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NFL Preview - Green Bay (3-1) at Washington (2-2)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Now that the dust has settled from the media circus that took over Donovan McNabb in his return to Philadelphia last week, the Washington Redskins quarterback can prepare for one of the toughest defenses in the NFC when the Green Bay Packers visit FedEx Field Sunday afternoon.
McNabb's trip back to Philadelphia was a triumphant one and the former face of the organization needed only 125 passing yards and a touchdown pass to tight end Chris Cooley to push Washington's status to 2-2 and into a three-way tie atop the NFC East standings.
Running back Ryan Torain thrust himself into the backfield spotlight as well by rushing for 70 yards and a score. With veteran Clinton Portis slowed by a groin injury, Torain was a big spark for a Redskins team coming off back-to- back losses to Houston and St. Louis. He left his mark early when he flattened Eagles safety Quintin Mikell for a 12-yard touchdown run early in the game.
Portis is expected to miss four-to-six weeks and Torain will make his first Redskins start against a Packers defense ranked 24th against the rush, yielding 118.2 yards per game. The former practice squad player moved up the depth chart after veterans Willie Parker and Larry Johnson were both released and proved last week he can help a Washington ground attack that is averaging 98.0 yards per game this season.
Meanwhile, Portis underwent an MRI on Monday and finished with 11 carries for 55 yards against the Eagles.
While Portis won't play, Washington may get rookie left tackle Trent Williams back in the lineup against Dom Capers' 3-4 defense this weekend. Williams missed his second straight game in Philadelphia because of knee and toe issues and was replaced by Stephon Heyer. Shanahan noted that Williams should be ready for full practice after being limited last week, a good thing after Heyer was flagged three times for holding and had two false starts on Sunday.
McNabb has been sacked only once in each of his last two games after going down three times in an overtime loss to the Houston in Week 2.
The Redskins, off to their second straight 2-2 start, got the first leg of a rough stretch of games out of the way by beating the rival Eagles on the road, but now they have back-to-back home tilts with Green Bay and Indianapolis followed by McNabb's return to his hometown of Chicago on October 24. After a visit to the Motor City the next week, Washington will rest on its bye.
Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett must have his secondary ready for these next two games against Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning, two of the best passers in the league. Haslett's unit is 31st against the pass, allowing 305.0 yards per game.
Green Bay is tied for first place in the NFC North with Chicago, but the Bears hold the tiebreaker for beating the Packers at Soldier Field in Week 3. The Packers rebounded from their Windy City loss by surviving for a 28-26 victory over the division-rival Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field last weekend. The win wasn't pretty, as Green Bay turned the ball over four times and finished 3- for-7 on third down. The last time the team had four turnovers in a game was at Tampa Bay in Week 4 of the 2008 campaign.
The Packers, 3-1 for the first time since opening the 2007 campaign with 10 wins in their first 11 games, also had only 40 offensive plays and finished with under 22 1/2 minutes of possession. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said after the game he would rather be in the 70-to-75 play range, but had more to deal with in Rodgers politely airing out his differences with some of the play-calling.
Rodgers commented on how the offense should have spread out more in shotgun to get the best players on the field at once to stretch the defense. He is usually not one to create controversy, but may feel as a third-year starter he's earned the right to question some of the choices made on the field.
Green Bay's defense needs to play better after allowing 431 yards to the Lions. Granted that the Lions have vastly improved over the years, but to give up that much at home is a concern. Detroit quarterback Shaun Hill did exactly what Rodgers wanted to do by hitting seven different receivers and throwing for 331 yards, scorching a Packers defense that lost rookie safety Morgan Burnett for the season with an ACL tear in his knee.
McCarthy couldn't pinpoint exactly when Burnett's injury occurred, but added that injured safety Atari Bigby is close to returning. Bigby, on the physically unable to perform list, has been working out and attending meetings, but hasn't played since last year.
Charlie Peprah, Derrick Martin and Jarrett Bush have more of a realistic shot at seeing more time at safety this week. Peprah, though, has missed the last two games because of a quadriceps ailment.
Green Bay managed three takeaways on Sunday and turned them into 14 points, including All-Pro cornerback Charles Woodson's 48-yard interception return for a score -- the Packers' only touchdown of the second half. Detroit had four field goals after the half.
The Packers will host Miami and Minnesota after their trip to Washington and are one of just four teams in the conference with one loss (Bears, Falcons, Saints).
The Packers have a 17-12-1 advantage in their all-time regular season series with Washington, which dates back to the 1932 season. Green Bay has a four- game win streak in the series, outscoring the Skins by a 112-37 count in those games. The Packers were 17-14 home winners when the clubs last met, in 2007, and prevailed by a 28-14 margin when last visiting FedEx Field in 2004. The Redskins' most recent win in the series came in 1988, in Milwaukee, and Washington last scored a home victory in the series at RFK Stadium in 1979.
The storied franchises have also squared off twice in the postseason, with Green Bay earning a 21-6 decision for the 1936 NFL Championship and Washington evening that series with a victory in a 1972 NFC Divisional Playoff.
