Monday Night on ESPN
San Francisco 49ers (6-4) at Washington Redskins (3-7)
Plenty of off-field distractions in Washington this week
A pair of 2012 playoff teams that have not performed as well as they did last year meet in a game with considerable playoff implications for both clubs tonight on Monday Night Football. Washington has had a particularly discouraging season, as only Minnesota and Tampa Bay have fewer wins than they do in the NFC. Rumors have been coming through fast and furious that paint a bleak picture in Landover in regards to off-field distractions. First Robert Griffin took a not so subtle jab at the coaching staff following last week’s loss to the Eagles, and then Santana Moss called out Griffin for blaming others and not accepting enough responsibility himself for his role in the loss. Now there is a report that supposedly Griffin requested that his coaches not show his negative plays during film review, and rumors are flying that there is a major rift between Griffin and head coach Mike Shanahan. To top everything off, there is another story being floated that Shanahan did not want to draft Griffin as he preferred to stay at the number six pick and draft QB Ryan Tannehill instead of trading up to take Griffin. Oh yeah, and if that’s not enough, there was also Trent Williams’ run-in with an umpire that got official Roy Ellison suspended for a game; now there is a report that Williams directed a racial slur at Ellison during Sunday’s game against Philadelphia.
Hey, if nothing else all these stories have buried the controversy over whether or not Dan Snyder should change the team’s nickname. Meanwhile the St. Louis Rams couldn’t be happier with Washington’s record; thanks to that trade they own what presently is number six pick in April’s draft to go along with their own selection.
San Francisco doesn’t look at all like the imposing team that nearly won the Super Bowl last year, and after back-to-back losses and Arizona’s victory over the Colts Sunday, they now find themselves a half game behind the Cardinals for the final playoff berth. The Niners defense is till very good despite more than their fair share of injuries this season; they rank 4th in points allowed (17.8), 9th in total yards (324), 8th in passing yards (222), and 12th in rushing yardage (104). NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks are not only the finest group of linebackers in the NFL, they comprise the best linebacking unit the league has seen in over a decade.
Washington’s Alfred Morris doesn’t get nearly enough credit with all the publicity that Griffin receives; he leads the NFL in yards rushing per game (91.8), and nobody with at least 130 carries can top his 5.1 yards per attempt. If the Redskins can get their running game going and not have to lean too heavily on Griffin to pass the ball then Washington can win this game – but that is a lot to ask against the 49ers front seven. Griffin has thrown nearly as many picks (10) as touchdowns this year, and his completion percentage is below 60%. Early in the year it appeared that he was favoring his surgically repaired knee and not stepping into throws; now it looks more to be that he is making poor post-snap reads and bad decisions. TE Jordan Reed will not play due to a concussion and WR Leonard Hankerson (ACL) is done for the year; that leaves WR Pierre Garcon as the only Washington player with more than 300 yards receiving or has caught more than 25 passes this season.
As well as the defense has played, the San Francisco offense has sputtered though. Colin Kaepernick has thrown for over 200 or more yards in just two games this season and has passed for 150 yards or less in five of his ten games. However, facing the Washington defense may be the best cure for Kaepernick and the rest of the 49er offense. The Redskins are allowing 31.1 points per game (31st), 390 yards per game (29th), 8.5 yards per pass attempt (32nd), and 4.3 yards per rush (22nd), while forcing just 16 turnovers (20th). Frank Gore (4.3 yards per carry, 748 yards rushing, 7 rushing touchdowns, 8 carries of 20+ yards) should get the ball early and often – with a great deal of success.
Will all the noise unify the Redskins? I doubt it. Even though San Francisco has to deal with traveling across three time zones to play, they did get an extra day to appear and the evening kickoff offsets the biggest challenge of the west-east travel.
Pick • 49ers 31, Redskins 20
49ers -5 (one unit)
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