Here's a key matchup to watch in the Week 14 game between the Patriots and Redskins:
Redskins RB Roy Helu vs. Patriots defense
In the past two games, Helu has emerged as the Redskins' primary back. He had 23 carries in each of the past two games — for 108 yards against Seattle and 100 yards against the Jets.
The rookie also has been a threat as a receiver. He has 11 caches for 96 yards in the past two games and had 14 catches on 16 targets in a Week Nine loss to the 49ers.
Mike Shanahan's bread and butter is running the football, and Helu has been the beneficiary of that. "Helu is a good downhill runner. He's strong, he's got good quickness. He gets into the runs quickly, makes his cut, he's decisive and he hits it," Bill Belichick said in a conference call on Tuesday.
Washington likely will want to run the ball effectively to chew up clock and keep Tom Brady off the field. QB Rex Grossman also will be looking to Helu in the passing game. Running backs have had success catching passes against the Patriots. Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert combined for 15 catches for 135 yards. Reggie Bush had nine catches for 56 yards. Fred Jackson had five catches for 87 yards.
The Patriots' linebacking corps remains banged up, without one of its top run stoppers, MLB Brandon Spikes, and Dane Fletcher, who is adept at covering backs in the flat.
Last week, we saw the Pats use Niko Koutouvides at linebacker to help against the run. Special-teamer Tracy White can help against the pass. The Pats' run defense starts with their top two defensive players, Vince Wilfork up front and Jerod Mayo in the middle. If they can keep the Redskins' top offensive weapon in check, it will force Grossman to beat the Pats with his receivers, and that could play into New England's hands considering that Grossman is prone to throwing interceptions, and his receivers are far from elite.