The San Francisco 49ers return to prime time when they travel to Washington to face the Redskins on Monday Night Football. The playoff picture is taking shape and the 49ers are clinging to the No. 6 seed. Every game from here on out will be approached with a do-or-die sense of urgency for the 49ers. The Redskins are still in the mix for the NFC East title, but they are experiencing some internal issues. Let’s take a look at five things to watch for on Sunday.
1) The 49ers Offense Against The Redskins Defense
The Redskins are giving up 31.1 points per game so far this year. That ranks 30th in the NFL. They are giving up 389.9 yards of total offense per game which puts them at 28th in the NFL. This team could be just exactly what the sputtering 49ers offense needs as they are looking to get their passing game going. The 49ers are dead last in the NFL in passing offense. That has to change if they expect to make any noise in the playoffs. Colin Kaepernick will need to target Vernon Davis, especially when he is able to get matched up with the Redskins safeties, Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty. Keep an eye on DeAngelo Hall and Anquan Boldin. These are two of the more passionate players at their respective positions. Hall likes to get physical with receivers in press coverage and Boldin is physical in all phases of the receiver position. You can be certain that there will be some kind of confrontation between the two.
This is also a game in which the 49ers should be able to get their running game back on track. The Redskins are allowing 115 yards rushing per game, but London Fletcher is one of the best run defenders in the game. Kendall Hunter is an explosive running back that is a threat on quick hitting run plays. LaMichael James is another playmaker that the coaching staff needs to figure out ways to get touches especially in space. However, it all falls back to Frank Gore. He is the catalyst for this team’s offense. Let’s see if Greg Roman gives Gore the 20 carries that is a requirement for the 49ers to win.
2) Can The 49ers Stop The Redskins Read Option and Zone Blocking Scheme?
Preventing a running back from gaining 100 yards rushing was once a trademark of the 49ers defense. Things have changed as shown by how this 49ers defense is giving up an average of 103.8 yards per game. They have already given up nine rushing touchdowns, which is two more than their total from all of last year. This could be a factor in the outcome of the game. Alfred Morris is very similar to Marshawn Lynch, a running back that always gives the 49ers fits. Morris is a big, physical back that will use the zone blocking scheme and designed cut back lanes to his advantage. Eric Reid and Donte Whitner will need to lace up their cleats extra tight because Morris is a load to bring down. Reid suffered a concussion when he hit Carolina Panthers running back Mike Tolbert high. It was his second concussion of the season. He will need to avoid his third by being sure to lower his strike zone.
The ability of Ahmad Brooks and Dan Skuta or Aldon Smith to set the edge will be very important when the 49ers look to limit Robert Griffin III from breaking off long runs. The 49ers can be effective against the read option by using the scrape exchange. Justin Smith is especially good at slanting inside which will force the quarterback to keep the ball instead of handing it off to the running back. Aldon Smith has more than enough speed to loop around and be there to keep outside contain against the quarterback if he decides to take off.
3) Will LaMichael James Finally Get To Be A Part Of The Offense?
During the offseason, there was a lot of talk about how the coaching staff was going to try and get James involved in the game plan. However, it is Week 12 and we have yet to see any signs of James having a package of plays that feature him. Why don’t the 49ers give James the ball in the screen passing game? James is a shifty player that is hard to bring down in space. Why can’t they run four verticals out of a four receiver set to spread the field and let James run a joker route against the helpless linebacker that is forced to cover him? Teams seem to want to blitz the 49ers and stack the box. Why not make teams pay for blitzing by getting the ball to James on screen passes or having him run a draw? This will work especially well when teams stack the box and James gets to the next level. If he can break a tackle of make one man miss, he will have the chance to register a big play for the 49ers. The question remains, will the coaching staff get James involved in the offense?
4) 49ers Red Zone Woes
The 49ers continue to struggle mightily in the red zone. This is a problem that has plagued them for a while now. They will need to figure out ways to score from inside the 20 yard line. There are some weapons that they have to their disposal but for whatever reason, these players aren’t being used. Vance McDonald, for one, has a very big body and should be used on plays that get him the ball in the flat so he can catch it and turn upfield. Jonathan Baldwin is another option. He is 6-foot-4 and has a rather abnormal 42-inch vertical. Why not give him a couple of jump balls in the end zone? Vernon Davis has been on the receiving end of most the red zone targets. He has scored a good amount of his touchdowns via play action.
5) The Home Crowd At FedEx Field
The Redskins fans have been waiting for a quarterback and winning team for quite some time now. This year has not brought on the success that they thought they would have after the thriller of a season last year. The 49ers will need to get off to a fast start to take the crowd out of the game. Fortunately, the 49ers are a team that is built to go on the road and win. That is in large part thanks to their stingy defense and tough running game. They usually like to let the defense set the tone which is why often times, Jim Harbaugh will if he wins the coin toss. Let’s see what kind of start the 49ers get off to.