The Battle of the Beltways is largely about bragging rights for local fans.
But this year’s matchup means much more than that for the teams themselves.
The Ravens have made the playoffs four years straight. The Redskins have missed them four years in a row. Whoever wins Sunday at FedExField will put themselves in very strong playoff position.
“It’s December football and everybody’s fighting for a playoff spot,” outside linebacker Paul Kruger said. “It’s getting to a critical point in the year where everybody is going to be highly motivated.”
The Ravens (9-3) are coming off a loss to the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers in which they missed a chance at clinching a playoff spot.
All of a sudden, their grip on a playoff spot isn’t so tight anymore. A loss to Washington could put the Ravens just one game up on Pittsburgh and Cincinnati with three games left – all against winnings teams in the playoff hunt.
The Redskins (6-6), meanwhile, are riding a three-game winning streak that has them just one game out in the NFC East behind the New York Giants.
What’s better motivation: to be hot or angry?
“A team that’s hot is playing well and probably will continue to do so,” tight end Dennis Pitta said. “At the same time, a team that comes off a tough loss is highly motivated to correct that wrong. That’s where we’re at this week.
“We really need this game. It’s an important one for us.”
3 Matchups To Watch
WR Torrey Smith vs. CB Josh Wilson
Part of the Ravens offense’s struggles against Pittsburgh was its inability to connect on the deep ball. Washington’s secondary is allowing 299 passing yards per game, the second most in the NFL. Smith will look to expose former Raven and former Terps teammate Wilson.
DE Art Jones vs. QB Robert Griffin III
The Ravens defensive ends have perhaps the toughest job against RGIII. They have to quickly recognize run versus pass, and the Redskins quarterback will be reading them to see whether he should hand the ball off, run it or pass. Jones has three sacks in two games, but can’t over pursue RGIII.
FB Vonta Leach vs. LB London Fletcher
Fletcher is the Redskins’ version of Ray Lewis. He’s 37 years old, in his 15th season and is the heart and soul of Washington’s defense. Leach was blowing up Steelers last week, and if he can do the same to the veteran linebacker, the Ravens run game should have success and keep RGIII off the field more.
3 Questions To Answer
Can the Ravens contain RGIII?
This may be the key to the game. In the last three games, Griffin has thrown for 667 yards with nine touchdowns and just one interception. He has also rushed for 185 yards. Baltimore has practiced for Washington’s pistol option offense all week, thanks in part to practice squad quarterback Dennis Dixon, and Ravens defenders say they like their game plan.
Will Baltimore pound the rock with Ray Rice?
The Redskins’ weakness on defense is in the passing game. But the Ravens offense also took criticism this week for not feeding Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice the ball enough last week. Rice had 13 touches, and none in the fourth quarter. The Ravens traditionally run the ball more in cold weather games late in the year.
Will Terrell Suggs play?
Losing Suggs could be catastrophic for the Ravens defense, which is already banged up at linebacker without Ray Lewis for at least one more game and Dannell Ellerbe, who has been ruled out. Washington running back Alfred Morris “runs angry” according to Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees. The Ravens may need all the tackling help they can get, even if Suggs’ arm is hurting.
Total Offense – 343.5 (19)
Rush Offense – 102.4 (23)
Pass Offense – 240.8 (15)
Points Per Game – 25.3 (9)
Total Defense – 372.3 (25)
Rush Defense – 125.8 (23)
Pass Defense – 246.5 (23)
Points Per Game – 20.2 (8)
Total Offense – 383.7 (7)
Rush Offense – 167.2 (1)
Pass Offense – 216.5 (21)
Points Per Game – 26.0 (8)
Total Defense – 390.5 (29)
Rush Defense – 91.5 (4)
Pass Defense – 299.0 (31)
Points Per Game – 25.1 (23)