Of­fense’s as­sign­ment: Hit the ground run­ning

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NFL - By Les Car­pen­ter

WASH­ING­TON — Af­ter a one-point vic­tory last week over the worst team in the NFL, the Red­skins have to face one of the league’s best out­fits.

The San Fran­cisco 49ers, coached by for­mer Wash­ing­ton of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Kyle Shana­han, are 5-0 and win­ning with a pow­er­ful of­fense and suf­fo­cat­ing de­fense. In their past two games, they held the Browns and Rams to a com­bined 10 points.

This is not an easy week for the Red­skins, who face the for­mi­da­ble Vik­ings four days later in Min­nesota. But first, here are five keys for Wash­ing­ton against San Fran­cisco.

Run the ball: In­terim coach Bill Cal­la­han has promised his team will be ded­i­cated to run­ning the ball, even bring­ing in a full­back to add what he hopes will be more ver­sa­til­ity to the of­fense. So far, so good: In last week’s win at Mi­ami, run­ning back Adrian Peter­son gained 118 yards on 23 car­ries.

Even­tu­ally, the run­ning game opened up op­por­tu­ni­ties for quar­ter­back Case Keenum to hit rookie Terry McLau­rin, who had two touch­down catches. But the Dol­phins have the league’s sec­ond-worst run de­fense; the 49ers have the sixth-best.

The Red­skins could quickly find them­selves in third-and-long sit­u­a­tions if they don’t run well on early downs, and that’s a scary propo­si­tion against an ag­gres­sive San Fran­cisco de­fen­sive front.

Stop the run: No one runs the ball more than the 49ers, and al­most no one runs it as well. Matt Breida, Tevin Cole­man and Ra­heem Mostert have com­bined to rush for 790 yards be­hind one of the league’s bet­ter of­fen­sive lines. If San Fran­cisco es­tab­lishes the run early, the Red­skins de­fense is go­ing to have a tough time with the 49ers’ pass­ing game, which fea­tures hard-to-cover tight end Ge­orge Kit­tle, who leads the team with 31 catches for 338 yards.

The pres­sure will be on Wash­ing­ton’s de­fen­sive front to stop the ground game early and force Jimmy Garop­polo to throw, some­thing he hasn’t had to do much this sea­son. He’s av­er­ag­ing 20.4 com­ple­tions per game.

Force turnovers:

Garop­polo has been in­ter­cepted five times, and the 49ers have fum­bled seven times (los­ing five) in five games. Per­haps their big­gest flaw is that they have given their op­po­nent op­por­tu­ni­ties to take the ball away. The Red­skins had two in­ter­cep­tions against the Dol­phins and even in­ter­cepted Tom Brady once the week be­fore, but they have not been forc­ing turnovers as much as they will need to mov­ing for­ward.

To be able to beat a ball-con­trol team with a de­fense as elite as the 49ers’ Wash­ing­ton must force fum­bles and pres­sure Garop­polo into ill-ad­vised throws.

Avoid break­downs: For much of the sea­son, Wash­ing­ton has been its own worst en­emy. The Red­skins have killed promis­ing drives with in­op­por­tune penal­ties and let their op­po­nents rack up big plays, with de­fen­sive mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion al­low­ing pass catch­ers to run open.

Cal­la­han has made clean­ing up these mis­takes one of his pri­or­i­ties, and the Red­skins didn’t make many mis­takes for three quar­ters against the Dol­phins. But they al­lowed Ryan Fitz­patrick, Mi­ami’s backup quar­ter­back, to tear them apart in the fourth quar­ter and al­most lost a game they should have won go­ing away.

Good teams such as San Fran­cisco thrive on such er­rors. The Red­skins need to fix the com­mu­ni­ca­tion prob­lems and elim­i­nate the sloppy penal­ties.

Win the field-po­si­tion game: The Red­skins didn’t have an ex­plo­sive of­fense or a dom­i­nant de­fense last sea­son, but they won six of their first nine games by em­ploy­ing a solid ball-con­trol style, eat­ing up clock with Peter­son and pin­ning the other team deep in its own ter­ri­tory.

They have not been able to do those things as well in 2019, in part be­cause of in­juries, losses on the of­fen­sive line and less ef­fec­tive quar­ter­back play. And their de­fense has been par­tic­u­larly weak on third down, al­low­ing op­po­nents to ex­tend drives.

Wash­ing­ton is built to be more of a ball-con­trol team than one that hits on big plays. The sooner it set­tles into that style, the more com­pet­i­tive it can be.

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