Washington is heading into the second game of their three-week road trip against the Arizona Cardinals, a team in which many expected to be battling with Seattle for the crown of the NFC West. Hasn’t quite worked out that way as they are 4-6-1 and struggling to keep pace with their division foes.
Arizona has been struggling this year for several reasons, the first may be their aging quarterback Carson Palmer. The 37-year old has been a completely different player since the conference championship game last year against the Carolina Panthers. He has been an inconsistent passer this year struggling with accuracy and has accounted for 17 of the teams 19 turnovers. That in itself is a huge reason why the Cardinals have lost the games that they have. In five of their losses this season, Arizona had 5, 5, 2, 2, and 1 turnovers. Even though they won their game against the San Francisco 49ers, it was as close as it was due to four big turnovers as they won 23-20.
This 2016 Arizona Cardinals offense has a real turnover problem, constantly beating themselves in winnable games. Outside of Carson Palmer, the offensive line has struggled in pass protection and in creating running lanes for their star running back David Johnson. Despite the less than ideal run blocking, Johnson has still been very productive. Their receiving corps was explosive in years prior, but has struggled to make plays for Palmer and their number two receiver has seen less time due to numerous dropped passes. This 2016 Cardinals team is a team who consistently finds ways to lose, however against the Redskins this can possibly be a get right game for them. While for Washington, this is a definitive trap game.
The Redskins defense has struggled to stop teams with solid rushing attacks all season, even those with a struggling one like the Lions or Giants. Now most recently Washington has started to have holes in the secondary to be exploited, essentially making this defense very vulnerable. The slot cornerback position has started to get taken advantage of as rookie corner Kendall Fuller has struggled mightily in two of the last three weeks. Veteran safety Donte Whitner has become a liability in pass coverage as well, which has been the knock for most his career. Off of the assumption that changes won’t be made this week, even though it should be heavily considered, the Redskins defense will potentially face a bevy of mismatches. Larry Fitzgerald will likely have his chances to lineup in the slot, the smart thing for Washington to do is counter by placing Bashaud Breeland across from him. Fuller is not one to give up on just because of his struggles, has just simply hit a period in the season where the receivers he’s going up against are some of the best in the league. The receiving corps of the Cardinals, along with their quarterback is struggling this year, but this is a group that is easily capable of having a 300 plus yard day and 28 plus points if they’re able to get going.
David Johnson is playing at an elite level for the Cardinals, with over 900 yards rushing and 600 yards receiving. His ability to run through hole at full speed, taking advantage of his 6-1 224 pound frame, coupled with the vision to cutback or make a defender miss in the backfield is what makes him such a headache for defensive coordinators. Washington does a decent job setting edges against offenses, most of their issues come from the defensive line and inside linebackers. The defensive line struggles to shed blocks and control gaps, while inside linebacker Will Compton has struggled to make tackles in the open field. Johnson’s vision isn’t the only part of his game that is elite, his pass catching skills and route running are as well. He can create easy mismatches for Palmer to exploit when lined up as a slot receiver or simply as a threat coming out of the backfield.
It will be important for the Redskins to capitalize on bad throws and sack opportunities, when facing Palmer those opportunities will present themselves. He also leads the league with 11 fumbles this season, Washington must also attack the football when applying pressure on the quarterback. Preventing the big play is a must as well, Arizona struggles this year to put up points and with Washington’s countless breakdowns in coverage recently, it can likely cost them the game this week.
Washington’s offense is faced with a difficult task as well, but how many times have we said that this year and the Redskins offense made it look easy?
The Cardinals are statistically the number one defense in the NFL, second against the pass and eleventh against the run. Overall Arizona is a fast paced defense that is very fundamentally sound up front. It should be noted though that the Cardinals has faced some of the more incompetent offenses of the league this year. Still, their defense has no struggles applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Led by Chandler Jones and speed rusher Markus Golden they rank sixth in sacks, with 29 this season. Washington is going to have to earn their rushing yards this week because of the Cardinals solid front seven, the offensive line struggled against the Cowboys front last week. Another week of the same issues allows the pass rushers of the Cardinals to have their chances at Kirk and possibly force mistakes from him by forcing him to throw into coverage. With Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and company on the back end, Cousins must be very judicious with the football. It’s important for the offense to execute when in plus territory this week because if the Cardinals offense gets going, Washington’s offense may have to win it for them.