In a game that will have a huge impact on the outcome of the 2014 NFL draft, this match up of 3-10 teams is anything but a throw away game. The winner will be put in worst draft position, and the loser will be put in much better draft position, and will likely claim the number two pick in the draft (unless the Texans find some way to win two games).
The loser claims it's fourth win, which five other NFL teams have right now heading into today's games. The loser's fate in the draft becomes messy. They'll likely claim a top 10 pick, but top 10 is far different than being number two.
So the Falcons and Redskins have a lot riding on this game today. Fans never want to see their teams give up, or tank, but a loss today could greatly improve either team's outlook for the future by securing a very high draft pick.
Here are three keys to today's game.
Both teams have had horrendous seasons thus far, and have been shells of their playoff selves from last season. One of the big factors on both sides has been the inability to stop the run or the pass. The Redskins rank 27th in pass defense and 19th in run defense. The Falcons rank 20th defending the pass and 30th defending the run.
On the running side of the ball, this definitely plays in the Redskins' favor. Washington ranks second in the NFL in rushing yards per game, with second year running back Alfred Morris eclipsing the 1000 yard mark for a second consecutive season. Although he has been limited over the last three games, not even breaking 60 yards, he' still a major threat.
The Falcons did better against the run last week, holding Packers' RB Eddie Lacy to 65 yards. They will need to put forth a similar effort if they are to slow down Morris today. Another plus for the Falcons is the fact that QB Robert Griffin III is inactive for today's game, meaning that there will be no rushing threat from the quarterback position with Kirk Cousins under center.
LBs Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are the Redskin's two sack leaders at 8.0 and 6.5 respectively. Matt Ryan has taken a pounding this year, but if he can be given a little more time like he got against Green Bay (it wasn't great protection, but better than most of the season), Ryan could potentially tear up Washington's porous secondary that has been highly questionable all season. The Falcons rank sixth in passing yards per game.
The Redskins are coming off arguably their worst defeat of the season against the Chiefs last week in which they were blasted 45-10. With the season out of reach and with RG III not 100% healthy, coach Mike Shanahan decided to pull the plug on RG III the rest of the season to ensure that he could rest and get healthy with an extended offseason.
Enter Kirk Cousins, the intriguing backup quarterback who had a good showing against the Falcons last year, and powered the Redskins to an overtime victory against Baltimore last season as well.
This will be Cousins' first start this year (he's played late in two blowout losses), so it'll be interesting to see how well he plays in his first start. He's had a bad year during his limited action, but he has proved himself in the past. Cousins is the wild card today. Just how successful he is will have a big impact on the game's outcome, and it's difficult to know how well he will do given his output this year. Washington will try to establish the run early with Morris, and if that's effective, then it'll open up the field for Cousins.
But will he turn in performances like he did last year, or will he continue to throw interceptions and have a low completion percentage (48%) like he has this year? The Redskins will have a new offense without RG III. The Falcons must contain the run to force Cousins to throw more than he'd like to, and hopefully lead to some incompletions and turnovers.
LEAN MORE ON STEVEN JACKSON
Over the last three games, Steven Jackson has rushed for an average of 72.3 yards per game and has three touchdowns. He is starting to look like the feature back we expected to see at the beginning of the year. However, outside of the Buffalo game in which Jackson received 23 touches, Jackson only received four rushes in the second half of last week's game against Green Bay, and seven rushes in the second half against New Orleans.
Dirk Koetter seems to go more pass heavy in the second half, even when the Falcons are in a close game and don't need to throw the ball on every down.
Today, the Falcons need to establish the run and keep pounding it. Jackson has been more effective, it's time to give him another 20 rush game if he's on. The offense put on their best display both passing and running the football in the 34-31 victory against Buffalo a couple of weeks ago. It's time to have that balanced attack, with a heavy helping of Jackson, if the Falcons want to win today.
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