SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (0-5) AT WASHINGTON REDSKINS (2-2)
SERIES HISTORY: 28th regular-season meeting. 49ers lead series, 17-9-1. The 49ers have won the past four, including a 17-13 decision in 2014 and a 27-6 win in 2013. The last Redskins win came at home in 2005, a 52-17 thrashing. The clubs also have met four times in the postseason, with the lone Redskins win in 1984 denying what could have been the first 49ers-Raiders Super Bowl.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Put Kirk Cousins to the test. It'll be tough for the 49ers, playing their third consecutive road game, to compete with the improved Redskins. So, if nothing else, the game will give the 49ers a chance to get a first-hand look at the quarterback many believe they'll pursue in the offseason. What better way to get an evaluation on a prospective future employee than to script a full-speed workout under game conditions?
The Redskins are heavy favorites, which isn't something that has happened very often the past decade. It's not a game they can afford to drop at home, but how do they handle that extra bit of pressure? They aren't used to it.
On offense, Washington doesn't have to change much. The hope is tight end Jordan Reed (toe, chest contusion) will be close to full strength after the bye week. He and slot receiver Jamison Crowder (hip) have been limited early in the season. But San Francisco ranks 26th in passing yards allowed and has injuries in the secondary, too.
Cousins has put up good numbers. With signs that he is gaining trust with his new crew of wide receivers, this could be a huge game for Cousins and the offense. The 49ers are pretty good at limiting big plays (14th in yards allowed per play), but awful on third downs (31st). Washington should be able to take advantage.
Meanwhile, the Redskins' defense can add another chapter to its resurgence. Much better at stopping the run in 2017 than it has been in recent years, there's no reason that should change. San Francisco ranks 20th in rushing yards. Quarterback Brian Hoyer might try to take advantage of a Washington secondary that will be without Josh Norman, but the Redskins like the play of nickel cornerback Kendall Fuller, and Bashaud Breeland has been far more consistent this year opposite Norman.
The pass rush has improved as well for Washington, with outside linebacker Preston Smith at four sacks, Ryan Kerrigan at 2.5 and pass-rush specialist Junior Galette slowly shaking off the rust after two missed seasons (torn Achilles tendons).
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Redskins RB Chris Thompson vs. 49ers OLB Reuben Foster. The 49ers watched Andre Ellington burn them for 86 yards on nine receptions in Week 4 and have been vulnerable to pass-catching backs all season. But that's been almost exclusively without Foster, who, if healthy, has the athleticism to run with most backs. Even the speedy Thompson? We'll see.
--49ers TE George Kittle vs. Redskins SS Stefan McClure. Brian Hoyer figured out how to utilize Kittle just in time last week to produce several key plays on a game-tying drive late in regulation against Indianapolis. He would be wise to pursue the hook-up earlier against the Redskins, who have allowed a touchdown to a tight end in each of their last two games and at least 95 yards to a tight end in three of their four games. And to add injury to insult,
Washington's top two safeties (SS Deshazor Everett and FS D.J. Swearinger) are both battling hamstring problems.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
--Out: RB Kyle Juszczyk (back)
--Questionable: S Adrian Colbert (hamstring), LB Reuben Foster (ankle), S Eric Reid (knee), LB Dekoda Watson (groin), CB Ahkello Witherspoon (concussion).
--Out: CB Josh Norman (rib), T Ty Nsekhe (core muscle)
--Doubtful: S Deshazor Everett (hamstring), RB Rob Kelley (ankle)
--Questionable: T Trent Williams (knee)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: 49ers RB Carlos Hyde. All eyes will be on Hyde's playing time and his demeanor if/when pulled from the game this week after coach Kyle Shanahan indicated he would be sharing time with backup Matt Breida and perhaps even third-stringer Raheem Mostert moving forward. Hyde had been arguably the 49ers' best offensive player before suffering a hip injury against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 3. Hyde was in on just 33 of the 49ers' 72 offensive snaps in the Week 5 loss at Indianapolis, although it was presumed his sore hip played a role in that number.
FAST FACTS: 49ers 8-year vet, 4-time All-Pro LB NaVorro Bowman, who leads team with 38 tackles coming off a 2016 Achilles injury, was released Friday after disagreeing when replaced a couple of times Sunday. He will be 30 next year and an extension authored by former GM Trent Baalke put Bowman's salary cap figure at $12 million. QB Brian Hoyer passed for 353 yards, two TDs and no interceptions last week. Has 17 TDs and five interceptions in the past 11 games on the road. ... RB Carlos Hyde ranks fourth in NFC with 332 rushing yards. He has 588 scrimmage yards (84 per game) and two TD catches in the past seven games on the road.... Washington QB Kirk Cousins has 764 passing yards, six TDs and no interceptions in the past three games. In his past 15 games at home, he has 4,464 passing yards, 29 TDs and nine interceptions. Since 2016, he ranks third in the NFL with 5,921 yards. ... RB Chris Thompson aims for a third game in a row at home with a TD catch. He has seven TDs in the past eight games and ranks fifth among NFL RBs with 235 receiving yards. ... Redskins LB Ryan Kerrigan had a sack in the last meeting. He has 9.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a 24-yard interception return for a TD in the past 13 games at home. He has two sacks and six tackles for loss in three career meetings. Since 2014, he has 36.5 sacks, tied for fourth most in the NFL.
PREDICTION: Since Week 1, the 49ers have been competitive in every game and could easily have a winning record. But they are winless, and the odds skew heavily against them in a third straight road game against a rested team.
OUR PICK: Redskins, 31-17.