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Eagle Eye: RB Chris Thompson Is Enemy No. 1 At The Linc Monday

Posted Oct 22, 2017

Going into a much-anticipated matchup against the Washington Redskins, it’s interesting to study this offense led by quarterback Kirk Cousins. One of the top big-play attacks in the league a year ago, the Redskins aren’t stretching the field exactly the same way as they did a year ago. They rank 13th in the NFL entering the weekend with 21 plays of 20-plus yards, but they’re doing it in a slightly different way.

Nearly 55 percent of Washington’s yards through the first five weeks of the season were accumulated after the catch. That’s the highest rate in the league. Running back Chris Thompson is the biggest reason why. Cousins and head coach Jay Gruden deserve a lot of credit as well. But don't overlook the two biggest vertical threats, one of whom will surprise fans.

The Redskins selected wide receiver Josh Doctson in the first round of the 2016 draft with the hopes that he could reach his full upside as a big, fast, No. 1 receiver-type of talent. He’s got outstanding physical tools and his tape at TCU showed a vertical threat who could go up and consistently win contested throws over defenders. Injuries have slowed his start as an NFL receiver, but they mix in a handful of targets for him in each game. He’s come through for them with some big plays.

In the first play against Oakland, this is exactly the kind of receiver Doctson was in college. It’s a vertical route against man coverage and he goes up and over a defender to win for a deep touchdown. In the second play last week against San Francisco, Washington creates a favorable matchup for him down in the red zone. The Redskins are in 12 personnel. There are plenty of options for the San Francisco secondary to worry about with Thompson, Jordan Reed, and Vernon Davis on the field. A safety matches up against Doctson in this empty set. A void is created in the middle of the field, and the second-year receiver gets open for a touchdown.

Doctson has the ability to get on top of corners, as does slot receiver Jamison Crowder, but the real vertical threat in this offense from a consistency standpoint is actually Davis, the veteran tight end. They find a way to get him vertically down the field either inside or outside each week, and he’s hurt the Eagles over the last couple of years. The Eagles must be ready to defend both of Washington’s dangerous tight ends.

Washington is the best offense in the NFL on third-and-long (a distance of 6 yards or more), converting at 48 percent, which is pretty crazy. The vertical element of the passing game helps that success rate by stretching the field and opening things up underneath for Thompson to work.

It’s third-and-12 and the vertical routes isolate Thompson on the linebacker. Cousins knows what the matchup is, and he takes full advantage. Thompson shakes the linebacker and runs away from him for a first down.

Back in Week 1, Thompson ran an arrow route for a touchdown against the Eagles where he broke a handful of tackles. He’ll run wheel routes down the sideline. He’ll line up outside and run slants and crosses. The Redskins use him in so many ways and really leverage his matchups against man coverage and that makes him a tough weapon to stop. On this third down play, Cousins sees pre-snap that it’s man coverage because of the defender following Thompson in motion. Thompson lines up to the left and releases to the right, underneath the offensive line. The defender assigned to Thompson is unable to get a finger on him with all of the traffic in the middle.

Thompson is the most dangerous, however, in the screen game. Whether he lines up in the backfield or out wide, the Redskins love to get the ball in his hands with a cadre of blockers out in front of him leading the way. This offensive line is built for those plays. Brandon Scherff, in particular, has a field day when he’s allowed to release out in space and obliterate a defender. Thompson averages 15.5 yards after the catch per reception, an astronomical number that ranks second in the NFL among players with at least 10 catches. A lot of those yards come in the screen game.

Let’s do a quick sidebar here on Scherff, who is playing at an extremely high level right now. He is a former top-five pick at left tackle who has effortlessly made the transition to guard. He is easily one of the best five linemen in football for my money. Scherff is a force up front for this Redskins offense.

Whether it’s in the pass or the run game, Scherff is a monster. With his combination of size, athleticism, toughness, and technique, he’s going to be a huge challenge for Fletcher Cox and the rest of the Eagles' defensive line.

Let’s wrap this up with one more look at Thompson, who isn’t just a receiver. He started last week against the 49ers at running back. He’s their leading rusher through the first six weeks of the year.

Thompson is a huge part of the Washington offense, and the two run plays you see above are identical to ones he’s scorched the Eagles on in the past. The first play is the same Crack Toss play he scored against the Eagles in Week 14 a year ago to clinch the win at Lincoln Financial Field. The draw play is very similar to one he turned into a critical third-down conversion last season. He’s the catalyst of this Washington offense, and the player the Eagles need to stop on Monday Night Football.

Fran Duffy is the producer of “Eagles Game Plan” which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices and opponents.

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