STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
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Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is being used more and more as a slot receiver in recent seasons. He moves around and so it's unlikely the Redskins can keep top cornerback Josh Norman on Fitzgerald exclusively.
That's a problem for a Washington team that has been torched in recent weeks by top slots like Randall Cobb (Green Bay), Stefon Diggs (Minnesota) and Cole Beasley (Dallas). Rookie Kendall Fuller hasn't been up to that challenge lately so it's likely defensive coordinator Joe Barry turns to the bigger, more physical Bashaud Breeland in the slot, where he's played before, and used Fuller, Greg Toler and Quinton Dunbar in a rotation on the outside.
INJURY STATUS FOR SUNDAY
Out: DE Anthony Lanier (shin), TE Jordan Reed (shoulder)
Questionable: CB Bashaud Breeland (ankle), LB Terence Garvin (shoulder), DE Ricky Jean Francois (knee), LB Trent Murphy (ankle), T Ty Nsekhe (ankle), G Brandon Scherff (ankle), LS Nick Sundberg (back), RB Chris Thompson (illness)
Doubtful: S Tyrann Mathieu (shoulder)
Questionable: WR John Brown (illness)
LS Nick Sundberg (back) will play this Sunday at Arizona after missing the last two games.
DE Ricky Jean Francois (knee) was limited during practice on Wednesday, but is still expected to play Sunday against Arizona.
LT Ty Nsekhe (ankle) again played through an injury in the Dallas game on Thursday and was listed as limited by the team for Wednesday's practice. He is expected to play Sunday against Arizona.
WR DeSean Jackson tweaked his sore left shoulder in practice on Monday, but was a full participant on Wednesday and said he expects to play Sunday at Arizona.
QB Kirk Cousins was only the fifth quarterback this season to complete three touchdown passes, no interceptions and over 400 passing yards in a game when he accomplished that last Thursday in a 31-26 loss to Dallas.
The Cardinals seem suited to at least slowing Washington's passing attack. After all, they rank second in the league in fewest passing yards allowed and have generally held tight ends in check much of the year. But that didn't help them much against Atlanta, the NFL's top-ranked offense, in a 38-19 loss last week.
But undisciplined play has proven costly so the Redskins can use that against Arizona, which takes unnecessary penalties and frustrates its coaching staff.
Washington does need more from its rushing attack this week. Robert Kelley finally had a down game against Dallas after three strong weeks. But the offense should be able to put points up against the Cardinals. Even if tight end Jordan Reed doesn't play, Vernon Davis helped make up for that loss in two previous games Reed missed in October with a concussion.
The real key is on the other side of the ball. Running back David Johnson is a matchup nightmare both in the backfield and as a slot receiver. Washington's safeties and linebackers have been exposed in coverage in recent weeks against Green Bay and Dallas. The Redskins also aren't particularly adept at stopping the run (25th in rushing yards allowed per game).
One area Washington can take advantage is Arizona's patchwork offensive line. Quarterback Carson Palmer has been pummeled over the past two weeks and been sacked 32 times this season. The Redskins pass rush especially linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith and Trent Murphy have to find a way to get pressure on Palmer and take advantage of a porous line.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: K Dustin Hopkins was so consistent for the first year-plus of his time in Washington. But he's still fighting to get out of a slump. Hopkins made the first 12 field goals of the season, but then missed four of 10, including a 34-yarder in overtime of a tie against Cincinnati. Hopkins responded with five in a row over the next two weeks, but he hit just two of four against Dallas in a 31-26 loss on Thursday. Another concern: He's missed two extra points over the last seven games. Given their red zone struggles, Washington needs Hopkins to get right.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Redskins WR DeSean Jackson vs. Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson. A key to neutralizing Jackson is to be physical with him at the line and Peterson can certainly provide that. In recent weeks he's been frustrated because referees have been hitting him with penalties. One risk: Peterson hurt his left knee in the Atlanta game last week, remaining in the game, but in serious pain. He didn't practice on Wednesday and it's questionable how healthy. Jackson is nursing a left shoulder injury of his own, but played well against Dallas last Thursday and had a 67-yard touchdown catch. He is one of the game's preeminent deep threats.
Redskins LB Su'a Cravens vs. Cardinals RB David Johnson. Cravens' versatility is key here because he can run with Johnson. Unfortunately, he's also facing a player who is equal in size at 225 pounds and yet can move like a wide receiver and has great hands. Arizona uses Johnson, its starting running back, in the slot often. He caught a touchdown pass on a slant against Minnesota and almost had another last weekend against Atlanta before coming up a yard short of the end zone.