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Scouting report

Patriots at Redskins

(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
By Jim McBride
Globe Staff / December 11, 2011
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Today, 1 p.m., Channel 4 (Line: Patriots by 8)

When the Patriots run

This attack needs to get back on track, because being a one-dimensional offense will get you only so far - even when you have the best quarterback in the world at the controls. The running back committee is led by the sturdy and steady BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The 5-foot-11-inch, 215-pounder hasn’t run with the same power he demonstrated last season. He lacks speed and quickness but has good instincts and runs with good balance and generally finishes with a pop. Danny Woodhead has exceptional burst, quickness, and elusiveness. He has great instincts and vision, and his ability to stay low allows him to avoid big hits. Stevan Ridley needs carries. The rookie has fresh legs, and that could prove valuable over the last few weeks. Ridley runs with great energy and balance. He’s neither a bruiser nor a burner but he’s versatile and gets better as his workload increases. Kevin Faulk has lost the quickness to be effective as a ball carrier but he is still the best blocker of this bunch. Big Barry Cofield (6-4, 306) is the first line of defense for the Redskins. The veteran nose tackle is athletic, powerful, and aggressive. He has the speed to shoot gaps and the strength to occupy multiple blockers. Middle linebacker London Fletcher is a freak. The 14-year veteran has elite recognition skills, deftly avoids blockers, and lowers the boom on every play. He’s Ray Lewis without the dreadful dance moves.

EDGE: Patriots

When the Patriots pass

Tom Brady is playing with scary efficiency as he continues to tear apart defenses with his decision-making and arm. He would be the clear-cut favorite for MVP in most seasons, but there are a couple of guys named Rodgers and Brees who are also playing at an elite level. Brady has no shortage of weapons as he continues his assault on the record books. Wes Welker is quick off the line, runs superb routes, and has strong hands. He has great moves but lacks the power and size to consistently break tackles. Deion Branch is another quick player who runs great patterns, is slippery in the open field, and can blister zone coverages. Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are special. Gronkowski has the size (6 feet 6 inches, 265 pounds) and strength to gain separation consistently. He runs great seam routes and is an absolute beast in the red zone. Hernandez (6-1, 245) has the athleticism to play H-back, receiver, and probably fullback in a pinch. Gronkowski (a great blocker) and Hernandez will need to chip pass-rushing outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo, who will make Brady uncomfortable. Corners DeAngelo Hall (quick and fluid) and Josh Wilson (fast but small) are solid. Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (a speedy ball hawk) provides great support.

EDGE: Patriots

When the Redskins run

Washington has one of the worst rushing attacks in the league (statistically speaking), but the unit has shown signs of life the last few weeks, with rookie Roy Helu emerging as a force. Blessed with a splendid package of size and speed, Helu has shown surprising toughness that wasn’t part of his game at Nebraska. The 5-foot-11-inch, 216-pound Helu has an explosive first step and is at his best when he gets to the corner and can accelerate. He’s not a true inside runner because he lacks vision and patience but will make yards with his ability to break tackles. Second-stringer Ryan Torain is solid. A 6-1, 218-pound slasher, Torain finds creases quickly and will slide and bounce until he spots a cutback lane. He is an upright runner and won’t a make a ton of yards after initial contact. The offensive line, which relies on zone blocking, has been ravaged by injuries. Center Will Montgomery (6-3, 310) is big and strong with deceptive quickness and a high motor. He will struggle against massive, athletic tackles Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love. Right guard Chris Chester has good lateral quickness and strength while left guard Maurice Hurt is slow and inconsistent. Jerod Mayo is a superb defender who blends instincts, vision, quickness, and power to punish runners. He gets better and better every week. Niko Koutouvides has shown the speed and strength to shed blockers and get to the ball.

EDGE: Patriots

When the Redskins pass

Rex Grossman is an excellent athlete with a quick release and a strong arm. He has good foot speed that allows him to buy extra time in the pocket. It’s never enough time for the diminutive quarterback, however. Grossman holds the ball too long and will absorb his share of hits and sacks. He often forces the ball into windows only elite QBs can get away with. Grossman will be without his most consistent primary target as tight end Fred Davis is suspended. Jabar Gaffney and Santana Moss are consistent threats. Gaffney is an underrated player who runs terrific routes, and has deceptive speed and strong hands. Gaffney does his best work underneath. He knows how to set up defenders and will go all out to make catches. Moss is an elusive and smooth receiver who can cut on a dime and has a flair for making acrobatic catches. He lacks power and strength and can be jammed and redirected by bigger corners. He’s not a big fan of going over the middle. Roy Helu is a terrific receiver out of the backfield and can be a demon on screens because he does his best work in space. You never know who will show up in New England’s secondary (is it Chad Ochocinco’s turn to play safety?), but one thing is for sure: It will give up yards. Rangy safety/stabilizing force Patrick Chung is missed more and more every week.

EDGE: Redskins

REDSKINS’ KEY PLAYER: Brian Orakpo

When you call Central Casting looking for a chiseled, 6-foot-4-inch, 260-pound outside linebacker, this is the monster they send. If you have seen his commercials, you know his words are hurtful. His hits are, too.

How he beats you: With an elite package of size, strength, and speed. Extraordinarily versatile, he can explode off the edge and terrorize quarterbacks. He will hunt running backs from sideline to sideline, and will even drop into coverage.

How to shut him down: By making him work. He doesn’t always give a consistent effort, so making a few big plays early could cause him to become uninterested and limit his effectiveness.

REDSKINS’ KEYS TO VICTORY

1. Banks on it: Brandon Banks, all 5 feet 6 inches, 155 pounds of him, is a tremendous weapon in the return game. He needs to flip field position and help out this anemic offense.

2. Get physical: The corners need to jam mighty-mite receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch at the snap to disrupt their routes and Tom Brady’s timing.

3. Step it up: Tight end Logan Paulsen has big shoes to fill. Get the big boy (6-5, 268) involved early to take the pressure off receivers Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney.

PATRIOTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY

1. Pound cake: The running backs need to get their carries to establish some rhythm. Washington is vulnerable up front, so today is the day to go smashmouth.

2. Pressure points: The pass rush has improved in recent weeks. That has to continue today, because Rex Grossman will hold onto the ball far too long.

3. Mettle stand: Time to test impressive rookie Roy Helu by punishing him on every play. He’s never liked the rough stuff, so see how tough he is - physically and mentally.

Prediction: Patriots 27, Redskins 13

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