Here are five keys to the game heading into the Week 14 match between the Los Angeles Chargers and Washington Redskins:
1. Can Keenan Keep it Up? – Keenan Allen is in the midst of an unprecedented stretch in NFL history, becoming the first player to record 10-plus catches, 100-plus receiving yards and score at least one TD in three straight games. He's caught 77 passes for 1,032 yards and five touchdowns on the year, and is on pace to rewrite the team's record books in multiple categories. As a result, Washington is preparing for a heavy dose of KA13. Redskins Head Coach Jay Gruden explained the tall task his team is up against trying to find a way to limit Allen:
"He's one of the best route-runners in football. Has excellent hands. Everything he does has some deception to it. For a guy who may not run a 4.25 40, he is very fast. He plays fast, and all his routes look the same but they're different. He and Philip (Rivers) have a great rapport, and you can see that."
2. Crush Cousins – Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa seem destined for their first Pro Bowl appearances as they've wreaked havoc on opposing QBs all year. This week, they go up against Kirk Cousins, who has been sacked the third-most times of any quarterback in the NFL (35). The ability to pressure Cousins is of the utmost importance as he's one of the most dangerous passers in the league when given time in the pocket. Just ask Philip Rivers, who raved about Washington's passer:
"I have met him a handful of times and most recently, at the Pro Bowl last year. I think Kirk is a heck of a player. He's got some scrappiness to him, also. But I think he's a heck of a player. He's having a really good season. Again, you mention some of the injuries, but there's a lot of things…why you end up maybe not being right where you want to be this year. But he's had another really good season. You pull for a guy like that. He worked like crazy to get a shot, and he got it and he's kept it, and he seems to have really a lot of his career ahead of him."
3. Keep Takeaway Train Rolling – The defense has also thrived at forcing takeaways over their 6-2 stretch. They've especially been one of the best in the NFL over their three-game win streak. Meanwhile, Washington has turned the ball over at an alarming rate. Cousins' six lost fumbles are the most in the NFL, while the team's 20 total turnovers are the fifth most in the league. Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley weighed in on his team's penchant for forcing turnovers of late:
"We preach it's all about the ball. We've got to find a way to get the football. And not only that, but score. That's how we're defined. But what I think has been impressive so far up to this point with this group, is they've been timely interceptions. Although we didn't win in Jacksonville, it gave us an opportunity with two late interceptions. And then also the Dallas game. And then this past week. They've been timely at the end of games. Sure, you'd like to have them in the earlier part too, but that's what's been impressive. When their number's called, we need to go stand up; we've come up with some big plays."
4. Finish in the Red Zone – While a lot has gone right over the past three games, the Bolts are coming off a game in which they failed to finish in the red zone. L.A. was only 1-for-4 a week ago against the Cleveland Browns, settling for three field goals. Head Coach Anthony Lynn made it clear the team will need to get seven and not three if they want to keep stacking Ws. Here's what he had to say about the team's struggles last week near the end zone:
"I feel like the offense was doing well in the red zone up until last week. We missed out on the opportunity with Philip and Keenan. And, they made some adjustments that threw us off a little bit. Maybe we didn't adjust quickly enough. I like the fact that we're getting in the red zone, which means we have an opportunity to get points, but we definitely have to have a better red zone performance than last week, and I believe we will."
5. Be Wary of the Underrated Wideouts – The Redskins entered the year expecting Terrelle Pryor to be their top dog. Instead, the free agent addition was limited by injuries all year before landing on IR. However, Washington boasts a balanced trio at wide receiver who have quietly had big seasons. Jamison Crowder leads the way with 51 catches for 628 yards and one TD. Meanwhile, Josh Doctson has a knack for the end zone, catching 24 passes for 354 yards and five touchdowns. Then there is Ryan Grant, a fourth-year wideout who has 36 receptions for 417 yards and four scores. Bradley gave a scouting report of their WR corps:
"All three have different styles when you watch them play. The talent level, and Kirk has a really good idea of what it is and how to use it. The coaching staff, too. They know their skill set and what they're effective at. But, they all are different. Seeing them on film, the athleticism is definitely there."