The Washington Redskins will have to beat the Cleveland Browns without sensational rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. That puts the spotlight on another rookie passer, fourth-round pick Kirk Cousins.
NFL.com has reported that Griffin has failed to recover from the injury he suffered against the Baltimore Ravens last week. Cousins entered that game and tied the score by firing a touchdown pass and running in a 2-point conversion.
The Redskins can still win with Cousins, but they will need to lean on their top-ranked running game. That should mean a heavy workload for rookie rusher Alfred Morris.
Washington's zone-based ground game can attack Cleveland's 4-3 defensive front. Morris is prolific when running the zone-stretch and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan should give him 25 carries in this game.
That will apply the pressure to yet another first-year quarterback, Browns starter Brandon Weeden. The 29-year-old rookie has struggled at times this season, but has established a rapport with young wideout Josh Gordon.
That combination could trouble a Redskins defense that is very generous against the pass. The Redskins rank 31st in pass defense, surrendering 388.1 yards per game.
Gordon has the vertical speed to threaten Washington's patchwork secondary deep. He and Greg Little provide the Browns with a pair of dangerous, big-play targets.
Part of the Redskins problem is a lack of credible pass rush. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is probably their biggest pressure threat.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett must scheme more ways to set him free. Haslett shouldn't have to worry too much about the Browns ground attack.
His defensive line is doing an excellent job of denying runners open lanes. Cleveland's backfield is in turmoil, with NFL.com also reporting that Trent Richardson will have his workload reduced.
Of course, the real key for the Redskins will be how well Cousins performs when he has to air it out. The Browns have a smart and opportunistic secondary, led by young star Joe Haden.
However, the Redskins do an excellent job of manipulating pass coverage through clever design and play-action fakes. Cousins has the arm strength to challenge the Browns deep, if he executes the play-action game.
By the end of the game, the Redskins will know if they have a capable deputy for Griffin, or if they deserve the dreaded label of being a "one man team."
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