Redskins-Falcons Preview

The Washington Redskins have struggled enough this season with

their franchise player at quarterback. They’re going to give it a

try without him for the final three games.

In an effort to protect Robert Griffin III’s health, Kirk

Cousins takes over as the starter Sunday when the Redskins visit

the Atlanta Falcons in a matchup of 2012 division winners that now

share the worst record in the NFC.

Coach Mike Shanahan says the move is designed to keep Griffin

healthy as the Redskins (3-10) look to next year. Griffin has been

sacked 24 times during five straight losses, and Washington plays

two of its last three games on artificial turf, starting with this

one.

Griffin will be the No. 3 QB and Rex Grossman will back up

Cousins.

“I want to make sure he’s healthy,” Shanahan said. “I think

that’s the most important thing going into the offseason, that he

has his first full offseason being healthy. And if he did play, and

something happened to him, I think it would set our franchise

back.”

Cousins has made six career appearances for the Redskins. They

won his only start, 38-21 at Cleveland on Dec. 16 as he threw for

329 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in Washington’s fifth

straight victory in a very different season.

“These are not the circumstances you necessarily want to be in

when you start the season, but good or bad I got to be ready to

go,” Cousins said. “I can’t control a lot of things going on, but I

can control my preparation and I can control how I lead this team

this weekend.”

He replaced Griffin in a 45-10 home loss to Kansas City on

Sunday, going 7 of 16 for 59 yards against one of the league’s best

defenses.

Atlanta (3-10) certainly isn’t among that group, ranking 29th in

points allowed (27.8) and 26th in yardage (379.4).

It hasn’t much mattered what caliber of defense the Redskins

have faced recently, however, as they’ve averaged 12.3 points the

last four weeks.

Kansas City led 31-0 with 9:45 remaining in the first half

Sunday.

“It’s a terrible game to be a part of,” Redskins linebacker

Brian Orakpo said.

The Falcons took a different route to similar disappointment in

a 22-21 loss at Green Bay on Sunday. Atlanta led 21-10 at halftime

before going silent.

Boasting an offense that was considered one of the most

dangerous in the NFL coming into the season, the Falcons have been

held to 18.4 points per game during a 1-6 stretch. Key injuries

combined with limited pass protection for quarterback Matt Ryan has

turned 2013 into a major letdown for a team that was one win from

the Super Bowl last season.

“It’s tough on everybody,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter

said. “Nobody has higher expectations for the Falcons than the

players and the coaches do. We haven’t lived up to expectations. We

haven’t played as well as we’re capable of on offense.”

Ryan’s 206 yards was his second-worst total of the year.

“It’s disappointing,” Ryan said. “We jumped out to an early

lead, the defense created some turnovers for us and we capitalized

on it, but we weren’t able to get it done offensively in the second

half.”

Ryan is an interception away from matching a career worst and

he’s been sacked a career-high 31 times. He has eight TDs and 10

interceptions in the last seven games.

Atlanta’s minus-11 turnover margin ranks second to last in the

NFC.

Barring changes in the coming weeks, Griffin’s second season

comes to an end with 16 TD passes, 12 interceptions and an 82.2

rating in 13 games. He threw for 20 TDs with five picks and a 102.4

rating in 15 contests last year.

He’s also gained only 489 yards rushing without a score after

piling up 815 and seven in 2012, during which he suffered a torn

ACL and LCL in his right knee.

“Of course I want to be out there and finish the season with my

guys, see it through,” Griffin said. “And (Shanahan) explained to

me his reasoning. At the end of the day, Coach’s decision is what

we go with, and that’s what it’s always been. I have to do that. I

have to sit here and do whatever I can to help Kirk.”

The Falcons have won three straight against the Redskins, the

most recent a 24-17 victory Oct. 7, 2012 in Washington. Cousins

made his NFL debut and went 5 of 9 for 111 yards, a TD and two

interceptions after Griffin left with a concussion.