FedEx Field is the setting for a Sunday afternoon contest between two NFC Conference teams headed in opposite directions. The San Francisco 49ers, who along with the Detroit Lions are the NFC's surprise teams, travel east to take on the slumping Washington Redskins in a scheduled 1:00 PM matchup. The 49ers are -3 point favorites according to the early football betting lines.
Having won five straight for the first time since 2001, the 6-1 'Niners have a 4-game lead in the NFC West, the largest margin of any team. New head coach Jim Harbaugh has infused enthusiasm and a winning attitude into the 49ers, and the rejuvenation of veteran RB Frank Gore has also played a major role as San Francisco has become "relevant" for the first time in a decade. Gore recorded his fourth consecutive game of at least 125 yards rushing, while also scoring at least once in each game as well. He's competing for the most rushing yards each week in the NFL. With similar numbers against the Redskins, Gore can tie an NFL record held jointly by Larry Johnson of the 2005 Chiefs and Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson of the 1975 Buffalo Bills. QB Alex Smith, essentially written off seven seasons after being the NFL's #1 selection in the draft, continued to display maturity and savvy as signal-caller of the 'Niners. Smith will never dazzle with the long passes or freakish athleticism, but he's learned to not make the stupid mistake and to get the ball to the "hot" skill player. San Francisco has remarkable offensive balance, with Gore moving the chains and TE Vernon Davis and WR Michael Crabtree making the clutch catches.
On defense, with LB Patrick Willis doing a little bit of everything, and DE Justin Smith, like Gore enjoying a rejuvenation, the 49ers are the stingiest team in the NFL to run against, allowing just 73 yards per game, and the pass defense, although not boasting gaudy numbers, is an opportunistic, ball-hawking group that rarely gives up the deep pass.
After getting out to a 3-1 start, Washington, since it's bye week, has lost three straight and injuries have begun to pile up for coach Mike Shanahan's team. The low point came this past Sunday in Toronto, Canada when the 'Skins were shut out by the Buffalo Bills, 23-0, the first whitewashing of Shanahan's career. Gaining only 178 yards of total offense, including just 26 on the ground, Washington's offense is both injury-plagued and woeful. With starters RB Tim Hightower (out for the year with a torn ACL), WR Santana Moss (broken hand, out 3-4 weeks), and TE Chris Cooley (knee, questionable as to the length of his absence), the Redskins have lost most of their reliable weapons. QB John Beck, whom the coaching staff is high on, nonetheless turned in a pitiful performance against the Bills, leading the team to just 3 first downs on 6 1st-half possessions on Sunday, and has just one TD pass versus 3 interceptions in his three appearances this season.
Defense is where the Redskins have some hope, with DE Adam Carriker and rookie LB Ryan Kerrigan both having superb seasons. Brian Orakpo and London Fletcher, Kerrigan's running-mates, are also elite defenders, but the offense's ineptitude has forced the defense to be on the field excessively, reducing their stamina and effectiveness.
Harbaugh has his team believing in themselves, especially Alex Smith, and the players have rewarded his faith with an excellent first half of 2011. If Gore can stay healthy and the receivers (especially Crabtree) develop more rapport with their QB, this team may be for real. For Washington, injuries and tired legs have a way of resulting in unfavorable outcomes, and unless Beck suddenly begins to display a resemblance to Tom Brady (or even Rex Grossman), it appears that the Redskins have already reached their 2011 high-water mark.
|NFL OFFENSIVE RANKINGS||TOTAL||Passing||Rushing|
|SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS||23||309.0||31||171.4||6||137.6|
|NFL DEFENSIVE RANKINGS||TOTAL||Passing||Rushing|
|SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS||10||329.1||21||255.7||1||73.4|