Washington Redskins (4-2) at New England Patriots (7-0)
4:15 p.m., Channel 25. Line: Patriots by 16
When the Patriots run
New England's stable of running backs should be well-rested coming off what was basically a bye week in Miami. The Patriots rushed 22 times against the Dolphins, with nobody getting more than six carries. Laurence Maroney was eased back after missing time with a groin injury. Maroney is a punishing runner. Unfortunately for him, his upright running style leaves him vulnerable to punishment, as well. Kevin Faulk will serve as the primary backup, and his shifty running will be important against an athletic defense. The Redskins play a 4-3 front and have a pair of solid tackles in Anthony Montgomery and Cornelius Griffin. The monstrous Montgomery (6 feet 6 inches, 315 pounds) engulfs offensive linemen and clears space for the linebackers to get clean shots. Cornelius Griffin has the quickness to get through gaps and dump runners in the backfield. Middle linebacker London Fletcher remains one of the steadiest players in the league. After 10 years, Fletcher has seen it all. He has superb recognition skills and is always around the ball. Fletcher is flanked by Rocky McIntosh and Marcus Washington. McIntosh has blazing speed and is one of the league's most explosive open-field tacklers. Washington, who has been hampered by hamstring woes, is a dogged pursuer.
When the Patriots pass
Can anybody stop New England's aerial show? Well, maybe not, but it'll face its biggest challenge of the season today. The Redskins can collapse the pocket and have exceptional athletes roaming the secondary. A big part of the reason for Tom Brady's success is the protection from the big guys. The offensive line doesn't have a lot of name recognition, but Matt Light (he's technically sound), Logan Mankins (he's surly and strong), Dan Koppen (he's smart), Stephen Neal (he's athletic), and Nick Kaczur (he's versatile) keep Brady upright. With apologies to Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, Wes Welker and Randy Moss are the new Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside. The fearless Welker has been dominant over the middle, making big catches and eluding big hits. Moss has been spectacular. His acceleration, leaping ability, and strong hands are enough to give any defender nightmares. Speaking of nightmares, the Redskins have the scariest set of safeties in the NFL. Sean Taylor combines speed, strength, and smarts to disrupt offenses. Taylor loves to jump routes, and once he makes the pick (he has five), he turns into a tailback. Rookie LaRon Landry has good speed and cover skills and delivers violent hits.
When the Redskins run
Might age and overuse be catching up with Clinton Portis? After carrying the ball 695 times in his first two seasons in Washington, Portis was limited to eight games last season, and this year looks like a shell of himself. Some of Portis's lack of production (104 carries, 406 yards) can be attributed to the inconsistency of the offensive line, but it may be time for Portis to split the workload more evenly with Ladell Betts, who rushed for 1,154 yards last season. When healthy, Portis has an explosive first step, tremendous cutback ability, and stunning acceleration. Portis has good vision, and included in his arsenal is a pretty good stiff-arm. He won't go down on first contact, so if the Patriots turn in another poor tackling performance, Portis will crack the 100-yard mark for the first time this year. After four seasons of flying under the radar, Betts stepped up last year and rushed 245 times. Betts isn't nearly as speedy or elusive as Portis, but he runs hard, shows surprising quickness, and delivers a nice pop. The Redskins' offensive line has been decimated by injuries. Center Casey Rabach, who has been slowed by a groin injury, sets the tone in the running game. He'll be swapping paint with relentless Patriot nose tackle Vince Wilfork. Rabach is quicker, but Wilfork's bigger. This matchup bears watching.
When the Redskins pass
Quarterback Jason Campbell has been solid but unspectacular in his first season as Washington's full-time starter. The 6-foot-4-inch, 230-pounder has excellent size and physical attributes. Campbell has pinpoint control on short and medium passes but his accuracy suffers on deeper throws. Campbell's biggest area of weakness is recognition skills. When teams abandon their base defenses and show new wrinkles, Campbell gets confused. He is likely to see a lot of looks he's not used to today. If he gets flustered early, this could be a rout by halftime. Campbell's top receivers, Antwaan Randle El and Santana Moss, have been nicked up and unproductive. Randle El (23 catches, 422 yards, 0 TDs) is quick off the line and a very elusive open-field runner. Moss (14 catches, 207 yards, 0 TDs) has good speed and spunk but lacks concentration and will pout if things don't go his way. Campbell's biggest safety net is tight end Chris Cooley, who has caught four of Campbell's five TD passes. Outside linebackers Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin will smack Cooley to prevent clean breaks, while safety Rodney Harrison is sure to deliver a few reminders that he sets the tone in the secondary.
Redskins' key player
The third-year player is a tremendous athlete who is riding the fence between stardom and third-stringer. If his decision-making improves, hell be a star. If it doesnt, hell be out of a job.
How he beats you: By sticking to the script. Campbell can be dead on when his confidence is high. Hes at his best when hes distributing short and intermediate passes, as well as play-action dump-offs.
How to beat him: By confusing him. Campbell struggles when the defenses start disguising coverages. If he has to free-lance all day, the Redskins have no chance to escape Foxborough with a win.
Redskins' keys to victory
1. Time management: The best way to keep the Patriots off the scoreboard is to keep Tom Brady off the fi eld. Use Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts to grind down the defense and the clock.
2. Crisis management: Jason Campbell will need his safety blanket more than ever. Get the ball to surehanded tight end Chris Cooley early to build the QBs confidence.
3. Crowd management: Scoring first and taking the rabid Gillette crowd out of it early (they may have the Red Sox on their minds) will build confidence. Set the tone on the first possession.
Patriots' keys to victory
1. Take your shots: Washingtons strength is its secondary. Go deep early and see if the defensive backs are up to the challenge of covering Randy Moss and Donté Stallworth.
2. Take your shots II: Bring the house and get some early hits on Jason Campbell. Its time to find out whether the young QB can maintain his confidence under duress.
3. Take your shots III: Go for the kill early. With the Colts looming on the horizon, health is a big concern. Put this game away before halftime and get the starters out of harms way.
Patriots 31, Redskins 14