WASHINGTON — The Redskins face their toughest test of the season thus far this week in Atlanta. The Falcons have stormed out of the gate with a 4-0 record, averaging 34 points per game behind quarterback Matt Ryan and company. With some key players possibly sitting out this week, it’s going to be a tough task for the Burgundy and Gold. Here are a few things to watch for.
Kyle Shanahan and friends
The Redskins will see some familiar faces on Sunday in Atlanta. Former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is now running the Falcons offense and he took a lot of friends with him from D.C. Quarterback coach Matt LeFleur and assistant head coach/defensive backs coach Raheem Morris are now in Atlanta, along with former Redskins wide receiver Leonard Hankerson and guard Chris Chester.
Hankerson has played a significant role early on this season. He’s second on the team in receiving behind Julio Jones with 241 yards and two touchdowns. Chester was released after the Redskins drafted Brandon Scherff this year. He is the starting right guard through four games.
You know that Shanahan will be ready to try to do everything possible to win this game. I’m sure his team will want to do the same.
Falcons’ explosive offense
The numbers don’t look good for the Redskins secondary, especially with Chris Culliver sitting out this week due to injury along with fellow cornerback DeAngelo Hall. Matt Ryan is having a good season, completing 96 of 143 passes (67.1 percent) for 1202 yards with six touchdowns and just two interceptions. His running back is Devonta Freeman, who has 252 yards and seven touchdowns on the year. Oh, then there’s Julio Jones who could have a field day if the Redskins aren’t careful. He has 478 yards receiving and four touchdowns. This team put up 48 points last week against Houston.
The one thing that could help the Redskins is that the Falcons’ offensive line has had some issues running the ball and has allowed six sacks this season. Freeman is averaging only 3.8 yards a carry. If the Redskins can get some push up front, could be a good day for them.
Cousins and the Redskins’ offense
We saw a poised Kirk Cousins lead the Redskins on a 15-play, 90-yard drive last week when the team needed to have a touchdown to win the game. Will he continue to have command of this offense?
He had two interceptions in the opener, none in the second game, two against the Giants and none last week. What happens this week?
The good news is that he has had a start in Atlanta, two years ago when Mike Shanahan benched Robert Griffin III. Cousins passed for 381 yards and three touchdowns, but had three turnovers and the Redskins lost the game late. Cousins admitted that it was good to get that experience inside the dome and he hopes it helps this week.
The Redskins lead the league in rushing after four weeks with 139.5 yards a game on 31.5 attempts. They also lead the league in time of possession, holding the ball for over 36 minutes a game. These two things will be key in keeping the Falcons offense off the field as much as possible. As always, they must establish the run.
Playing away from home
Jay Gruden was reminded this week that his team is 1-8 on the road since the time he took over as head coach last year. They are trying to snap a five-game losing streak on the road and have only one win in their last 15 away from FedEx Field. That has to change.
Response after a win
The last time Jay Gruden’s team took the field after a win, it came out of the gates real slow in a prime time Thursday night matchup with the Giants. The Redskins never recovered and ended up losing. While trying to change the culture, Gruden admits that the team needs to do a better job of putting together 60 minutes of football, especially after a win. He said there will be no letdown after last week’s win and there can’t be, especially for a team that has won only seven games in the last two seasons. The Redskins have also only won back-to-back games once since 2012.
We’ll see how they respond on Sunday.
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