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The Redskins vs. The Jaguars: 5 keys to Victory

Entering this Sunday’s match up, one team is playing for their playoff lives while the other has a bunch of players fighting for jobs next season. Sadly, the latter would the the Redskins.

If spoiling the Jaguars’ run to the playoffs is to provide for any consolation prize, here’s how the Redskins can pull it off:

1. Run the football, early and often: Listen, I’m old school like that. You win football games by controlling the clock, establishing your presence at the line of scrimmage, and imposing your will on the opponent. Even with all the disappointments surrounding the Redskins this season, the running game is one aspect the team can hang it’s hat on for the remainder of this year and going into the next.

Ryan Torain is a stud, and has the potential to be the next thousand yard running back for Mike Shanahan (if he can just stay healthy). When he’s in the lineup and healthy, he’s played very well. Even though last week’s box score will only show 51 yards rushing, Torain had a few big runs in the second half that helped key the Redskins comeback that inevitably fell short.

The Jaguars have given up over 130 yards on the ground to opposing teams in three of their last four games, and consequently are only 1-2 in those games. The Colts and Raiders – the Jaguars last two opponents – consistently ran the football on the Jaguars with large amounts of success. Assuming the Redskins don’t allow Jacksonville to build a big early lead (like the Cowboys did), they can run the ball at a Jaguars defense that is young and very talented but remains inconsistent against opposing runners.

2. Sell out to stop the Jaguars from running the football: I’m going to make this for everyone. The key to beating the Jaguars is to stop them from running the football, plain and simple.

The Jaguars have won games in the second half of the season with steady doses of Maurice Jones-Drew left, right, and center, right at the opposing defense. Jones-Drew is easily the best player on the Jaguars offense, and likely on the entire team. When opposing teams have managed to stop Jones-Drew, the Jaguars have not fared well. The Jaguars have lost six games this season, and in four of those losses, they finished with less than 85 yards rushing on the day.

The Redskins appear to have the luxury of playing the Jaguars without Jones-Drew, who is listed as “doubtful” as of this post. While back-ups Rashad Jennings and Deji Karim are nice players, they are nowhere near as dangerous nor dynamic as Jones-Drew. The Redskins run defense has been nothing short of a sieve this year, with opposing runners having little trouble running over a 3-4 defense that has gone through growing pains all season (to put it nicely).

Washington needs to do whatever takes – even if means putting nine guys in the box – to make the Jaguars one-dimensional and force David Garrard to beat them through the air. The Jaguars are not comfortable with asking Garrard to carry the entire offense, and given that the Jaguars are also banged up at receiver, this is exactly what the Redskins have to force Jacksonville to do.

3. Keep Rex Grossman upright: The Redskins pass protection, across the board, has visibly regressed since the beginning of this season. They gave up five sacks against the Cowboys last week, and had numerous passes rushed or off the mark because of the pressure from the opposing defense. In close games (such as last week’s), an opportunity or two missed can make all the difference in the world.

Grossman still managed to have a big week through the air in his first game as a starter last week, and he has a chance to do it again against a Jaguars defense that is ranked in the bottom six in the NFL in passing yards allowed, bottom five in opposing completion percentage, and bottom four in passing touchdowns allowed.

The Jaguars front four has been mostly unsuccessful this season when trying to generate pressure with just their front four (or fewer) linemen, and have had to rely on “manufacturing pressure” via blitzes and disguised coverages to hurry opposing passers.

If the Redskins offensive line doesn’t beat themselves with bad techniques and mental mistakes, they have a chance to allow Grossman to build on last weeks solid performance.

4. Attack the Jaguars defense vertically: On top of all the previously-mentioned statistical maladies for the Jaguars defense, they’re ranked dead last in the NFL in yards per attempt from opposing offenses. Their entire secondary has been one of the team’s biggest weaknesses all year, especially their safeties.

As I mentioned in last week’s breakdown, Grossman is erratic in many areas as a passer, but one of his strengths is his ability to throw a nice deep ball. Santana Moss and Anthony Armstrong are both undersized receivers who won’t muscle any passes away from opposing corner backs, but rather have the speed to run right past the entire secondary. They combined for 13 receptions, 172 yards, and two touchdowns between just the two of them against a very good defense last week.

Against a defense that’s struggled against the pass all season, the opportunities will be there for the Redskins to push the ball deep down the field.

5. Take the intermediate passing game (tight ends & running backs) away from Garrard: Very quietly, Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis has emerged as one of the better tight ends in the NFL this season, both as a downfield receiver and especially as a red zone target; he’s currently second in the league in receiving touchdowns by a tight end with nine.

The Jaguars also rely heavily on screen passes to their running backs, whether it’s Jones-Drew or Jennings in the backfield. Jennings led the team in receptions and targets last week against the Colts when Jones-Drew and Sims-Walker were limited with injuries.

After getting shredded by Jason Witten last week, the Redskins have to stop getting beaten by the underneath passing game to the tight ends and running backs. If Jones-Drew remains out for this game, the Jaguars will likely try to draw the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage with the short passing game, with the intention of creating a mismatch later in the game.

Even if it requires a combination of run-blitzing (to force Lewis or the running backs to stay in as an extra blocker) or bracketing Lewis with a linebacker and safety, the Redskins need to force Garrard into looking elsewhere with the ball, instead of having the luxury of checking the ball down to Lewis and the running backs.

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