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The Green Bay Packers are going for the team’s sixth-straight win when the struggling Washington Football Team arrives at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
Ron Rivera’s team has lost three of the last four games and is 2-4 to start the 2021 season. A team expected to compete for the NFC East crown with a dominant defense is currently three games back of the Dallas Cowboys in the division and featuring the NFL’s No. 32 ranked defense in points allowed.
Here are a few keys to the Packers beating Washington on Sunday:
Survive along the offensive line
(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
A common theme for the Packers during this win streak? Facing talented defensive fronts without a full arsenal of players along the offensive line. The gauntlet continues Sunday. Washington features four first-round picks along the defensive line, including edge rusher Chase Young, and the Packers will be without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari (PUP) and starting rookie center Josh Myers (IR). Young, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat and Daron Payne have combined for 83 total pressures through six games. The group’s disruptive potential is probably Washington’s best chance at an upset. If the Packers keep Washington’s front four from taking over the game, it’s a good bet Aaron Rodgers and the passing game will create enough explosive plays and scoring opportunities to win the contest. As is the case against any great front, playing well on first and second down and avoiding third-and-long will be key.
Tackle the running backs in the passing game
(AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
Running backs Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic have combined for 33 catches and two touchdowns in the passing game already this season. Terry McLaurin is the top target for Taylor Heinicke, but McKissic is second on the team in targets, and Gibson can be a dangerous player in space. The Packers are going to keep everything in front on defense, so expect a backup quarterback to do plenty of checking down to the backs. Linebackers and defensive backs need to do a terrific job of rallying to the ball and making tackles to limit yards after the catch, especially when the ball gets to McKissic and Gibson. Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and safety Adrian Amos have both been dependable tacklers on underneath passes.
Limit Washington's returns
Green Bay Packers special teams cordinator Maurice Drayton.
Washington returner DeAndre Carter leads the NFL in kick return yards, and he already has a 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown this season. He’s also averaging 9.5 yards per punt return. The Packers, on the other hand, have allowed the most kickoff return yards in the NFL and the third-highest kickoff return average (30.4), highlighting the team’s recurring issues within the game’s third phase. There have been too many close calls on returns over the last few weeks, and a good returner is eventually going to make them pay. Time for a turnaround. Maurice Drayton’s group must ensure a struggling backup quarterback has to travel the full length of the field every time he’s getting the football on Sunday. Nothing easy. And no points allowed on special teams.
Pressure Heinicke into a turnover or two
(AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
Heinicke has six interceptions and 10 “turnover worthy throws” this season, per Pro Football Focus. He’s been careless with the ball from clean pockets and under pressure, but his percentage of “turnover worthy throws” goes from 2.9 percent from clean pockets to 7.0 under pressure. A takeaway or two could be more than enough for the Packers to win this game comfortably. Washington will be without starting offensive linemen Sam Cosmi and Brandon Scherff, upping the chances of the Packers consistently disrupting Heinicke in the pocket on Sunday. The Packers defense has nine takeaways over the win streak, and at least one takeaway in five straight games.
Contain Washington's play-action passing game
Washington Redskins wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17).
Heinicke’s splits using play-action are revealing. He’s completing almost 74 percent of passes and averaging 9.1 yards per attempt with six touchdown passes and zero interceptions when using play-action this season. A closer look at the biggest plays from Washington’s passing game this season shows the majority utilizing run fakes to help create openings and coverage breakdowns. Without play-action, Heinicke is a much different quarterback. The numbers drop to 57.9 percent, 5.9 yards per attempt, three touchdown passes and six interceptions. Through six games, Washington is using play-action on roughly 40 percent of dropbacks. It’s hard to imagine Heinicke creating enough big plays to win if the Packers are taking away what Washington likes to do in the play-action game.