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Redskins secondary to be challenged by Falcons

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ASHBURN, Va. — Few expected the Washington Redskins to be 2-2 early in the 2015 season. Fewer still thought they’d be tied for first place in the NFC East.

But the challenges grow this week as an injured secondary prepares to face one of the NFL’s top passing offenses. Even a healthy group of cornerbacks and safeties would have trouble stopping Atlanta’s Julio Jones, who leads the league with 38 receptions and 478 receiving yards.

“Julio is a different human being,” Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said.

Washington isn’t healthy. Gruden’s team must contain Jones without veteran corner DeAngelo Hall (right big toe sprain), who has missed the last two games and will be out again on Sunday, and, possibly, cornerback Chris Culliver (left knee).

Culliver admitted he was about “50 percent” in the win over Philadelphia last week and was twice burned for long touchdown passes. His teammates praised him after the game for even playing. But Culliver didn’t practice on Wednesday and needed an MRI on his knee.

“It was uncomfortable for him in the game,” Gruden said.

That would leave Washington with second-year pro Bashaud Breeland, rookie Kyshoen Jarrett, a natural safety who has played some slot corner effectively this season, and three cornerbacks who either weren’t with the team to start the year (Will Blackmon) or were on the practice squad (Deshazor Everett, Quinton Dunbar). And Dunbar is a converted wide receiver who started training camp at that position.

Washington needs to show it can play well on the road. It won just twice away from home in 2013 (at Oakland) and 2014 (at Dallas). Washington has also won back-to-back games just once since the start of the 2013 season – Oct. 19 (Tennessee) and Oct. 27 (Dallas) of last year.

“A lot of times, the Giants game for instance, we weren’t able to maintain momentum and quiet the crowd,” Gruden said. “We’ve got to figure out ways to do that. That’s forcing turnovers. That’s protecting the football. That’s making plays on special teams.”

SERIES HISTORY: 24th regular-season meeting. Redskins lead series, 14-8-1. The Falcons have won the last four games in the series, however, including a 27-26 win at the Georgia Dome in 2013 when Washington’s 2-point conversion attempt failed with 18 seconds to play. The Redskins beat Atlanta in an NFC divisional playoff game in 1992 on their way to a Super Bowl title.

GAME PLAN

The Redskins remain the NFL’s top rushing team (139.5 yards per game). That’s allowed them to take the pressure off quarterback Kirk Cousins and grab early leads, as they did against Philadelphia, St. Louis and Miami. Expect more of the same against Atlanta, which doesn’t give up many rushing yards per game (85.3), but lots of yards per play (4.43), which ranks 27th in the NFL.

That means lots of running backs Alfred Morris and Matt Jones, who have traded off this season. Against the Eagles, Washington gave Morris the ball on the first three carries of the game and eventually they wore down Philadelphia’s front seven. On the Redskins’ 90-yard game-winning drive, Morris had runs of 16 and 13 yards.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Redskins WR Pierre Garcon, who leads the team with 24 receptions, vs. Falcons CB Desmond Trufant, who had three interceptions last season and has turned into a viable shutdown corner.

–Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Redskins CB Bashaud Breeland.

Atlanta has been good at moving Jones around, but they might not have to against Washington’s corners. Breeland did make a name for himself last season battling Dallas star receiver Dez Bryant on Monday Night Football.


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