Can the Pack Become Road Warriors...For One Week at Least?Posted:Jan 7th, 2016 4:29 pm
It's really impossible to forecast what to expect from the Packers when they visit FedEx Field on Sunday afternoon. After limping to the finish line with two dispiriting losses, the team seems to be ready for the inevitable end to their disappointing season.
17 players are featured on the injury report this week, and it appears Sam Shields and David Bakhtiari will miss yet another game. The Skins come in far healthier and riding a wave of momentum on the arm of their surprising young QB, Kirk Cousins. They are the team with more playmakers. They are the team that got hot at the right time. And they are at home.
Yet the game is a pick 'em, mainly because of the Packers' pedigree, their QB and the fact that the only times the Skins played playoff teams this season (twice), they were blown off the field.
Washington has been riding the hot arm of Cousins, who has tossed 11 TD passes in his last three games and finished the season with a passer rating over 100. He has plenty of weapons at his disposal: downfield threat (and general knucklehead) DeSean Jackson, possession guy Pierre Garcon and the dangerous Jordan Reed at tight end. He's the guy the Pack should be most concerned about (11 TDs on 87 receptions).
Defensively, Washington is just okay, though they do seem to be able to get off the field when they need to, finishing 12th in third downs. They are terrible against the run and give up yards in chunks. Their secondary is led by former Packer Will Blackmon, whose vagabond career has found a second act in DC. They're so desperate, they just signed former Seahawk Cary Williams on Tuesday and he will likely start at cornerback.
But overall this is a Washington that has dramatically overachieved. Picked to finish at the bottom of the NFC East, they muddled through the season, mostly winning at home and losing on the road, until they strung together a few wins at the end to win the division by attrition. They haven't won a playoff game since 2005 and it will be interesting to see if they're ready for the pressure of the post-season.
As far as the Packers are concerned, it seems unlikely that they will be able to flip a switch and play like the team that crushed the Vikings in week 11. Since that game, the Pack has gone steadily backwards, primarily on offense. The blueprint in this one would appear to be to commit to the run against a defense that gives up 4.8 yards per carry and take shots downfield against an overmatched secondary. The problem being, of course, that the Pack's passing game is appeared overmatched itself in most games this season.
The return of Bakhtiari is paramount. If he's not able to go, Josh Sitton or whoever gets the call will have to line up against Ryan Kerrigan, the Skins' best defender. That will be a mismatch all afternoon. Bakhtiari appeared close last weekend and though he didn't practice on Wednesday we'll be keeping a close eye on his progress as we get closer to the game.
Washington has turned things around by jumping on its opponents early, something the Packers were once adept at. If the Pack can take an early lead, it may force Cousins to take some chances--interceptions have been a problem for him throughout his career. He does get center Kory Lichtensteiger back (he's been on temporary IR with a neck injury) which should bolster his confidence as he gets set to take the field in his biggest game ever and one that could add a zero to the new contract he will sign in the offseason.
I'm going to believe that the Skins aren't quite ready for their closeup. Their most impressive wins this year were over the Bills and Rams. They were 0-2 against playoff teams and the Pack was 3-4. They're stepping up in class for this one and I think the Pack will do just enough to extend their season for one more week.
Packers 27 Washington 24