The San Francisco 49ers head to Washington to take on a flailing Redskins team. Given what the ‘Skins have done so far this year, Niner Noise takes a look at one the biggest keys to a Niners victory in DC.
Sunday’s matchup in Washington DC features two teams that couldn’t be heading in more opposite directions. The San Francisco 49ers are up-and-coming, potential NFC contenders, and current holders of a 5-0 record, the only remaining unblemished tally in the NFC through Week 7.
The Washington Redskins, on the other hand, have already fired their head coach, lost five of six games by an average of 15.6 points per game and almost gave away their game last weekend to the lowly Miami Dolphins, en route to a 1-5 record.
All that said, Washington has been pretty bad so far in all facets of the game. Their Pro Football Focus grades tell the story of a 1-5 (or worse) record: a 65.1 overall grade (29th in the league), 59.7 on offense (28th) and 69.4 on defense (15th).
Looking at their grades across the board, it’s littered with 60’s and below.
Football Outsiders’ DVOA numbers don’t paint a much nicer picture. Washington’s offensive DVOA sits at minus-22.6 percent (30th), while their defensive number is 8.1 percent (24th). For the record, the offensive number should be positive, while the defensive one is negative. The Redskins have that flipped.
There is one area where the team is a little above average so far this season, and that’s in stopping the run. PFF grades Washington at fifth best against the run, with a grade of 78.8 (the 49ers are 20th at 67.7), while their DVOA is minus-2.0 percent, good for 20th in the NFL.
For the sake of comparison, Washington is sitting at 24th against the pass, with a DVOA of 16.8 percent, while PFF graded them with a 60.9 for coverage (18th) and a 64.4 for pass rush (23rd).
The point here is that, much like they did against the Los Angeles Rams last week (where they ran 41 times for just 99 yards, or 2.4 per carry), the 49ers may not find running the ball as easy as they did in the first four games of the year.
Which means one very simple thing: it’s quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo‘s time to shine.
The good news is, outside of Quinton Dunbar, who is PFF’s highest graded cornerback so far this year, there are a lot of places for Garoppolo to go with the ball where he’ll find a player who is struggling in 2019.
The cornerback trio of rookie Jimmy Moreland, veteran Josh Norman and third-year man Fabian Moreau all have PFF grades below 56. And while safety Landon Collins has been decent (72.2) in his first season in Washington, his counterpart, Montae Nicholson (58.2), has been below average, and there’s practically no depth.
On top of that, their best coverage linebacker, Shaun Dion Hamilton, has only played 120 total snaps, so the sample size is in question. And their other two linebackers, Jon Bostic and rookie Cole Holcomb, are average overall and poor in coverage.
Suffice it to say, if the 49ers running game struggles for a second straight game, Garoppolo will have to step up and lead the offense in ways he hasn’t been asked to do so far this year.
And frankly, given head coach Kyle Shanahan’s propensity to look for the weakness of an opposing defense he can take advantage of, it seems likely that the 49ers will be looking to attack in the air anyway. Not to mention the fact it seems clear that Shanahan would like nothing more than to crush his former employers as much as he can.
If the offensive line can continue to hold up and keep Garoppolo off his back, it should be something they’ll be able to do rather easily.