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Patriots vs Redskins: James White could have a big day against Washington’s linebackers

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We spoke with Hogs Haven about the matchup between New England and Washington.

New England Patriots vs Buffalo Bills Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

The New England Patriots’ offense had a tough day against the Buffalo Bills’ defense in Week 4. While the unit did have its moments and ultimately performed just well enough to help the team improve to 4-0 on the season, it was unable to find a consistent rhythm and struggled particularly to extend drives during the second half. Ultimately, it finished the game with only 10 points scored and 224 total yards gained.

This week, however, presents a golden opportunity for New England’s offense to get back on the track: the Patriots will travel to Washington over the weekend to take on an 0-4 Redskins team that has looked like one of the worst in football on both sides of the ball. The defense has surrendered 26 points per game — the fourth worst in the league — and has been mightily inconsistent against the run and especially versus the pass.

In order to get a clearer picture about the unit coordinated by veteran play caller Greg Manusky, we spoke with Hogs Haven’s Andrew York about what the Patriots should expect, which players they should keep an eye on, and how they might find success. Overall, the picture he painted was not exactly a pretty one from Washington’s perspective: “Quite honestly, almost everything seems to be working against this defense.”

“However, I’d say we’re a bit better at stuffing runs up the middle and have been pretty good at limiting short passes to tight ends,” Andrew continued before shifting focus to some of the issues that the team has had so far this season — issues New England could take advantage of on Sunday: “Our linebackers are particularly bad in coverage, so I’d be looking to exploit those matchups with crossing routes and passes to running backs.”

The Patriots, of course, have one of the best receiving backs in all of football on their team: James White has the versatility and the pass-catching abilities to put pressure on Washington’s linebacker corps. Don’t be surprised, therefore, if he once again finds himself among the team leaders in offensive touches and yards gained one week after catching a team-high eight passes for 57 receiving yards.

“We’ve also had a lot of trouble covering the backend, so taking the occasional deep shot to a speedy wide receivers (particularly if matched up against the slowing Josh Norman) would be productive,” added Andrew, mentioning one of the team’s biggest names. “Well-known Dancing With The Stars contestant Josh Norman [...] has been terrible in coverage this year, giving up quite a few deep completions.”

Norman, who is ranked just 87th among NFL cornerbacks who have been on the field for more than 100 snaps by advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus, is a former first-team All-Pro that has disappointed in Washington this season. He is not the only one of the team’s defenders worth watching, though, as Andrew pointed out when asked about players Patriots fans should know heading into this week’s game.

“Our most notable players are on the interior defensive line: Matt Ioannidis, Jonathan Allen, and Da’Ron Payne (the latter two were first-round picks from Alabama in 2017 and 2018, respectively),” he said. “Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has quietly been one of the most productive pass rushers in the NFL, recording double-digit sacks each year over the last several years, but has been relatively quiet so far this season.”

“And we recently signed strong safety Landon Collins, who has been a tackling machine and physical enforcer at the line of scrimmage,” Andrew added. Washington certainly has some noteworthy players among its defensive ranks, but when looking at the numbers so far — the team ranks near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories and just allowed the New York Giants to defeat it 24-3 — they have not worked together well.

With the Patriots coming to town, it would not be all that surprising if the struggles continued. After all, New England has the talent and experienced coaching staff to take advantage of Washington’s defensive shortcomings.