|National Football League|
· Expanded Analysis
· Gaming Matchup
· AFC Injuries
· AFC Schedule
· AFC Standings
· Current Odds
· Live Odds
· NFC Injuries
· NFC Schedule
· NFC Standings
· DIV II College
· DIV III College
· FBS College
· FCS College
NFL Preview - Indianapolis (3-2) at Washington (3-2)
By Scott Garbarini, Associate NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Though it hasn't always been pretty, the fact that the Washington Redskins have already knocked off a few of the NFL's heavyweights during the initial portions of this season is a clear indicator of their improvement under Mike Shanahan. The revamped team will have another chance to sway those remaining skeptics this Sunday, when the reigning AFC champion Indianapolis Colts pay a visit to FedEx Field for an interconference clash.
The extensive alterations, headlined by the hiring of the two-time Super Bowl winning Shanahan as head coach and the acquisition of decorated quarterback Donovan McNabb, the Redskins made in the aftermath of last year's 4-12 disaster have quickly paid dividends. Washington enters this weekend's play tied with the New York Giants and Philadelphia for first place in the NFC East with a 3-2 record, with the wins coming against a trio of 2009 postseason participants in Dallas, the Eagles and Green Bay.
The Redskins have been more resourceful than dominant so far in the Shanahan/McNabb era, and the team's new-found resiliency was illustrated in last Sunday's overtime victory over the Packers. Washington was gashed for 209 yards in the opening period and faced a 10-point deficit after three quarters, but the defense stiffened after its early struggles and the offense engineered three late scoring drives to deliver a gritty 16-13 victory.
McNabb helped orchestrate the comeback by throwing for 357 yards and a touchdown, while the Redskins held Green Bay scoreless over its final seven drives and got a game-changing interception from safety LaRon Landry to set up kicker Graham Gano's 33-yard field goal in the extra session.
Washington has been a bend-but-don't-break operation all throughout this 2010 campaign. The Redskins are allowing a league-high 410.2 yards per game, but have yielded a total of only 32 points in their three triumphs.
While the Colts have had some uneven performances over the course of their 3-2 start, which has the club locked in a four-way tie in the competitive AFC South, the one constant has been an explosive offense that stands among the NFL's best in total yards, passing yards and points scored. To no one's surprise, the charge has been led by iconic quarterback Peyton Manning, who's making a strong case for what would be an unprecedented fifth career MVP citation.
However, it was Indianapolis' somewhat-maligned defense that rose to the occasion in Week 5, with the unit limiting then-unbeaten Kansas City to 261 yards and keeping the Chiefs out of the end zone all afternoon long in a 19-9 win this past Sunday.
The Colts had been battered for 174 rushing yards in their previous outing, a 31-28 road setback to Jacksonville that left the perennial playoff contenders at 0-2 in divisional play.
Indianapolis has garnered plenty of recent success when taking on NFC teams during the regular season, though, having won six straight interconference matchups dating back to 2008.
The Colts lead the all-time series with the Redskins, 18-10, including a 36-22 home win when the teams last met, during the 2006 season. Washington won the previous meeting, a 26-21 affair at FedEx Field in 2002. The Colts are 0-5 in Washington since their last victory there in 1967, when the then-Baltimore Colts took a 17-13 decision at what was then known as D.C. Stadium (later R.F.K.).
Shanahan was 2-6 against the Colts during his tenure with the Broncos (1995-2008), including playoff losses at Indianapolis in 2003 and 2004. The Colts' Jim Caldwell will be meeting both Shanahan and the Redskins for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
It's no secret the Colts plan on throwing the ball early and often come Sunday, and with one of the game's all-time great quarterbacks and an incredibly deep cast of receivers at the team's disposal, there's every reason to. Manning (1609 passing yards, 11 TD, 2 INT) is in the midst of another prolific season, having completed 67.6 percent of his throws and tying for the league lead in touchdown passes as the architect of an intricate offense that's averaging 317.2 yards per week through the air (4th overall). Top target Reggie Wayne (39 receptions, 531 yards, 2 TD) has been tremendous as well, with the four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver ranked third in the NFL in receiving yards per game at the moment, while second-year standout Austin Collie (37 receptions, 446 yards, 5 TD) and tight end Dallas Clark (31 receptions, 3 TD) are just about automatic coming out of the slot. Collie has been bothered by an injured foot that curtailed the sure-handed wideout's snaps last week and has him questionable for Sunday's tilt, but outside starter Pierre Garcon (10 receptions) helped compensate with a six-catch, 57-yard effort against the Chiefs and gives Manning another dangerous weapon. Indianapolis is a bit banged up at running back as well, with primary ball carrier Joseph Addai (278 rushing yards, 2 TD, 18 receptions) battling through a sore neck and understudy Donald Brown (81 rushing yards, 1 TD) a possibility to miss a third straight game with a hamstring strain. Reserve Mike Hart came on to post 50 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in relief of Addai last week, which could land the former Michigan star an increased role on Sunday.
