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Keys to the Starting Lineup presented by CarMax: Redskins don't measure up to Patriots

Washington heads into Sunday's matchup in New England with few obvious ways to challenge its undefeated host.

Back in 2007, the Patriots improved to 7-0 with an impressive win over the Dolphins that led into a meeting with the Redskins in Foxborough. New England then routed Joe Gibbs' overmatched Washington squad 52-7 to hit the midseason mark with the perfect record on the way to what was eventually an undefeated regular season.

Will history repeat itself this Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium as Jay Gruden's Redskins (3-4) head north to take on a defending Super Bowl champion Patriots (7-0) team that dispatched the Dolphins a week ago Thursday night?

Bill Belichick's squad is heavily favored over a Washington team that, at least statistically, may not even be as impressive as its near-.500 record that includes a pre-bye comeback win over the Bucs.

Washington is winless on the road this year as it heads to its own original home. The Redskins played in Boston from 1932 to 1936, first as the Braves and then the name they now retain, a point of controversy that continues to be debated.

Patriots Football Weekly's Andy Hart shares his players to watch during the Patriots Week 9 game against the Washington Redskins.

Gruden may have an offensive background, but his Kirk Cousins-led unit has basically been offensive in the alternate meaning of the word this fall. Washington can't run or pass with any efficiency. That's not exactly the description of a team that has a great chance of marching into Foxborough and derailing a Tom Brady-led Patriots team that leads the NFL in scoring.

Turnovers, "any given Sunday" and "that's why they play the games" are pretty much the only lines of thought that can create a scenario for Washington to get the job done. More likely, the Patriots will repeat history. Repeat a trend of seven impressive wins to open 2015. Repeat a 2007 beatdown of Washington in the midst of undefeated success.

It is what it is.

One Washington columnist even posed the idea that the Redskins should skip right past this game and just begin preparing for the following week's more winnable contest with the Saints.

Here are a few factors to keep an eye on in this seemingly lopsided contest between the two football squads with Boston roots - one with a history of success and the other in which success is the story of the present:

Desean Jackson a "big threat"- The Washington passing attack has been absolutely lifeless this season. Cousins averages an incredibly low 6.48 yards per attempt. None of his top four targets averages better than 10 yards per reception. Sure Cousins is completing almost 69 percent of his passes, but it doesn't translate to any actual plays through the air. That's where Jackson, who's missed all but a small portion of the season opener to a hamstring injury, could come in. The diminutive, speedy playmaker led the NFL with a 20.9-yard average last season. He's a well-established big-play machine in his NFL career in Philly and now Washington. If Jackson is fully healthy he can challenge any secondary, especially a Patriots group that still has plenty to prove in the back end. Bill Belichick called Jackson a "big threat" and emphasized that he can make plays at all three levels of the defense, and turn all of those catches into long yards. Malcolm Butler asked to cover Jackson in joint practices last summer, and struggled a bit. The now-No.1 New England cornerback could see Jackson again this Sunday with more on the line. Whoever gets the call against Jackson will likely also get safety help over the top. He's the only really dangerous player Washington has, so taking him away even coming off a long absence is the first goal on defense.

Stout it out- Washington wants to run the ball. They just aren't very good at it. Top back Alfred Morris is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry and has done virtually nothing since hitting for 121 yards and a 4.8-yard averaging on opening day against Miami. Rookie backup Matt Jones had 123 yards and 6.5 per carry a week later against St. Louis but hasn't topped 3.5 yards per carry in a game since. The Redskins need to have balance on offense. That's just a fact. But achieving that is hard for them and shouldn't get any easier against a Patriots run defense that's been improving by the week and now ranks No. 7 in the NFL. New England shut down a limited Chris Ivory and the dominated Lamar Miller. Dont'a Hightower and Co. are just plain stout against the run these days and there is no reason for that to change against Washington. Shut down the run early and force Cousins to try to beat you. 

Run or throw, Josh - The Redskins aren't terrible on defense, but they don't have any discernable strengths on that side of the ball, either. They rank 16th in points allowed and tied for 17th in total defense. That's thanks to a pretty suspect run defense that ranks 30th in the league and a pass defense that comes in at No. 11. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has a unit that's rolling right now. He should be able to dial up a game plan and play calls just about any way he wants against Washington. LeGarrette Blount could easily get the call to run the ball a bit more often against a unit that allows 4.9 yards per carry on the ground. Or, McDaniels could stick with the spread passing attack that's been the Patriots bread and butter for the most part through seven wins. The Skins, like most teams, don't have an answer for Rob Gronkowski. Julian Edelman is dealing with a seemingly minor knee injury, but Brandon LaFell is just hitting his stride and Danny Amendola is always ready to step up. Dion Lewis returned from his abdominal injury and showed against Miami that he's a true core part of the passing party at this point. The New England aerial attack may be as deep as it has ever been in terms of trusted Brady targets. They should continue to roll against Washington's defense that's allowed opposing passers a combined 97.9 passer rating this fall with 11 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions. 

Pass rush test - The Patriots pass rush has been getting home with impressive regularity this fall. Chandler Jones is tied for the NFL lead with 8.5 sacks. New England's 26 sacks as a team are tied for second in the league and put the Patriots on pace for a franchise record. But Jones and Co. will face a tough test against a Washington line that doesn't give up a lot of sacks. Cousins has been sacked just eight times in seven games. Trent Williams is a stud at left tackle who leads the Washington efforts up front. Cousins doesn't hold onto the ball too long. New England's front seven faces another challenge to balance out of the pass defense by putting pressure on the passer. It will be interesting to see what Matt Patricia draws up to try to keep Cousins from getting too comfortable.

Lining it up- The Patriots offensive line continues to be a fluid situation for various reasons. Tre' Jackson missed the week of practice after the knee injury suffered against Miami. Bryan Stork (concussion) has been practicing and is eligible to come off IR. Ryan Wendell got back into the mix replacing Jackson in Miami, but is dealing with his own knee issue. David Andrews has played every snap at center but could lose his job to the incumbent Stork, if the coaching staff see fit. And Shaq Mason has been dealing with his own knee injury. Oh, and Sebastian Vollmer is still settling in at left tackle while Cameron Fleming is trying to prove himself on the right side with Marcus Cannon (toe) still sidelined. Line coach Dave DeGuglielmo is earning his paycheck and his group has met just about every challenge it has faced this season in performances that are good enough to get the job done. Washington has veteran talent on its defensive front like Ryan Kerrigan, assuming he plays through a hand injury that has him in a cast, as well as Terrance Knighton and Chris Baker. The group isn't dominant, but the ever-changing Patriots offensive line needs to keep the ball rolling through the various changes and challenges its dealing with each week.

Prediction - History has a way of repeating itself, as they say. The Redskins just aren't a very impressive football team in any area. They are on the negative side of the turnover differential. Sure, they are decent in the red zone, but that may not be enough to keep this game competitive for very long. On paper this looks like another blowout. I think that's what it will look like on the Gillette Stadium turf, as well. Brady should be able to get things rolling early and often in the air. The running game should find its place to chip in. And the defense should shut down Morris and Jones to force Cousins to try to make plays he's just not capable of making. All together I'm going to go with a 2007-like Patriots 52-7 win over Gruden's overmatched tribe of lackluster talent. The Patriots improve to 8-0 as the talk of an undefeated season in New England will continue to grow.

What other things will you be watching for in this Sunday afternoon contest at Gillette that so many fans and media seem to be overlooking? Let us know with a comment below!

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