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Scouting the Matchups: Patriots a tough matchup for any running back

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN

This is a tough matchup to pick on a weekly basis because the Patriots base their run-game usage on what the opponent is capable of doing. Dion Lewis has been banged up, but LeGarrette Blount is typically the guy who receives the bulk of the carries on the occasions when the Patriots want to try to run the ball. That may be the case this week against a porous Redskins run defense. The Patriots also have issues with depth on the offensive line, which could dictate how they utilize the run game despite Washington's struggles. The Redskins have ranked in the bottom third in run defense throughout the year despite forcing a decent amount of fumbles, so the Patriots will probably put more of an emphasis on running the football as they would against a team with a more dominant front seven. Whether or not Blount & Co. can take advantage for a full game is debatable but the yards will pile up late when the Patriots are grinding out the clock. Advantage: PATRIOTS

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WHEN THE REDSKINS RUN

The Redskins don't defend the run or run the ball particularly well on offense. Part of the problem is the offensive line, which simply cannot create running lanes, but Alfred Morris, a 1,000-yard rusher in each of his first three seasons, isn't getting nearly enough touches on a weekly basis. A volume runner by trade, Morris excels with a heavy workload, but the Redskins have implemented a committee approach with Matt Jones and Chris Thompson also getting carries. Washington has also been behind by multiple scores in several games, and that obviously takes away opportunities to run the ball. The Patriots have improved against the run and have proven they have enough depth to stack the box if necessary and take away the run game. The return of Dont'a Hightower, who has been exceptional against the run, makes this a tough matchup for any running back. Advantage: PATRIOTS

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WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS

Washington is relatively solid in the secondary, but does have the tendency to give up big plays and doesn't force nearly enough turnovers. Injuries to DeAngelo Hall and Chris Culliver have put second-year pro Bashaud Breeland in the No. 1 cornerback spot covering each opponent's top receiver. He's excelled in that role but will have a tough matchup against the Patriots diverse passing attack. Hall and Culliver have a chance to be active against the Patriots but won't be at full strength. The benefit for Tom Brady is he has multiple weapons, far more than Washington can cover. With Brady playing exceptionally well and Brandon LaFell rounding into game shape after missing the first six weeks of the season, the Patriots have even more options in the passing game. The Redskins need to generate more pressure and make Brady uncomfortable. Advantage: PATRIOTS

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WHEN THE REDSKINS PASS

The Redskins are limited in the passing game based on which Kirk Cousins decides to show up. As is the case with most quarterbacks, he's been terrific when they win and terrible when they lose. The problem is he leans closer to terrible than terrific and really only has one reliable target in Pierre Garcon, thanks to DeSean Jackson's early-season injury. Jackson looks like he's set to return but hasn't played since Week 1. Tight end Jordan Reed is their next best receiver but not a major deep threat, though he does excel in picking up yards after the catch. The Patriots secondary still has a lot to prove, and there are young players like Jordan Richards and Justin Coleman being asked to do a lot. With Cousins prone to being erratic, there could be opportunities for this defensive backfield to come away with turnovers. Advantage: PATRIOTS

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SPECIAL TEAMS

The Patriots have benefited from solid special teams play all season, starting with highly efficient kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Punter Ryan Allen has been equally consistent in preventing opposing teams from winning the field position battle. Both teams are among the league leaders in preventing long kickoff returns because of the effectiveness of their kickers, but the Redskins do have a weapon in return man Rashad Ross, who scored a touchdown against the Giants on a 101-yard kickoff return. Gostkowski will need to continue booming kickoffs out of the back of the end zone to neutralize his speed. Another key could be New England's efficiency in punt returns with Edelman. This is an area Washington has trouble defending. Advantage: PATRIOTS

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OTHER FACTORS

The NFC East is usually among the toughest divisions in the NFL, but it's been a down year across the board for the Giants, Eagles, Redskins and Cowboys, which bodes well for New England. No matter the opponent, it's hard to pick against the Patriots at home. They have not lost in New England in 15 years when leading at halftime, which makes it imperative for whomever is in town to get off to a fast start. Cousins certainly plays with a chip on his shoulder and would love nothing more than to inch closer toward evening his career record. He's likely to take some shots down the field. If this secondary makes the plays, it'll be tough for Washington to rally on the road against a team that's nearly unbeatable at home. Advantage: PATRIOTS

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