1. Will last Sunday's win provide a bounce for this week? We think so. It wasn't just that they beat Carolina, it's that they were as physical as they've been all season on both sides of the ball. That's who they are. When Joe Gibbs delivered his little sermon a few days before the Carolina game, some players think it was directed more at the coaches, especially offensively, than the players. Why? Because much of it dealt with philosophy and that's something players can't change. So a change in playcalling coupled with a physical outing -- and Jason Campbell showing he can direct a win even when his numbers stink -- add up to more confidence.
2. Can the Redskins' handle success? Well, they haven't so far this season and that's the concern. Really, we won't know until Sunday. But, truthfully, it's not a matter of handling success it's a matter of how good they are. And for most of the season they haven't been good enough. The ESPN.com article might have galvanized them somehow. Trust us, some players still have complaints about coaches, etc. That's normal. But they're not out seeking to find the source of the article. The players have their guesses like everyone else and my guess is they've come to similar conclusions. But because they won, they've decided to put it behind them. They don't want to waste energy dealing with this matter. And Joe Gibbs didn't seem too bothered by it during the week. After his Wednesday press conference, he talked with a couple reporters about commercials -- which ones he likes and doesn't like. Now that's a relaxed man.
3. Is this Nick Novak's last game? If he messes up again it should be. How can the Redskins put up with a kicker this inconsistent? Some have wondered if he's the next David Akers. There's no proof that he will become that. However, he does kick well in workouts and in practice -- but I also hit the golf ball better on the driving range. Novak's kickoffs have been weak, too. This is a good test for him. Basically, kick well or you're gone. That's kicking under pressure, no matter what the score is. Novak has shown he can be a clutch kicker; he needs to be Sunday. Otherwise, Shaun Suisham, or someone, could take his place.
4. Will the Redskins continue with the same running game? Last week, they scrapped many of the toss sweeps and went with inside zones. That's what this line -- heck, most lines -- loves. It allows for better positioning and angles; in man blocking, if a guy has an advantage he beats you. In a zone, if he has the edge, someone else can clean up. It makes sense for Washington to continue with this philosophy. Also, with Jon Jansen banged up, there's only so much pulling the line can do. Atlanta has a sturdy tackle in Grady Jackson and end John Abraham can be disruptive. But their linebackers are beatable.
5. The weekly: Is now the time for the wideouts? We thought it might be last week; we were wrong. But we're dumb enough to think this'll be the week. At least for Santana Moss. He can get deep on this bunch, which has allowed a number of big plays. The way to beat Atlanta is by establishing the run and burning it deep. We'd also like to see Antwaan Randle El on some underneath throws. That's his strength. We'd like to see Brandon Lloyd have a pulse. He's simply not physical enough to be more than one-dimensional. And he's only an occasional help in the run game. Quarterback Jason Campbell needs to start finding these guys for the offense to evolve under him. At some point it will happen, but the first step to having it happen is a healthy Moss.
6. How can they contain Michael Vick? If they don't stop the run they'll have no chance. Vick will kill them on play-actions if they don't. Vick's arms can beat them with no problem. If he has a big passing day, Atlanta wins. If he has a big running game, Washington still has a chance. Here's the way to get to Vick: get him before he sets up. In an exhibition game a couple years ago, the Redskins blitzed him heavily up the middle and he could never set up. If he can wander from the pocket, he's ultra-dangerous. And defenders must approach under control to be ready for his moves -- like a defender guarding Michael Jordan. They'll probably use spies on him at times, but one guy can't stop Vick. The ends must contain the edge and pinch Vick. Keep him in the pocket. Or else.
7. What about Atlanta's receivers? What about them? They drop lots of passes. But here's the other thing: they get open enough to drop those balls. One of these days they'll hang on. In most cases, these receivers were considered to have reliable hands before they got here. They can catch. And if the corners and safeties allow them to get deep, they're asking for trouble. Vernon Fox has a good idea of what he needs to do in coverage so that helps. The front seven must control the run to allow Sean Taylor to play in coverage. Receivers who already drop passes don't want Taylor coming at them to take their heads off.
8. Which tight end will do better? It's a nice matchup with Chris Cooley and Alge Crumpler. But Crumpler is better and is an established Pro Bowler. However, it's not by a lot and there are few playmakers at this spot better than Cooley. He almost always makes guys miss, whether from power (DBs) or quickness (LBs). Both will be heavily involved. Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington will have his hands full with Crumpler, but clearly he won't be alone in trying to stop him.
9. What matchup are you worried about? Anyone who has to block John Abraham. Injuries have sidelined him most of the year so he doesn't have big numbers. He barely has little ones. But he's as dangerous as any pass-rusher when healthy. The good news for Washington is that he's the Falcons lone effective pass rusher with Patrick Kerney out. Jon Jansen will be responsbile for blocking Abraham often. If the Falcons are smart, they'd use him on that side because of Jansen's calf injury. But the Redskins have been better at using tight ends to help block and the backs to chip. They'll continue to do that. The guy who must be controlled inside is Jackson. Move him and holes will open.
10. Will the Redskins win? The Falcons are in disarray having lost four straight. They have issues because of the receivers dropped passes, leading to a frustrated quarterback in Vick. But a win puts them back in the thick of a playoff race. The big question is this: Did Washington turn a corner last week with its win. That was a Gibbs-like effort, gutting it out and playing physical. That's how they need to play. We think the message has gotten through. We think they'll win. Redskins 20, Falcons 17.