Nickel Package

The Redskins take on the Ravens Saturday night. Here are five things to watch as you enjoy the game.

1. The running game. Washington has run the ball poorly in the first two games, but faces a tough test against last year's No. 2 run defense. Last weekend, the Steelers used eight- and nine-man fronts, stunted and slanted. The Redskins couldn't handle the extra speed up front. Still, at some point they must produce better on the ground. The Redskins do have a physical group up front and, don't forget, they started slow in this area last year, too. Injuries haven't helped; neither has suspect play at certain spots.

2. The QB battle. In our mind, if Todd Collins has another solid outing, then he should start the season as the No. 2 behind Jason Campbell. Problem is, I'm guessing Joe Gibbs still has more trust in Mark Brunell during a tight game than he does in Collins, who hasn't been in such a situation in 10 years. Neither is a particularly appetizing backup. Collins gets the start tonight with Mark Brunell entering as the No. 2. Gibbs wanted Brunell to play earlier against Jacksonville because it's his old home. Brunell needs to show more than the ability to dump the ball off to seriously compete for the No. 2.

3. Linebackers. Khary Campbell gets the first shot on the strongside with Marcus Washington sidelined. Campbell has never played this position in a regular-season game, so it's hard to imagine he would end up playing too long at this spot if the Redskins think Washington will miss any real time. Hence the Randall Godfrey signing. Godfrey offers a truly physical presence.

4. Offensive line matchups.  Much has been made of the problems on the left side of the line. That won't end tonight. In the scrimmage vs. Baltimore, Stephon Heyer too often played upright, allowing room to get inside. Mike Pucillo will face Haloti Nagota, an oversized run-stuffer. Jon Jansen gets Trevor Pryce and must handle him one-on-one more often than not. That's a tough task.

5. Backups. Certain guys have flashed in recent weeks, such as DE Chris Wilson. He had a good second-half against the Steelers, but we want to see more against the starters. That is, if he wants a roster spot. Rushing from the left side against Pittsburgh's first unit last week, he didn't do anything. However, he's shown enough to warrant strong practice squad consideration. Also, it'll be curious to see what happens with other line backups. The five guaranteed spots are: Jansen, Chris Samuels, Casey Rabach, Randy Thomas and Pete Kendall. The backups are: Jason Fabini, Todd Wade and Pucillo. That means one last spot could come down between Taylor Whitley and Ross Tucker. Whitley's ability to play guard and tackle could spell the difference. Tucker does what Pucillo does.


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