LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — One of these NFL franchises is not like the other. At all. On one side, there’s the New England Patriots: Led by Bill Belichick’s defense and Tom Brady at quarterback, they’re the reigning Super Bowl champs and just so happen to be 4-0 this season.
On the other? The Washington Redskins are 0-4, have a coach, Jay Gruden, that everyone assumes will be gone at the end of this season, if not sooner, and a starting QB spot that’s completely unsettled.
No wonder New England is favored by about two touchdowns on the road Sunday.
As of Thursday, no one knew for sure whether it would be Colt McCoy, Dwayne Haskins or Case Keenum taking snaps this weekend.
Redskins running back Chris Thompson made the case that such uncertainty at the sport’s most important position was not a big deal.
“That’s not something we think about. We’ve gone through OTAs and training camp. You get used to everybody. There’s not a player in here that hasn’t caught a pass from all three quarterbacks,” Thompson said. “Right now, it doesn’t affect anything. I don’t think it affects the morale of the team, the players, or anything like that.”
That’s certainly possible.
Still, it’s hardly the ideal way to prepare for Sunday’s game against the visiting Patriots and a defense that ranks No. 1 overall in the NFL, No. 2 against the run and No. 2 against the pass, and has allowed a grand total of one TD all season.
“We just got to keep staying hungry,” said Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy, the AFC Defensive Player of the Week after eight tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles in a 16-10 win at Buffalo.
Their defense also leads the league with 10 interceptions, twice as many as any other club, and has 18 sacks, tied for the league lead.
New England is allowing 6.8 points per game, the fewest among the 32 teams. Washington, meanwhile, is giving up the second-most, 29.5.
“Everything that they do is different than any other team in the league. They can roll with seven DBs on one play, and then they’ll have five linebackers out there next. You just never know,” Thompson said about New England’s defense. “With them, it’s never situational. It’s never like, ‘Oh, it’s third-and-5, they’re going to put all their DBs out there.’ They might do it on second down, just for the heck of it. And everything they do, they’re sound and disciplined. It’s a big challenge, for sure. And the fact is, our offense hasn’t been the best, especially the last two weeks.”
That’s certainly true.
Washington puts up 16.5 points per game, keeps handing the ball to the opponent and has neither run nor passed all that effectively. Plays are there to be made, thanks to Gruden’s keen offensive mind, but they’re not always being made.
Keenum had five turnovers in Week 3, then threw a pick before yanked in Week 4; his replacement, first-round draft pick Haskins, threw a trio of interceptions in his NFL debut last week at the New York Giants.
McCoy hasn’t played since breaking his leg last season. If he’s deemed completely recovered, he might just get his chance to show what he can do in an offense he knows so well.
Whoever is at QB for them this week, the Redskins know full well how difficult things will be.
“We could sit here and make it about the Patriots, and we would be here all day: Super Bowls; best quarterback of all time; one of the greatest coaches of all time. I really don’t care about any of that,” Washington defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. “I’m focused on what the Redskins have to do. ‘Cause if we don’t do what we’ve got to do, it doesn’t matter what they do, ‘cause we’re not going to win.”
Here are some other things to watch:
The Patriots will have someone other than Stephen Gostkowski kicking field goals and extra points for the first time since 2010 after placing the 35-year-old on IR this week and signing Mike Nugent to replace him. Gostkowski is the franchise’s career leading scorer, but he’s already missed four extra points in 2019. “I think sometimes the outside world doesn’t know what he means to our special teams unit and us as a team,” safety Devin McCourty said. “Just the stability at that position; we never waver if there’s a kick on the line.” New England is Nugent’s eighth NFL team.
Long snapper Joe Cardona calls new kicker Mike Nugent a complete professional, and says the goal now is to build chemistry — fast. pic.twitter.com/khalf7gJZX
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) October 3, 2019
The Redskins are still without their best offensive lineman, left tackle Trent Williams, who is holding out, and they have two other starters dealing with injuries: RG Brandon Scherff (ankle) and C Chase Roullier (knee).
TIGHT END HELP?
New England’s Ben Watson is eligible to make his regular-season debut after serving a four-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance after last season. He signed a $3 million, one-year deal with the Patriots to help try to fill the hole created by the retirement of Rob Gronkowski. Without Gronk in the lineup, the Patriots are looking for a boost at tight end: Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse have four catches for 77 yards with no touchdowns this season.
NO RUNNING GAME
The Redskins are averaging 17 rushing attempts, the fewest in the NFL, and they rank 31st in average gain per carry, 2.9 yards. Adrian Peterson, who topped 1,000 yards last season, has 90 yards on 33 carries so far this season. “Sometimes it’s what the defense is doing. Got to pat those guys on the back,” Peterson said. “And sometimes it’s what we aren’t doing right, whether that’s from the running back position or the offensive line.”