The 7-0 Patriots face the 3-4 Redskins at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots are looking to continue the NFL Revenge Tour. The Patriots haven't seriously played the Redskins in 4 years, so the large amount of roster turnover will play a factor in this game. They had a brief glimpse of the roster in the 2014 preseason, but the schemes are vanilla during those games. The Patriots have a lot of film to look at, but there's no realistic way to expect what they'll throw the Patriots way. Here's where New England can plan against what they do know about the Redskins:
1. Take Away the Deep Shots to DeSean Jackson: The Patriots are dealing with a relatively inexperienced QB in Kirk Cousins, who is in his first full year as the team's starter. The Patriots should plan for the Redskins to try to hit on some big plays on bootlegs or play action to Jackson, who can absolutely take the top off any defense. I expect the Patriots to have Logan Ryan trail him and Devin McCourty shade him over the top. The objective here is to try to make the Redskins continually string together 10+ play drives without any chunk plays and without a running game. I don't honestly expect Cousins to be able to string together drives like that, and taking away the deep developing routes could give the pass rush a chance to take over the game.
2. Take Away the Running Game: An inexperienced QB's best friend is a good running game. The Redskins don't run the ball as well as the Jets, Dolphins, or Cowboys do, but the Patriots should still attempt to take that away to put the game in Cousins' hands with long 2nd and 3rd down situations. When Cousins is forced to put the game on his shoulders, that's when the forced throws and turnovers happen. Also, long 3rd downs allow the Patriots vaunted pass rush to key in on the QB to force those errant throws into coverage.
3. Get Both LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis Contributing Early and Often: One of the keys to the Miami win was the play of their 2 running backs. Whether it's pounding the ball with Blount Force to isolating Lewis against a linebacker in space, those two will play a big factor. Start with Blount between the tackles to set up the play action game, where the linebackers are forced to step up and leaves a void for Gronkowski to slip in and do his damage. Once the Redskins adjust to the power game and load the box, spread them thin and throw the ball to Lewis in open spaces then start counting the number of missed tackles. I believe both players will get at least 15 touches in the game.
4. Take Advantage of the Redskins Weak Punt Coverage Unit: On my rankings spreadsheet, the Redskins have a -1 Punt Coverage Grade. A lot of that has to do with a very low ratio of punts downed inside the 20 to touchbacks. The Redskins have the 3rd worst net punting average in the NFL and have given up more than 15 yards per return (12-185). For the Patriots, Danny Amendola finds ways to unexpectedly contribute and this may that area. While I don't expect either him or Julian Edelman to return a punt for a touchdown, this area could help the Patriots control the field position battle. The Patriots offense starts 11 yards closer to the end zone than their defense, which is the 2nd best net field position behind the Cincinnati Bengals.
For a final score prediction, I'm going with Patriots 37, Redskins 20. The Redskins don't have the coverage to be able to slow the Patriots weapons or the pass rush to et to Brady before he can release the pass. On the other side, the Patriots do have the players to slow down the Redskins receivers enough for the pass rush to get home. The game will be a lot more lopsided than this final score, with the Redskins scoring a garbage time TD in the last 2 minutes of the game when the Patriots go Prevent D.