On Sunday night, the Green Bay Packers travel to the nation's capitol for a rematch of last year's wild-card playoff game. Alex Rowsey of Hogs Haven was kind enough to answer some of our questions about Washington and provide insight into its strengths and weaknesses.
APC: Washington won a weak NFC East a season ago, but now the division looks like the most competitive in the conference. Besides the addition of the rookie quarterbacks, what changed this season?
That's a huge question. Washington's only slightly better than last year. Continuity helped them. Besides Dak Prescott, Dallas hit a HR with Zeke and their OL has gelled. The Giants improved their defense significantly through FA and Philly got rid of Chip Kelly. I don't know how much detail you're looking for, but I could probably write a book on the NFCE. For Washington, it's come down to building their team the right way. They've drafted well for 2-3 straight years now and are being frugal in FA. They have a solid GM with a proven track record. Also, Josh Norman's pretty damn good and the secondary went from one of the team's biggest weaknesses to one of their biggest strengths.
APC: Kirk Cousins finished 2015 on one of the hottest streaks for any quarterback in football, but he hasn't quite matched that level this season. What factors have affected his play in 2016, and what do you expect from him the rest of the way?
While Kirk hasn't managed what he did the latter half of last season, he's been very good for most of this year so far. His completion percentage is still great and he's throwing for even more yards this year. The INTs have remained pretty constant from last year and the TDs are down a touch, but he's still thrown twice as many TDs as INTs. Really, this year has been very comparable to last year for him, it's just that last year was split so extremely between a below average first half and a dynamite second half. He's brought both of those extremes more to the middle ground this year and has landed into a pretty consistent, very good place. He struggled a little bit the first couple weeks and I think that may have been expectations weighing on him some, but he's found himself lately and is playing great football. The running game improvement this year has certainly helped him but missing Jordan Reed and/or DeSean Jackson for games at a time has hurt him a little bit. Really, he hasn't been much different this year from last year aside from the fact that he's gotten more consistent it seems. I see no reason why he won't continue this same level of play the remainder of the year and am even a little hopeful that he can still play better. He seems to have gotten better as the season goes on both last year and again so far this year.
APC: Josh Norman joined Washington late in free agency and immediately became the new No. 1 corner. How do you evaluate his performance this year?
I evaluate it as very, very good. He's pretty much been a stud. He's a true #1 CB and QB typically avoid throwing towards him. He's given up some yards this year (particularly to OBJ and A.J. Green), but for the most part, he's shut guys down. He struggled a bit with Green. Beckham got good yardage on him, but Norman held up when it really counted most, clearly got into Beckham's head, and came out with the W. No one else has given him much trouble at all. More times than not, he takes his guy out of the game and he's been an excellent tackler in run support as well as an overall teammate that the rest of the guys really seem to like. I think he's made guys better. He has a good attitude and is a baller. Money well spent. Clearly Carolina misses him...
APC: How would you game plan against Washington's offense? Its defense?
I'd focus on taking away the Redskins running game. When this team is balanced, they usually win. When they go all one-dimensional (whether by their own doing or because of outstanding defensive play) and put it all on Kirk's shoulder and make him throw it a million times, they usually lose. It's really that simple. It's incredible. They've kind of beaten themselves a couple of times this year (especially in the first couple of games) by simply throwing it like 80% of the time for no reason. They have an excellent OL and when they run the ball and set up a lot of PA, this offense is one of the best in the league. So play the run. The passing game is too strong and has too many weapons to really focus on for most defenses. Also, if you really tighten up in the red-zone, things will be much better for you. For as great as the Redskins offense is between the 20s, they're pretty bad in the red-zone. If your defense bends but doesn't break, and makes the Redskins settle for FGs, then you'll be in it. The Redskins are great at getting a ton of yards and FGs. Keep them out of the end-zone even if they get close and it'll make a bigger difference than it would against most teams.
When you're on offense, run, run, run. Don't stop running. The Redskins have a relatively weak DL and are inconsistent tacklers. Their secondary is strong as is their pass rush. They play the passing game very well. But, they can be run on, especially right up the middle. The defense has pretty good speed, but they lack size and strength at some key spots in the middle of the field. They can be run on.
APC: Finally, it's prediction time. Which team wins on Sunday and why?
The Redskins are going to win 26-23. They're at home and GB is slumping hard. The Redskins running game has been on point the past few weeks and their passing game has been excellent almost all year. Their defense has improved drastically as the year goes on and STs have been great all year (their K, Dustin Hopkins, could be a Pro Bowler this year). It's hard to rule out a team with Aaron Rodgers, but something's clearly off with GB as they've lost a few in a row. Not sure why they'd just snap out of it all of a sudden. I'll say it's close just because Washington hasn't proven they can put a team away yet really and I haven't forgotten the playoffs last year. Rodgers can beat people. I've seen it so many times. Just don't think it's likely right now.
We'd like to thank Alex and Hogs Haven for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there, as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Washington. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Sunday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Green Bay vs. Washington.