Episode 105 - Week 3 Preview: Packers and Redskins Going in Different Directions

 The last time the Packers traveled to Washington the defense fell on its face in a 42-24 primetime rout.

The last time the Packers traveled to Washington the defense fell on its face in a 42-24 primetime rout.

The Packers and Redskins have recently been the very definition of the sports truism that it’s not so much who you play as when you play them.

In 2010, the Redskins caught the Packers in an early season rough patch and beat them 16-13 in overtime, thanks in part to a late concussion to Aaron Rodgers and one of the only good games in Donovan McNabb’s brief stop in Washington.

Three years later, the Redskins came to Lambeau Field after the Packers opened the season with a disappointing loss to the 49ers. Aaron Rodgers eviscerated them with 480 yards and four touchdowns on 42 passes. He threw just eight incompletions all day.

In the 2015 playoffs, the Redskins were on the receiving end of one of the most well-timed defensive performances of the late Dom Capers era, in which Nick Perry spontaneously became the best version of himself and took All-Pro tackle Trent Williams apart for three sacks, earning himself a big contract in the process.

The next year, the Redskins returned the favor and walloped the Packers 42-24 on national television, but in the process sparked Aaron Rodgers’ “run the table” prophecy and serious trouble for the rest of the league.

Now, the teams are at a bit of a crossroads again. The Packers are undefeated (with a bit of an asterisk) after navigating the two toughest games of the early part of their schedule, while the Redskins already seem like they’re in a downward swoon, following a solid Week 1 effort with an embarrassing loss in their home opener witnessed by what seemed like only a few dozen people.

While Washington has 11 players on injured reserve already and another seven listed as doubtful or questionable for Sunday, the Packers are the healthiest they’ve been to start a season in a long time and will return three promising young players to the lineup this weekend.

If this game was played at virtually any other point during the season, the roles could easily be reversed. It’s not like Washington is even a bad team. They have quality players at key positions on offense and defense and have played well at times on both sides of the ball. But reading the press clippings on both teams, it’s hard to come away with anything other than a distinctly different feel on both sides. We’ll soon see whether that feeling has any basis in reality.

Five Things to Think About During Sunday’s Game

1 - All signs point to Packers rookie linebacker Oren Burks’ debut this week, and not a moment too soon. The Redskins have an incredible weapon in the passing game in running back Chris Thompson. Football Outsiders ranks Thompson as the second-best receiver at his position. Against the Bears and Vikings, the Packers defense allowed running backs to grab 11 passes for 93 yards – Thompson had 92 receiving yards just last week against the Colts, topping his already very good 63 yards against the Cardinals in Week 1.

2 - Washington’s defense has been very good so far. The advanced stats don’t love them quite so much, but the raw numbers have them very high through two weeks. They’re currently second in scoring defense and first in yards, but they’ll have to be at the top of their collective game to slow down Aaron Rodgers, particularly on third downs. Rodgers trails only Sam Darnold (142.0) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (157.1) in passer rating on 3rd down. Rodgers’ passer rating is 125.5. Since 2008, Rodgers’ 108.8 passer rating on 3rd down is six points higher than the second-best mark by Tom Brady.

3 - Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger had two interceptions last week against the Colts. The last time a Packers player had two interceptions in a game was safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in December 2016 at Soldier Field against the Bears. The Packers won 30-27.

4 - Aaron Jones returns to the Packers’ lineup this week, getting his first regular season action since Week 16 of last year. Jones was banged up for a lot of 2017, but injuries didn’t define his season as much as you might expect. Prior to his first knee injury last year, Jones averaged 5.58 yards per carry on 62 carries. After? Only slightly worse than that. He averaged 5.37 yards per carry but only got the ball 19 over six games.

5 - We’ve talked at length about the Packers issues with their edge rush, and those issues are very real. But dating back to early last November, the Packers’ defense has actually recorded more sacks than all but two other NFL teams. The Packers’ 30 sacks are just behind Tennessee with 35 and Pittsburgh with 38.

Who Could Be an X-Factor This Week?

Mike McCarthy has been alternately coy and dismissive about how much Oren Burks plays on Sunday, but his very presence on the active roster makes Burks an X-factor this week. He adds an athletic presence to the middle of the defense not seen since they heyday of Nick Barnett. Sure, McCarthy says he won’t play much on defense, but if he does, he’ll immediately be a difference maker just by virtue of who he is. The Packers could use him, too. Washington is well-prepared to victimize the slower members of the Packers’ linebacking group.

What Happened the Last Time the Packers and the Redskins Played?

The last time the Packers and Redskins game started ugly and ended ugly ugly, but it led to big things. On November 13th (a week prior) the Packers lost on the road to the Tennessee Titans. The next day, Mike McCarthy gives his infamous “I’m a highly successful NFL coach” press conference.

Just a couple days later, we officially started the “does Aaron Rodgers have family problems?” storyline thanks to an article from Bleacher Report.

As for the actual game, it was a very winnable one for the Packers, but they stumbled all over themselves. The Packers come out hot, but Kirk Cousins was hotter. He threw for 375 and three touchdowns, completing 70% of his passes. A couple late miscues really doomed the Packers in a game that ended in a 42-24 loss that somehow wasn’t even as close as it looked.

Who’s Going to Win?

The Redskins are considered home dogs in this game, finding them 2.5 to 3 point underdogs at their home stadium. Despite their success on defense so far, the Redskins feel like a team that could be an early season mirage. They beat up on a relatively hapless Arizona Cardinals team, then were pretty well handled by the Indianapolis Colts last week, hardly juggernauts in their own right.

The Packers certainly haven’t blown the doors off anyone so far, but they seem like a team ready to take control of a matchup. I predict the Packers take care of business in this one, beating Washington 30 to 14.

Survey Updates

Most respondents to our poll feel confident the Packers will be victorious on Sunday. 88% of voters rated their confidence at a 3 or higher out of 4 that the Packers would come out on top.

That confidence comes despite waning support for Mike McCarthy, who has people feeling less positive about his performance. After 24% of voters described their feelings about McCarthy as “very positive” in Week 1, just 7% did the same this week.

In one last look back at the Vikings game, we asked voters which of the many questionable calls other than the Clay Matthews roughing call bothered them the most. 47% identified the Lane Taylor holding call that brought back a Jimmy Graham touchdown as their most egregious offense.

One Last Thought

I’ve mentioned feelings and senses at several points throughout this preview, and that’s something of a departure for me. I try as much as I can to let information and research be my guide.

But try as I might, I can’t shake the feeling that Aaron Rodgers is really due for one of those games. You know the ones. Those games where he comes out cooking from the start, and it doesn’t matter how many points the opposing team puts up. You just know it won’t be enough.

The last time he had a game like that was almost exactly a year ago when the Packers put on their all white color rush uniforms to beat up on the Bears. Sooner or later Rodgers is going to have another such game. Why couldn’t it be this week?

We’ll find out on Sunday.