The Redskins figure to be well prepared for the aerial onslaught they'll face this week, considering they've faced more pass attempts than any team in the league to this point. The defense has done a pretty good job of preventing the big play, but teams have been able to attack Washington underneath, as evidenced by the 298 passing yards per game the group has allowed to this point. In order to slow down Manning and the Colts receivers, the team will need to get consistent pressure from outside linebackers Brian Orakpo (17 tackles, 4 sacks), who's coming off a two-sack game against the Packers, and Lorenzo Alexander (14 tackles, 1.5 sacks), while a return to action from massive lineman Albert Haynesworth (6 tackles) would help matters as well. The two-time All-Pro missed last week's contest while attending a family funeral but is expected to be in uniform on Sunday, and he can be a real difference maker when healthy and motivated. The Redskins can't ignore the running game either, especially after giving up 157 rushing yards to Green Bay's underwhelming ground attack in Week 5. Inside linebackers London Fletcher (46 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Rocky McIntosh (46 tackles, 1.5 sacks) will need to be disciplined in their assignments to prevent a repeat, while leading tackler Landry (52 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) can be a factor in that area as well.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
One way to combat Indianapolis' potent offense is to keep Manning and his cohorts on the sidelines by controlling the clock and running the ball efficiently, which may be a stretch for a Washington team that's averaging a pedestrian 88.6 yards per game on the ground (25th overall) and won't have veteran back Clinton Portis available due to a separated groin muscle he sustained in a Week 4 win over Philadelphia. Former practice-squad member Ryan Torain (156 rushing yards, 1 TD, 4 receptions) will again carry the load in Portis' place, with help from a controlled passing game centered around wide receiver Santana Moss (29 receptions, 408 yards, 1 TD) and tight end Chris Cooley (23 receptions, 2 TD). McNabb (1315 passing yards, 4 TD, 3 INT) has shown some inconsistency in his first year in Shanahan's offense, but the battle-tested 12th-year pro can still move around in the pocket and fire the deep ball, as last week's 48-yard touchdown strike to wideout Anthony Armstrong (7 receptions, 1 TD) will attest. Armstrong is averaging nearly 27 yards per grab as the Redskins' vertical threat, while Moss is fresh off a seven-catch, 115-yard display in the Green Bay game. McNabb's mobility may come in handy this week, with starting tackles Trent Williams and Jammal Brown both hindered by knee sprains that likely won't keep either out of the lineup.
The Colts are undersized on defense and can be pushed around at the point of attack, which helps explain the team's poor No. 29 overall rating versus the run (142.2 ypg) and average of 4.8 yards per rush allowed. Indianapolis was able to hold its own against a physical Kansas City squad last week, however, keeping the Chiefs to a respectable 113 rushing yards for the game. The Colts' strength lies along the edges of the front line, where ends Robert Mathis (19 tackles, 4 sacks) and Dwight Freeney (9 tackles, 3 sacks) form one of the most lethal pass-rushing duos in the league. The pair has combined for seven of the club's eight sacks on the year and will be the key to containing Washington's sixth-ranked passing offense (263.0 ypg), since Indianapolis doesn't blitz a whole lot and a secondary headed up by cornerback Kelvin Hayden (29 tackles, 5 PD) is solid but unspectacular. The linebacking corps is led by weakside starter Clint Session (20 tackles), who compiled a team-best 10 tackles (8 solo) against the Chiefs.
Indianapolis boasts a trio of every-week fantasy starters in Manning, Wayne and Clark, and Collie can be added to that mix if he's ready to go without restrictions on Sunday. Garcon gets a thumbs-up if Collie is inactive or is forced into a reduced role, while Addai is a safe and solid choice as the Colts' featured performer in the backfield. Moss and Cooley are McNabb's unquestioned go-to guys when the Redskins air it out and should have a place in starting lineups, with Torain getting a nice uptick in value in a matchup against a shaky run defense and few threats to his touches. McNabb is more of a risk/reward option here, as he's put up a good amount of yardage this year but has only four touchdown passes in five games, plus there's a chance his production could be cut into if Washington installs a run-oriented game plan. Keep an eye on Gano, who's near the top of the league with 11 field goals, but steer clear of both defenses, neither of which rates as a particularly strong play.
The Redskins have been living on the edge all season long, but their good fortune could run very well run aground against an adaptable and opportunistic Indianapolis team. Manning should be able to methodically dissect a Washington defense that isn't equipped to fully withstand all the playmakers the Colts possess. Indianapolis has been one of the league's most successful teams when entering the opponent's red zone, while the Redskins have had their struggles in that all-important part of the field. That may wind up being the difference in what should be another entertaining game involving Shanahan's crew.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Colts 27, Redskins 20
10/14 17:19:14 ET
Powered by The Sports Network.