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Why 49ers aren’t looking at the Redskins like an easy win

© Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

You’re not wrong to want to pencil this game in as a win. The 49ers are 5-0 with arguably the best defense in the NFL and the Washington Redskins are 1-5 with an interim head coach in Bill Callahan and a far from inspiring quarterback in Case Keenum. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has an extra chip on his shoulder in that he hates the Redskins organization and made that abundantly clear this week, saying he disliked “everything else” about working for the franchise aside from working with his father, Mike.

So, what’s the catch?

That quip from Shanahan seems too personal to him and impersonal to Redskins players (lest, maybe Ryan Kerrigan and Chris Thompson, the only remaining players on the Redskins from the Shanahan years) to be viewed as a slight to them. He even added, after a long pause, “I liked a lot of the players, some good people.”

That statement has been proven true by the fact that in past years, he’s scooped up former Redskins players to the 49ers: wide receiver Pierre Garcon, running back Alfred Morris, tight end Logan Paulsen, long snapper Kyle Nelson, and even tight end Niles Paul for a brief moment in training camp. So, it’s not that one-liner that the 49ers expect to have the Redskins riled up any more than usual.

What does concern the 49ers is exactly what other teams are concerned about when facing them: the defensive front. For as woeful as the Redskins 1-5 record is and for as many yards and points as they allow each game (seventh-worst in total yards, third-worst in touchdowns allowed), the defense is far from inept.

Their 14 sacks (t-15th) are just three fewer than the 49ers’ 17, and they have the same seven interceptions as the 49ers (though they’ve forced five fewer fumbles and recovered three fewer). They have been weak on the ground, allowing 134 yards per game (fifth-worst), though only a league average five touchdowns (t-14th best). Their pass defense has been respectable, allowing 251 yards per game (13th-worst), though has allowed 14 touchdowns, third-worst in the NFL.

Those unimpressive stats are in large part a product of the Redskins’ woeful offense, which ranks fifth-worst in total yards, fourth-worst in interceptions (eight INTS to nine TDs), and crucially, second-worst in time of possession per game, at 26:39. The 49ers, meanwhile, rank second-best in that category, with an average offensive time of possession of 35:03. Where the 49ers have kept their defense fresh, the Redskins have left them hung out to dry.

It’s why the 49ers have repeatedly mentioned the Redskins’ defense as far from woeful.

“They’re capable of beating anyone,” Shanahan said Wednesday. “I know they just won their first game, but they have some good players in there. I know they have some good coaches. They’ve got a very tough D-Line, they’ve got some corners, they’ve got a good safety (Landon Collins), they have some good O-Linemen. Everyone knows what [Washington Redskins RB] Adrian Peterson can do. It took New England a while to pull away from them. Washington’s offense turned it over a number of times and New England couldn’t capitalize. That’s why they had them 9-7 at halftime and it wasn’t until a few more turnovers and a few long runs that the score did get carried away. Anytime you go against some good players and good coaches, it doesn’t matter what your record is, that ball bounces the wrong way, you don’t come in ready to play your best game, they will humble you and beat anyone in this league.”

The Redskins run a 3-4 front, which will leave the 49ers’ inexperienced tackle pairing of Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill faced with the strong, speed-rushing combo of Montez Sweat and Ryan Kerrigan, respectively. When asked about the matchups, both seemed to have done their homework.

“It’ll be Sweat, especially in the passing downs, and then Kerrigan a little bit,” Skule said. “[Sweat] is a really good player. He’s a fast player, a long guy. He’s really good at using his length… The Washington Redskins have a phenomenal front… We’re definitely not overlooking them. They’re a good team. They’ve lost some games, but they have a great front. They have really good players and we’re playing at their place and so anything can happen.”

Brunskill sounded much more than his 25 years when giving the rundown on Kerrigan.

“I believe I’ll be matched up with 91 (Kerrigan) primarily because he seems to play the right side mainly,” Brunskill said. “But they do flip flop a little bit when it’s mixed downs because they play the strength and weakness from what it looks like. They could always change it up, you never know.”

He credited the strength and size of the Redskins’ front, and Kerrigan’s “get off,” specifically, as things to prepare for.

“They look like a really good defensive front actually, like they’ve got really big guys,” Brunskill said. “They’ve got strong guys which is which is big, and then Kerrigan, you know he’s got a really fast get off like when they go to pass downs too, so it’s going to be interesting because they bring a lot of strength to push the pocket in the mixed downs area and then once we get into those passing downs they can get back into their speed and want to bend the corners and stuff. So they actually have some really good players, so it’s gonna be an interesting matchup to go against them. I just can’t wait to learn and grow from it and keep getting better so it’s gonna be a fun matchup.”


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