Sure, the 49ers should beat the Redskins Monday night, should blow them away. The 49ers are a good team fighting for a playoff spot and the Redskins are 3-7, going nowhere.
I just can’t help noticing a few factors which work in the Redskins’ favor against the Niners.
Take this one, it’s the craziest thing: During the Jim Harbaugh Era, the 49ers never have beaten an opponent that has run the ball more than 30 times. The Niners’ record in those games is 0-8-1. Can you believe that?
The Redskins happen to run the ball a lot – 38 times per game the past three weeks. And they’re good at running the ball. They average a league-best 5.1 yards per carry. And they have two good running backs – Alfred Morris and Roy Helu. The 49ers have just one good running back – Frank Gore – for what it’s worth.
The Redskins probably will attack the 49ers the same way the Seahawks attacked the Niners Week 2 – just run the ball. The Seahawks ran the ball on two-thirds of their plays and scored 27 points on offense even though their quarterback, Russell Wilson, completed only nine passes. The Redskins may run the ball two-thirds of the time on Monday, too. Their run game is even better than the Seahawks’ run game.
And the Redskins’ quarterback is much worse. Robert Griffin III limps around the field and throws some of the most inaccurate passes you’ve ever seen, passes that miss receivers by 10 yards. After last season’s injury he’s painful to watch.
But over the past three weeks, Griffin actually has been less painful to watch than Colin Kaepernick: Kaepernick’s passer rating has been 74, and Griffin’s rating has been 95 over that three-game stretch.
I know what you’re saying: “Grant, you’re over-thinking this. So what if the Redskins can run the ball and Griffin is playing better than Kaepernick? The Redskins’ defense is giving up more than 30 points per game this season.”
And that’s a great point.
I just can’t help noticing the Redskins, as bad as their defense is, faced two of the best running backs in the NFL the past two weeks – Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy – and the Redskins held each player to fewer than 80 rushing yards and fewer than 4 yards per carry. I also can’t help noticing that the Saints held Frank Gore to just 48 rushing yards last Sunday, and the Saints’ run defense is worse than the Redskins’ run defense.
You know the Redskins will stack the box against the 49ers with eight and sometimes nine defenders. The Redskins would be crazy not to. The 49ers have had no passing game since Week 1, so you have to load up against their run game and dare the 49ers to pass.
And you know the 49ers’ best run-blocking guard, Mike Iupati, won’t play. He sprained his MCL. Adam Snyder will replace him at left guard and Snyder is a liability. Snyder is the guy who gave up the sack with two minutes left in the Saints game.
You’re probably saying: “Grant, you’re missing the point. The Redskins can’t cover anyone. They’re giving up 8 yards per pass, and two completions every three pass attempts.”
That’s another great point and before I go on, I just want to commend you for all the great points you’re making.
But I just can’t help noticing that it’s easy to shut down the 49ers’ pass game. All it takes is double-covering Anquan Boldin with a cornerback and the free safety, and then double-covering Vernon Davis with a linebacker and the strong safety. Those are the two players Kaepernick wants to throw to. Teams routinely make Kaepernick force the ball into double coverage to get it to either one of them.
Defenses can double cover those guys because defenses don’t have to worry about the 49ers’ No. 2 receiver, Mario Mannigham. He has four catches on the season. He has no explosiveness. He looks like he still should be rehabbing the ACL he tore last December.
I know what you’re thinking: “Pick the Redskins to win already if you really believe all of this.”
Touché. You got me there. I can’t pick the Redskins. They probably will invent a new way to lose on Sunday.
But if you look closely, this game could pose unexpected problems for the slumping 49ers. You can’t help noticing that.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for the Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.