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49ers vs. WFT: An early look at Washington heading into Week 14

Alex Smith has led his squad to three consecutive wins.

Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Even though they fell to 5-7 after losing to the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football, the San Francisco 49ers are still alive in the NFC playoff race. The Niners are game behind the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals heading into their Week 14 matchup against the Washington Football Team.

A month ago, San Francisco would have been considered a huge favorite going into this game, but Washington has won three games in a row to improve to 5-7 and is tied for first place in the NFC East. Former 49ers’ QB Alex Smith and a stout defense are leading Washington’s playoff charge.

WFT pulled off a massive upset over the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 13. Washington will now have to travel across the country on a short week to play the Niners in Arizona on Sunday.

Washington’s strength is its defensive line, which is led by prized rookie Chase Young. WFT ranks fourth in the league in total yards against at 310.9 per game and second in passing yards allowed per contest.

Head coach Ron Rivera’s defense is anchored by four first-round picks on the defensive line, with Young, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat wreaking havoc against opposing offenses.

Because of all the talent up front, WFT regularly gets pressure with just four defenders. Washington on blitzes 28.9% of the time yet is tied for third in the league in total sacks with 36 over the first twelve games. San Francisco’s speedy receivers will also have a tough time racking up yards after the catch, with the WFT giving up the second-fewest total in the NFL.

Washington’s defense only surrenders 5.7 net yards per passing attempt to opposing QBs, which is the fourth-fewest out of any team in the league. WFT’s rushing defense will also cause problems for the 49ers’ run-first attack.

The unit gives up 107.1 yards on the ground per contest and 4.1 yards per attempt, which are both amongst the top-10 in the league. Football Outsiders ranks Washington as the third-best defense in the league by DVOA.

San Francisco’s defense should be able to get back on track with a favorable matchup against Washington’s offense, which is 28th in DVOA. Rookie running back Antonio Gibson left the games against Pittsburgh with a toe injury and did not return. If he can’t go on Sunday, Washington will go with a combination of Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic in the backfield.

Washington averages the sixth-fewest yards per game, with both its passing and rushing attacks among the bottom-10 in the NFL. Smith and the passing game don’t throw deep very often, with the unit ranking dead last in the league in completed air yards per completion.

Receiver Terry McLaurin gives Washington a big-play threat down the field, but the Steelers did a good job of limiting his opportunities by regularly double-teaming him. McLaurin was held to just two receptions for 14 yards, but the extra attention he got resulted in a big game for tight end Logan Thomas.

Smith — who has appeared in six games for Washington this season — is ranked 31st in QBR and 26th in passer rating. He avoids making costly mistakes and usually makes the safe decision for the offense.

The 49ers’ defense will have a golden chance to get their pass rush going. Washington’s adjusted sack rate is sixth-worst in the league and has given up the fourth-most sacks in the NFL.

Anticipate a low-scoring affair on Sunday. Both offenses have struggled throughout the season, and with Washington and San Francisco each possessing a top 10 defense, points will be hard to come by.

How do you think the 49ers match up with Washington?