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Commanders keys vs. 49ers: Restrict San Francisco’s playmakers, be affected person on offense


For the third straight yr, the Washington Commanders are making a December postseason push by which they want wins and some issues to interrupt their means. This week, the Commanders are clinging to a half-game lead for the seventh seed within the NFC and touring to Santa Clara, Calif., the place on a brief week they’ll face the San Francisco 49ers, who’re well-rested and rolling with seven straight victories. San Francisco (10-4) is favored by 6.5 factors, in accordance with Vegas Insider.

If Washington (7-6-1) loses, its playoff odds would drop to 22 p.c, in accordance with FiveThirtyEight, as a result of Seattle (7-7) and red-hot Detroit (7-7) are in shut pursuit. The Seahawks (at Kansas Metropolis) and Lions (at Carolina) are each on the highway Saturday, however Detroit is a slight favourite. If Washington have been to drag off an upset, its playoff odds would rise to 65 p.c.

The 49ers, who’ve misplaced two quarterbacks to harm this yr, are beginning Brock Purdy, the final decide on this yr’s draft, and will probably be with out star vast receiver Deebo Samuel (ankle). However their elite protection, proficient play caller (Coach Kyle Shanahan) and deep offense current an imposing problem. Listed below are some keys for the Commanders as they attempt to earn a shock win:

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Seemingly the most important key to the Commanders’ recreation plan is protection. For Washington’s run-first offensive method to stay possible, the protection should preserve the sport shut by limiting a 49ers offense with proficient playmakers, equivalent to operating again Christian McCaffrey, tight finish George Kittle and vast receiver Brandon Aiyuk.

Washington ought to have some optimism as a result of San Francisco’s offense has been much less aggressive since Purdy turned the starter, former NFL tight finish and Commanders broadcaster Logan Paulsen mentioned. Final week towards Seattle, the one massive performs the 49ers generated have been game-planned photographs to Kittle.

If versatile security Kam Curl (ankle) can’t play, it’d be an enormous blow. Up to now two seasons, Curl has usually drawn the opponent’s hardest matchup, together with McCaffrey final yr when he performed for the Panthers. If Curl can’t play, Coach Ron Rivera mentioned, the Commanders would most likely change him by committee with Percy Butler and Jeremy Reaves.

One main key for Washington is to proceed stopping the run with a light-weight field so defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio can dedicate extra gamers to protection, which might reduce the percentages of an explosive play.

“When … you are in a position to cease the run with out all the time having to play the run [with more defenders in the box], it makes them actual powerful to go towards,” Shanahan instructed reporters Monday. “They do not hand over massive performs. They make everybody work for the whole lot.”

Contained in the Commanders’ emotional Professional Bowl announcement video

Keep on with the plan on offense

If Washington can preserve the sport shut, offensive coordinator Scott Turner can lean on the power of his unit and name bodily, downhill runs, equivalent to duo, energy and inside zone. Paulsen identified San Francisco’s quick, athletic line of defense has overwhelmed groups that run on the perimeters, equivalent to Atlanta, however struggled extra towards blunt pressure operating video games, equivalent to Kansas Metropolis’s.

If the run works, Turner can incorporate photographs downfield off exhausting play-action. In back-to-back video games towards the New York Giants, it appeared just like the Commanders unlocked a brand new stage of the offense by attacking vertically to the highest three receivers, together with a 61-yard bomb to Jahan Dotson.

Total, the method of downhill operating with just a few photographs will most likely be inefficient. However for it to work, Paulsen mentioned, Turner will most likely must be extra affected person and cohesive than he was final week towards the Giants.

“[You have to be] okay with punting,” Paulsen mentioned.

Brian Robinson Jr. jolted the Commanders’ offense. Now he wants the ball extra.

Keep disciplined on the line of defense

Defensive finish Chase Younger’s return for a restricted variety of snaps Saturday will put a magnifying glass on the self-discipline and cohesion of the Commanders’ entrance. Final season, Younger repeatedly freelanced as the road splintered, and through his restoration from a big knee harm this season, as the road turned a united pressure, Younger’s coaches acknowledged he could have a smaller margin for error if he doesn’t need to disrupt the unit.

In late November, Rivera mentioned to anticipate “someplace round 12 to 16 performs” when Younger returned. However on Thursday, when Rivera mentioned Younger can be on a snap depend, he resisted citing a selected vary.

“Who is aware of?” he mentioned. “It’s going to be just a few right here, just a few right here, just a few right here and simply type of take him by way of the actions and see how he handles it.”

It appears doubtless Del Rio will deploy Younger situationally, maybe largely as a cross rusher, contemplating it’s his power. Or Del Rio might decide to begin Younger out with low leverage snaps, equivalent to first and second downs on early drives.

“It’ll be an actual massive raise,” Rivera mentioned Thursday. “Truthfully, that’s type of why we determined now could be the time to let you know guys [reporters] simply so it doesn’t develop into that distraction and that ‘What if?’ ”



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