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NFL Preview - Washington (2-5) at Atlanta (4-3)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - With little room for error in the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons can't be too pleased with their first two-game losing streak under head coach Mike Smith.
Things seem to be aligning nicely for the Falcons, though. First, Atlanta returns this weekend to the Georgia Dome, where it is undefeated this year and has won six straight dating back to last season. Also, Sunday's opponent, the Washington Redskins, have lost three straight games and have yet to post a road win this season.
That formula should be enough for the Falcons to rebound from last Monday's 35-27 setback to the first-place New Orleans Saints. Atlanta fell three games behind 7-0 New Orleans in the standings, but was able to hang tough against one of the top teams in the NFL.
The Falcons won the turnover battle, 4-3, but couldn't capitalize on their chances. Quarterback Matt Ryan had an interception returned for a touchdown late in the first half, then was picked off midway through the fourth quarter deep in Saints territory.
Atlanta is 10-1 at home under Smith and is aiming to avoid losing three straight for the first time since a six-game skid late in the 2007 season.
Washington, meanwhile, had an extra week to prepare after a 27-17 Monday night loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on October 26. The Redskins fell behind 17-0 in the game and never really recovered.
It marked Washington's third loss in a row, and the NFC East's basement dweller will be looking to avoid its first four-game slide since November 11- December 2, 2007.
The Redskins, who are 0-3 on the road this year, will be without tight end Chris Cooley for this game due to an ankle injury he suffered versus the Eagles. It was earlier feared that he might miss the rest of the 2009 season, but the hope now is that the injury will only sideline him for three weeks.
Washington also placed tackle Chris Samuels on injured reserve last week because of a neck injury.
Sunday's game will also mark Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall's return to Atlanta. The Virginia Tech product was taken eighth overall by the Falcons in the 2004 draft and was with the club through the 2007 season, before being traded to Oakland.
Hall was released by the Raiders after eight games last season, and his final contest with Oakland was a 24-0 home loss to Atlanta.
The Redskins lead the all-time regular season series with the Falcons, 14-5-1, but were 24-14 home losers when the teams last met, during the 2006 campaign. Washington won the previous matchup, a 33-31 triumph at the Georgia Dome in 2003. Washington is 2-0 in Atlanta since last losing there in 1987.
The Falcons and Redskins have also met once in the postseason, with Washington winning a 24-7 decision in a 1991 NFC Divisional Playoff, en route to the franchise's most recent Super Bowl victory.
The Redskins' Jim Zorn and Falcons' Smith will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Fewer offenses continue to disappoint more than that of the Redskins, who rank 24th overall at 296.0 yards per game and are tied for 28th in scoring (13.7 ppg). Washington's 17-0 deficit to the Eagles in Week 7 included a nine-yard interception return by Philadelphia's defense. Quarterback Jason Campbell (1481 passing yards, 8 TD, 7 INT) turned the ball over twice in the game -- also losing a fumble -- while throwing for 284 yards and two touchdowns. Campbell was also under pressure all game, getting sacked six times. With Samuels done for the year, Campbell will hope tackle Stephon Heyer can play in this game after suffering a knee injury versus Philadelphia. Stepping in for the injured Cooley, Fred Davis notched a career-high eight catches for 78 yards while hauling in his first NFL touchdown pass. Wide receiver Santana Moss (28 receptions, 2 TD) added six receptions for 74 yards, Antwaan Randle El (23 receptions) added five catches for 39 yards and Devin Thomas caught a touchdown pass. The early deficit limited Washington to just 19 run attempts, with Clinton Portis (490 rushing yards, 1 TD) carrying the ball 14 times for 43 yards.
The Falcons have faced two potent offenses in the last two weeks and it has showed, as the club has yielded 72 points in that span. Still, holding the Saints under 40 points just might be an accomplishment on its own. Atlanta's 29th-ranked defense gave up 437 total yards to the Saints, but did record an interception and three fumble recoveries. One of those fumbles, off a sack by safety Thomas DeCoud (36 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT), was taken four yards for a touchdown by defensive end Kroy Biermann (19 tackles, 3 sacks). Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux also had a sack, cornerback Brent Grimes (22 tackles) had the Falcons' lone interception, and linebackers Stephen Nicholas (35 tackles, 2 sacks) and Coy Wire both recovered fumbles. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton (76 tackles) led the way with a game-high 14 tackles in Monday's loss, while safety Erik Coleman (57 tackles) had 10. Atlanta ranks just 31st on the NFL against the pass, yielding an average of 256.4 yards per game.
WHEN THE FALCONS HAVE THE BALL
Falcons running back Michael Turner (554 rushing yards, 8 TD) had his best game of the year versus the Saints, rushing for a season-high 151 yards on 20 carries. Turner also scored a touchdown, finding the end zone for a seventh straight game. Ryan, though, was picked off three times for his third multi- interception game in a row. His one touchdown pass also marked just the second time this year he has thrown fewer than two in a game. Ryan (1649 passing yards, 12 TD, 9 INT) did hook up with wideout Roddy White (37 receptions, 6 TD) for a 68-yard touchdown pass, however. White ended with four catches for 108 yards, while tight end Tony Gonzalez (33 receptions, 3 TD) had a team-best six receptions for 89 yards. White has five touchdowns in his last four games, while Gonzalez has a scoring catch in all three of Atlanta's home games this season. Ryan was sacked three times versus the Saints, but has been taken down just nine times total on the season.
Atlanta is scoring 24.4 points per game and averaging 339.9 yards per contest, but that offense faces one of the top defenses in the league this weekend. Washington is giving up a stingy 17.6 points per game and is tied for fourth in total defense (283.4 ypg). Washington also ranks second against the pass, yielding only 164.9 yards per game through the air. The Redskins, though, aren't expected to have corner Byron Westbrook or linebacker H.B. Blades, two key reserves, for this game to due to knee injuries, while starting defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin is battling an elbow issue. Washington did not force a turnover versus the Eagles, but did post three sacks. That upped its season total to 18 after the club managed 24 last season. Defensive end Andre Carter (34 tackles) had six tackles and a sack and is tied for seventh in the NFL with 6 1/2 sacks on the season. Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (21 tackles, 3 sacks) added a sack in the loss, as did safety Reed Doughty (37 tackles). Linebacker London Fletcher leads Washington with 71 tackles, while Hall has 30 tackles and an interception.
Washington's offense features few fantasy helpers outside of Moss. Cooley's injury hurts, but Davis showed his ability to make plays versus the Eagles and could be an adequate fill-in. Portis gets the majority of the touches in the backfield, but gets taken out of the game plan when Washington falls behind and is a risk. Washington's defense is tough to judge, as it gets sacks and can keep teams off the board, but generates few turnovers. Still, there are worse options out there.
Turner should be in line for a great day versus the Redskins, who excel at stopping the pass. However, that doesn't mean that White or Gonzalez should be on your bench. Ryan has struggled with turnovers as of late, but has played well at home, something that should be taken into consideration. Atlanta's defense has also struggled as of late, but should bounce back versus the Redskins.
The key to winning this game for the Redskins, outside of getting their offense going, is to stop Turner. However, that is easier said then done. The Falcons have the passing weapons to keep Washington's defense honest, and the Redskins can't seem to put up points to help its defensive unit. Atlanta knows it missed a golden chance to keep the NFC South tight on Monday and will take out is frustration on a hapless Washington club.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Falcons 24, Redskins 14
11/05 17:56:31 ET