After nearly taking themselves out of playoff contention following a 38-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the Washington Redskins (5-7) are in real danger of their first losing record since 2014. However, they will look to play spoiler against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, who are fresh off three consecutive victories and have new life in the AFC West.
The Skins enter the final quarter of the season with pass protection still a primary concern, due to injuries for the most part. Last week, five of the team’s active blockers appeared on the injury report. Left tackle Trent Williams (knee) has missed four games and was held out of practice this week, while right tackle Morgan Moses (ankles) was limited himself. Both are hoping to suit up against the Chargers. With center Chase Roullier still dealing with a hand injury, expect Tony Bergstrom to make his third start and handle more snaps.
They must find a way to protect Kirk Cousins against fierce pass -rushers Joey Bosa (11.5 sacks) and linebacker Melvin Ingram (8.5), who make up for 20 of the Chargers’ 35 sacks this season. Washington has given up 35 sacks this year, by far the most in Cousins three seasons as a starter. If the Redskins suspect offensive line can’t look halfway decent, expect Cousins and company to have another rough day. He’s thrown three interceptions in the last two weeks while being sacked 10 times. On the season, the sixth-year man out of Michigan State has also fumbled an NFL-high 12 times. The Chargers are one of the worst teams to commit turnovers against. It’s one of the biggest reasons they’ve been able to flip their season around after a dreadful 0-4 start.
They’re an impressive 6-1 this season, when they win the turnover battle, 0-5 when they don’t. They rank third in turnover differential at plus-11, and have 21 takeaways –15 interceptions and six fumble recoveries — against 10 giveaways. Quarterback Philip Rivers has thrown just seven picks this season, and the team has coughed up only three fumbles.
Last week, proved that Cousins can’t win a game by himself. Washington’s receiving corps failed to come through, time and time again, including receiver Jamison Crowder’s two dropped passes in a four-minute span and costly drops by Josh Doctson and Ryan Grant. With Jordan Reed expected to miss his sixth consecutive game, and Chris Thompson on injured reserve, they’ll be under pressure to make up for it.
Sunday should be a big day for rookie running back Samaje Perine, also. The fourth-round draft pick has performed admirably, carrying the rock 125 times for 465 yards (3.7 ypc) and one TD. He’s also caught 13 passes for 125 yards and another score. Washington doesn’t always take advantage when they go against weak rushing defenses, but they better apply that against Los Angeles, which ranks 31st, allowing 4.8 yards per carry. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky better have his defense ready to roll, as well.
Rivers has found new life in Los Angeles. For the season, he has completed 272 of 431 attempts (63.1 percent) for 3,292 yards and 21 touchdowns. After leading the lead in interceptions two of the last three seasons in San Diego, the six-time Pro Bowler has just seven this year. His 96.0 passer rating is the best it’s been since 2013 (105.5).
Luckily, Washington will have cornerback Josh Norman active on Sunday. The Pro Bowler will have to locate Chargers wideout Keenan Allen early and often, but it won’t be easy. The fifth-year receiver out of California may be the top offensive player in the NFL at the moment. He’s on pace to set new Chargers records, and his career-high 77 catches for 1,032 yards are just 14 off his career mark set as a rookie in 2013. But Norman isn’t one to back down from the challenge; his battles with New York Giants star Odell Beckham Jr. are well documented.
You just have to wonder; which Redskins defense will show up. While they rank 11th in pass defense, it has been up and down. Since getting torched by the Minnesota Vikings (304 yards passing) and New Orleans Saints (375), Washington has bounced back to allow less than 150 yards passing in each of the past two games. Safety D.J. Swearinger will need to be all over the field, to help the pass defense, and come up and make plays in support. The Redskins have to contain runner back Melvin Gordon, who is on pace for a 1,000-yard season. Washington can use Swearinger’s energy to spark the rest of the defense and potentially slow down a team that has averaged 34 points in its last three contests.
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