GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers hit the road for the first time in 2018, and they’ll be headed east to take on Washington in a cross-divisional NFC game Sunday.
Washington let quarterback Kirk Cousins walk in free agency, then traded for veteran Alex Smith and handed him a four-year, $94 million extension. Smith may remain more known for being taken No. 1 in 2005 when Aaron Rodgers fell to No. 24, but through two games he has a 100.7 rating, completed 71.1 percent of his passes and has two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Basics on Washington
Washington lost 21-9 in its home opener to Andrew Luck and Indianapolis. Coach Jay Gruden's team fell behind 14-3 at the half and couldn’t dig out of the hole. The Colts ran for 104 yards and a score, but the Washington defense did sack Luck three times and forced two turnovers.
Gruden has a West Coast base, which is an offense that features timing passing. But the addition of Smith at quarterback allows flexibility, especially with the run-pass option (RPO) that Smith became so good at in Kansas City. Running back Chris Thompson is the team’s leading receiver and tight end Jordan Reed remains a tough cover. Defensively, coordinator Greg Manusky runs a 3-4. He expects push from his young front three and weakside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. They also have cornerback Josh Norman, so they feel they can match up with any opponent’s No. 1 recever.
Washington heads into the game with the league’s No. 1 overall defense, giving up just 494 yards of total offense through two weeks.
Washington players who are already out for this game, 10 of whom are on injured reserve. Running back Robert Kelley has a toe injury that has also sidelined him.
Total points Washington has allowed in two weeks, though Indianapolis scored three touchdowns in Week 2. The 13.5 points per game allowed ranks No. 2 in the NFL.
Players to watch
Adrian Peterson, RB
No, it’s not 2015, but Peterson has once again found a team willing to give him the ball. He ran for 96 yards on 26 carries in the season opener against a bad Arizona team but rushed for just 20 yards on 11 carries last week against Indianapolis. Peterson is one to watch not necessarily because he’s a game-changer anymore, but he takes touches away from Washington’s more dynamic runner, Chris Thompson. Not known as a receiving threat, Peterson does have five catches for 100 yards.
Paul Richardson, WR
Signed away from Seattle to provide a big-play threat (6 touchdowns, 16.0 yards per catch in 2017), but through two weeks Washington hasn’t been able to get him moving downfield. Richardson has been targeted 12 times with eight catches for 85 yards — or single-game totals for many No. 1 receivers. No doubt Gruden will want to get him back on track soon.
Matthew Ioannidis, DT
The 24-year-old defensive end might be coming into his own in his third season. A fifth-round pick out of Temple in 2016, he recorded 4.5 sacks last year. He already has two this season, one in each game. He also has forced and recovered a fumble. At 6-3 and 305 pounds, he fits the physical profile of an interior pass rusher that has already given the Packers trouble through the first two weeks. And with a less-mobile Aaron Rodgers, Ioannidis could present problems.
Reasons to worry
The Washington defense may not be as good as its rankings through two weeks, and the pass rush hasn’t really gotten going. Ioannidis has two of the team’s three total sacks. That’s right — three sacks. The Packers have allowed eight sacks through two weeks. Rodgers proved more mobile against Minnesota than even coach Mike McCarthy anticipated, but if Washington can somehow do what it hasn’t been able to do against relatively bad teams in Arizona and Indianapolis and actually get to Rodgers — that will definitely be a cause for concern.
Reasons to relax
The Washington offense has scored three touchdowns thus far, and all of them came in the second quarter of its Week 1 victory over Arizona. Alex Smith is moving the ball respectably through the air (7.2 yards per attempt) and he has been incredibly accurate (71.1 percent), but their longest pass play was a catch-and-run by Peterson for 52 yards. Thompson leads the team in targets and receptions. They’re just not pushing the ball to the receivers or down the field, so much so that they went out and signed castoffs Breshad Perriman and Michael Floyd. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly they can be integrated into the offense.
Peterson has gotten the bulk of the rushing attempts, and it hasn’t been that good at 3.1 yards per attempt. If Washington continues to try to push the 33-year-old as its primary ball carrier and the Packers secondary can continue to force a dink-and-dunk pass attack, Washington may be in for more Dustin Hopkins field goal attempts.
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Not much of a home-field advantage to start 2018.