McCarthy is 1-0 against the Redskins as a head coach. Shanahan was 2-3 against the Packers during his tenure with the Broncos (1995-2008), though one of those wins was a victory in Super Bowl XXXII from San Diego. The only head-to- head meeting between McCarthy and Shanahan to date came in 2007, when Green Bay was a 19-13 overtime winner against Shanahan's Broncos from Invesco Field at Mile High.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Rodgers (940 passing yards, 8 TD, 5 INT) needs just 259 passing yards to reach 10,000 for his career and can do that easily on Sunday. The offense was explosive in the first half of Sunday's win over Detroit, as Rodgers threw for touchdowns to Donald Driver, Jermichael Finley and Greg Jennings -- the same trio he would like to see spread out in shotgun settings. The Packers are 14th in passing this season, averaging 226.8 yards per game, while the Redskins are rated 31st against the pass and have given up more than 230 yards through the air each week. Finley (21 receptions, 301 yards, 1 TD) and Driver (21 receptions, 3 TD) are tied for the team lead in receptions, while Jennings (12 receptions, 3 TD) and Driver both have three touchdown catches. Finley is emerging as one of the top targets in this offense and leads NFC tight ends in receiving yards, while Driver has caught at least one pass in a franchise- record 131 consecutive games (137 including playoffs). Green Bay must produce more offensive plays this Sunday after posting 40 a week ago. Running back Brandon Jackson (137 rushing yards, 1 TD) was held to 33 yards on nine carries against the Lions. He needs to play better on the road Sunday.
After taking out Eagles quarterback Michael Vick early in Sunday's win, the Washington defense was able to rest and get back to basics without having to worry about his threat as a runner. The Redskins still gave up too much through the air, as Kevin Kolb came on in relief of Vick to throw for 201 yards for a team total of 243. Redskins corners DeAngelo Hall (34 tackles, 1 INT) and Carlos Rogers (24 tackles, 1 INT) were able to slow down Philly's speedy receivers by pounding them at the line of scrimmage, but running back LeSean McCoy burned Washington for 110 yards on 12 catches. The Redskins will be in for a long day if Green Bay gets its pass attack in full gear early, which is what Rodgers will be trying to do. Tackle Albert Haynesworth (6 tackles) has been playing better up front as he digests Haslett's new defense. Shanahan said the better Haynesworth plays the more action he'll see. The same goes for outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (10 tackles, 1 sack), who started ahead of veteran Andre Carter last week. Alexander and Carter combined for five stops, with the latter recording the team's only interception.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Shanahan is no fool and will feed Green Bay's defense a steady diet of Torain until it doesn't work anymore. Philadelphia was supposed to be tough against the rush, but failed in its attempt to stop the Redskins last week. Torain (116 rushing yards, 1 TD) will get the majority of the carries with Portis (195 rushing yards, 2 TD) out and must penetrate a bulky Packers front line led by nose guard B.J. Raji. The Redskins hope to have Williams back at left tackle to help keep McNabb (958 passing yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) unscathed and give Torain room around the edges. Washington has the 19th-best ground attack in the league, but should be worried about not scoring in the second half last week. It was 7-of-13 on third down after converting just 1-of-10 chances in a loss to St. Louis the week before. While wide receiver Santana Moss (22 receptions, 290 yards, 1 TD) and Cooley (16 receptions, 2 TD) continue to be McNabb's favorite targets, he must find a way to get his other receivers more involved. Anthony Armstrong (4 receptions) has come up with a big play here and there, and needs more action. He had a career-long 57-yard reception against the Eagles.
The Packers have had a knack for forcing turnovers and got interceptions from both Woodson and linebacker A.J. Hawk versus Detroit. Woodson (28 tackles, 1 INT) returned his for a touchdown and became the third player in NFL history with at least 10 interception returns for scores. He has an NFL-high 17 interceptions since the 2008 season and matches up well with Washington's receivers. Covering the tight end shouldn't be a problem for linebackers Hawk (27 tackles, INT) and Clay Matthews (18 tackles, 7 sacks), as both are solid in coverage, but the duo must also be aware of Torain off the Redskins back's promising performance against Philly. Inside linebacker Nick Barnett (22 tackles) stands just eight tackles shy of breaking John Anderson's franchise record of 1,020, but that may not happen since a wrist injury suffered against Detroit may sideline him for the season. Recent reports have indicated that surgery may be necessary and a procedure would likely end his season. Fellow linebacker Brandon Chillar hurt his shoulder in Week 3 at Chicago and hasn't played since.
The Packers have scored plenty of points for fantasy owners this year with offensive weapons Rodgers, Jennings, Driver and Finley. Green Bay's defense is one of the best as well and brings a stingy coverage scheme into FedEx Field. Matthews adds value with his ability to get to the quarterback.
Besides a loss to Houston in which he threw for more than 400 yards, McNabb hasn't been such a hot item in fantasy this year. He's still worth a start, however, since most productive quarterbacks have been picked up already. Torain and Cooley are the only other options on the Washington side worth using.
Riding an emotional roller coaster to victory may push McNabb and the Redskins a step back this week with Green Bay in town. After Washington began last season with a 2-2 mark, it won only twice more the rest of the way. That will be brought up again next week, when the Redskins try to put the pieces together from another loss behind poor pass defense. The Packers are one of the best at chucking the football around and can further distance themselves from the rest of the NFC with a fourth win in five weeks. Plus, McCarthy has to make Rodgers happy after the quarterback was disappointed he couldn't thrash on Detroit even more.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 25, Redskins 16
10/07 17:56:56 ET