While a matchup featuring Washington traveling to Denver may have seemed like a must-see affair during the preseason, a glance at the NFL standings seems to override this perspective. The Burgundy and Gold sit in third place in the downtrodden NFC East with a 2-4 record, while the Broncos are riding high at a 6-1 mark.
However, Washington’s plight is not as problematic as it initially appears, as Mike Shanahan’s club is coming off two wins in the last three weeks, and is just a 1 ½ out of first place in its division. On the other end of the spectrum, Denver, once deemed infallible, showed signs of vulnerability in its Sunday night loss to the Colts. Serving as a juncture of sorts for both teams, this Mile High matchup doubles as the NFL FOX Game of the Week.
Matchup watch: Washington offense versus Denver front seven
Washington flaunts a high-octane offense, as its 415.8 yards per game are fourth-most in the NFL. This ball club has two distinct points of difference from Denver: 1) Washington is a more balanced scheme, with 274.3 pass yards and 141.5 rush yards (fourth-highest in the league) per outing and 2) Washington hasn’t translated this yardage accumulation to the scoreboard, averaging 25.3 points per contest, a figure that’s inflated by Week 7’s 45 points against a badly beat-up Bears defense. On the bright side, Robert Griffin III had his first solid display since returning from knee injury, and Alfred Morris and Roy Helu are proving a devastating 1-2 punch on the terrain.
With the return of All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, the Denver resistance was imagined to be a wrecking ball against the Colts last week. Instead, Indianapolis lit up the Orange Crush for 39 points, with Andrew Luck finding the end zone four times and the Colts rushing game notching 121 yards. Worse, the revered Champ Bailey re-injured his left foot, and is expected to miss multiple weeks. Considering the Broncos rank last in the NFL in pass yards surrendered, it’s not an absence they can afford.
I don’t see Denver magically refining its feeble secondary in a week, especially with Bailey on the sidelines. What can be corrected is the pressure, or lack thereof, from the Broncos front seven. Miller was mostly a nonfactor in his return last week, recording just two tackles. Given that Miller notched 30 sacks in his previous 31 games, Denver is looking toward the third-year man as the catalyst for this comatose unit. Whether Miller can provide such force after his league-sanctioned sabbatical remains to be seen.
Is RG3 “back” or was last week an aberration?
I’m sure some are marking last week’s conquest with an asterisk as a result of Chicago’s battered and bruised defense. While this did facilitate some of Griffin’s harvest, the takeaway from last Sunday’s game should not concern his damage in the box score, but his wrath on the ground. In his last two games, RG3 has gone on 20 rushing endeavors for a whopping 161 yards, showcasing a mobility that was unmistakably absent in the first quarter of the season.
Washington would like to keep Griffin’s rushes to a minimum in order to ensure his safety, yet his prowess on the soil is what fuels his dexterity. It would be nice if RG3 could improve upon his middling 60.1 completion percentage, but after a shaky start to the fall, Griffin looks to be back on track.
Spotlight: Jordan Reed
Reed faces a Denver defense surrendering the seventh-most points to the tight end position this season. Granted, Miller’s return strengthens the Broncos presence over the middle, yet the loss of Bailey to a company already relinquishing the most receiving yards in the league negates this asset. Washington desperately needs Reed to have another banner day if it hopes on emerging from Denver victorious.
“Shanahan-ing has returned!
For years, one of the pillars of fantasy football was to never trust a Mike Shanahan backfield entity, as his derisive game of running-back roulette drove the fantasy community mad. However, after Morris racked up 335 carries in 2012, the curse seemed to be broken. Finally, proprietors of a Washington back could rest easy, knowing the scavenging from back-ups was a thing of the past.
Or so we thought.
For Week 7’s Washington-Chicago box score illustrated a startling and alarming verdict. Like Michael Myers and the McRib, it turns out Shanahan’s siphoning won’t die. Morris’ harvest (19 carries, 95 yards) was cheapened by second-stringer Helu nabbing three red-zone scores. Word out of our nation’s capital tries to assure that Helu was only featured in hurry-up packages, but we’ve seen this song and dance before. After a year of hibernation, Shanahan’s reign of fantasy terror is back.
Damn you, Shanahan. DAMN YOU!
Washington wins if…
RG3 would have to post one of those, “Hey, turn on the channel, Griffin is going nuts!” performances to make this game close. Even then, it’s hard to envision Peyton Manning not taking care of business against a vulnerable Washington defense. Imagine a shootout, but one in which Washington comes up short.