to Watch For

John Keim breaks down the Skins-Niners matchup

What to worry about: the 49ers have some talent defensively, provided linebacker Julian Peterson is healthy. He missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, but could play Sunday. He's a quality player. So, too, is end Bryant Young, who has six sacks and, in his 12th season, remains a force, or at least capable of making life difficult. Young is neighbors with ex-teammate Ray Brown. During a conference call Wednesday, Brown entered the room and asked Young a question. When Young realized who it was, he called him, ''Big Pretty.'' The Niners' D gave Indy fits. Was that a sign of growth or an aberration? We'll find out Sunday.

Watch out for: Running back Kevan Barlow isn't having a terrific season by any means. But he's the only person on the Niners' offense who can even dent this defense. He's actually averaged better than five yards a carry the past three games, but lacks the yardage totals because they're always having to throw to get back into games. Other than that, this offense lacks any threats.

Rookie: Quarterback Alex Smith could be good one day. That day shouldn't be Sunday. He had an 8.5 rating in his first start, but he has had two weeks to prepare which should help. Still, look for the Redskins to confuse the heck out of him with multiple looks and blitzes. Smith will run on occasion, but he has a tendency to lock his eyes onto a receiver. If the Redskins' defense doesn't force turnovers this week, they never will.

Take advantage of: left tackle Anthony Clement. He is only in his third game as a left tackle, having shifted there after the injury to Jonas Jennings. Clement has had two tough assignments in Arizona's Bertrand Berry and Indy's Dwight Freeney and has allowed four sacks. He was better in his second start, but still allowed decent pressure. The Redskins would be wise to play LaVar Arrington against him on third downs. Regardless, either Arrington or Chris Clemons or Phillip Daniels should be in position to make a big play. What also might happen is that the Niners will gear their protection to help Clement, leaving the other side susceptible to blitzes or a one-on-one situation.

This is the game: For Arrington? We'll see. Williams sounded more pleased with Arrington's effort in the past two weeks and commented on his legs. Those close to Arrington did not like the reference, somehow making it seem as if it were all about his knee. It isn't. But don't be surprised if Arrington gets more time and makes a few plays. Of course, we wouldn't be surprised if this happens and if the coaching staff thinks it did because they had finally ''tamed him.'' And don't be surprised if Arrington would love to stick it to Mike Nolan, who has said perception is not always reality when it comes to Arrington. In other words, he's not that good. Nolan never coached Arrington so perhaps he's sticking up for Williams. I wonder what will happen if Arrington doesn't play. Will the crowd start chanting, 'We Want LaVar!'?

Nolan's return: Nolan was a class guy in Washington and did not deserve to be treated the way he was by owner Dan Snyder. It was quite immature. That said, the guy Nolan should be more ticked at is Norv Turner, who lacked the ability to stand up to an owner like Snyder. Though Turner did save Nolan's job at least twice during that season, no way would much of that happened -- the ice cream incidents -- had Snyder had any faith in Norv -- or any respect for that matter. Frankly (not to sound like Marty), not sure why anyone would have had any faith in Norv. By the way, Nolan still laments the Matt Stevens play in the season opener in 1999.

Achy: Quarterback Mark Brunell has a strained left calf and the field could be wet. So the line must give him time. But Brunell should be able to find numerous openings downfield against a porous defense, one which has allowed every team but one to throw for at least 323 yards. One matchup to exploit is corner Bruce Thornton vs. Santana Moss. Thornton was on the practice squad three weeks ago. Granted, he played well against Peyton Manning, but he's still making just his second start. Look for another big game for Moss.

Prediction: In the Examiner, I picked the Redskins to win 28-14. Now I wonder what I was thinking. There's no way the Niners score 14 points. Washington's defense will finally set up some easy scores so we'll stick with the 28, but drop the Niners to 7.


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