Fresh off a season-opening victory over the New York Giants, the Redskins hope to continue their winning ways against the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday. They have to like their odds having taken nine of the past 10 games they’ve played against Arizona.
However, the Cardinals are coming off a 28-21 win over the Panthers in which newly anointed quarterback Kevin Kolb threw for over 300 yards in his debut.
Here are five keys to the game:
1. Rex Grossman not only threw for more than 300 yards last week but also turned the ball over just one time. It’s early, but he’s clearly taken a different approach to the quarterback position, which is something he had to do if he wanted to win the starting job over John Beck.
Sunday is another prime opportunity for Grossman to prove he’s reinvented himself. In 2010, the Cardinals gave up 55 passes of 20 yards or more, tied for the seventh-most in the NFL. Last week, they watched Cam Newton throw for 422 yards in his NFL debut.
Arizona’s secondary is suspect and Grossman should be able to exploit it.
2. Washington played almost error-free football against the Giants, and it’s no coincidence their margin of victory was the largest since a 2009 win over the Raiders. Grossman’s fumble was the only time the offense turned the ball over, and the entire team committed just three penalties.
It won’t be easy to duplicate such a disciplined performance, yet Washington was equally impressive in a preseason win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. That game, according to Grossman, “sparked the team,” giving it a blueprint for success they’ve carried over into the regular season.
3. The Giants loaded the box early and often last Sunday, making it tough for Tim Hightower to generate much on the ground. However, unlike last year when the Redskins would have completely abandoned the run game, they stuck with it to the end and Hightower did just enough to help Grossman seal the win.
This week is very special to Hightower as he prepares to line up opposite his former team just months after being traded to Washington. Mike Shanahan has entrusted the backfield to him and what better way to make it his own than a dominating performance against 2010’s 30th-ranked run defense?
4. Elite receivers were the bane of Washington’s defense in 2010. Through three games, Andre Johnson, Miles Austin and Calvin Johnson combined for 31 receptions for 405 yards and five touchdowns.
Sunday’s match-up against Larry Fitzgerald will be the secondary’s first crack at redemption this year. Fitzgerald has eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving plateau four straight times and has 17 catches for 229 yards and a touchdown in three games against Washington.
Hightower called his former teammate “the heart and soul” of the Cardinals organization. To win, the Redskins must find a way to contain him -- no easy task, especially if LaRon Landry can’t go.
5. Graham Gano didn’t miss a field goal in the preseason, but against the Giants his first meaningful kick of the year sailed wide right, raising more concerns about the young kicker’s ability to succeed in this league a year after finishing in last place in kicking percentage.
Mike Shanahan has expressed an unwavering confidence in Gano, but another shaky performance on Sunday could prove costly to both the Redskins’ chance at winning and his job security.