The Redskins.com crew breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Sundays's Redskins-Cardinals 2017 Week 15 showdown at FedExField in Landover, Md.
"Redskins-Cardinals: Ingredients For Victory" is presented by Papa John's.
Every Monday after a Redskins game, get a Large Cheese Pizza for just $9.99. Receive a FREE TOPPING for every Redskins touchdown. DOUBLE THE FREE TOPPINGS when the Redskins win!
GET BACK ON TRACK THESE FINAL THREE GAMES
After back-to-back difficult outings against the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers, the Washington Redskins have been eliminated from playoff contention with three weeks to go in the season.
While the Redskins' goal of first reaching the postseason before contending for another Super Bowl title are now out of reach, the team still has plenty to play for over these final games.
"We just have to play right now, just play football and play for ourselves and play for all that we have at the moment," said Redskins tight end Vernon Davis. "We have a lot right now. We have a good group of guys that are here on this team. Tomorrow and next year, you don't know if they're going to be here, so you might as well enjoy these moments and play with passion and play for the love of the game."
This week, Washington will host an Arizona squad that is 6-7 on the year with faint playoff hopes remaining. That's the only game the team can focus on for now before looking ahead to preparations for the Denver Broncos and New York Giants.
"We're focused on one game. That's all we can do is just try to get these guys ready for Arizona," said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. "Everybody's talking about the lack of preparation, you know, you start trying to prepare for week two and three – Denver and whoever else we play at the end of the year, the Giants – you know, that might be part of the problem. We have to just prepare for Arizona, check out their looks.
"They play very strong defensive football, have a good blitz scheme and held a good Tennessee Titan offense to seven points last week or this past weekend. So have our work cut out for us from that standpoint."
PREPARE FOR THE FUTURE HALL OF FAMER'S BEST
While Larry Fitzgerald is close to wrapping up his 14th season with the Cardinals, the wide receiver doesn't show any signs of aging on the field.
Through 13 games this season, the University of Pittsburgh product has collected 87 receptions for 922 yards and five touchdowns. He's easily the most targeted player on Arizona's offense and continues to give opposing defenses fits.
"He's just a veteran of the game – a great player that still has talent," said Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. "The quarterback trusts him and he knows where he's going to be. He knows exactly where to run the routes and then from a leverage standpoint, he does a great job of setting players up. Larry does a great job. We've got to defend him along with the other receivers and tight ends that they have."
Although Fitzgerald is close to a ninth 1,000-yard receiving season (only three players in NFL history can boast that on their resumes), his success in pass blocking is something the Redskins can't take for granted.
"He goes in there, he blocks defensive ends, he blocks linebackers – very physical," Gruden said. "It's just great when you see a Hall of Fame-type player like that put that kind of work in in the blocking when he doesn't have the ball. I think that's the most impressive thing, personally, about Larry. Aside from all the stats, he's a very unselfish player and a very physical player in the running game.
"He obviously paved the way for a lot of yards for Chris Johnson when they had him and David Johnson when they had him and [Kerwynn] Williams they've got now, so he's a big reason for their running game success."
KEEP KIRK COMFORTABLE
A constantly changing offense has slightly hindered the otherwise impressive production of Redskins quarterback Trent Williams this season.
With a pair of new running backs, a battle-worn offensive line and a developing receiving corps, Cousins has been doing his best to provide consistency to a squad that has a new look almost every week. With an upcoming matchup against the Cardinals this weekend, Cousins said he treats every game as a new opportunity to grow and try to become comfortable with the players around him.
"I believe that you learn from the past and you certainly want to make sure it doesn't repeat itself but there is no doubt that you do need to wipe it, you need to hit the reset button a little bit," he said. "You need to just move forward and not allow anything emotionally to linger."
Cousins added that with the Redskins being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and new personnel being added to the roster, the offense has started to branch out in the types of plays being sent into the huddle.
Of course, in order for Cousins to get comfortable with the new plays and new players, he first needs to stay protected behind the line. Despite being sacked 37 times this year, fourth most in the NFL, Cousins said the hits have come from him holding the ball for too long and not from issues with the offensive line.
Looking to Sunday, Cousins said that Washington's biggest offensive key will be finding ways to get past Arizona's secondary, with players like safety Tyrann Mathieu and cornerback Patrick Peterson accounting for three interceptions and 86 tackles.
"They've had some injuries on the defensive side much like any other defense, but still a lot of good players out there that are making plays," Cousins said. "I think there's a lot of smart players – crafty guys – and they'll provide a good challenge."
TIGHTEN UP THE DEFENSIVE COMMUNICATION
The overall performance of this year's Redskins team has largely been dictated by how well the defense does or doesn't play during a given game.
In the Redskins' eight losses this season, the team has let up an average of 33.3 points per game. In the wins, the mark drops to just 15.6 points allowed.
Of course, not every point allowed is the fault of the defense, but it is safe to say that the unit's performance over the last five games – four in which the Redskins let up over 30 points - has not been up to the team's standards.
It's likely that these struggles have resulted in part from a lack of strong communication amongst the unit. After all, the defense has been hampered with injuries all season long, with a lot of new or young faces shuffling in and out.
"I told you early on even in training camp, we all have got to be on the same page across the board and that communication is vital," Manusky said. "Like I said early on in training camp, it doesn't matter what call that I call as long as we are all on the same page."
Like with most of the struggles that a team encounters, the solution can be found in practice. Manusky noted that the best way to solve communication issues is by going through walkthroughs of the defensive alignments. He said that the team has been going out to the practice field before practice to get some extra work on walkthrough sessions.
The defense has a chance to improve its communication against a struggling Arizona Cardinals offense that ranks in the bottom-10 of the league in points per game.