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Redskins: What To Watch For

Posted Nov 17, 2012

Here's a preview of the Eagles on offense and defense going against the Redskins ...

When The Eagles Have The Ball

Quarterback Nick Foles will make his first start against the Redskins. He’ll have the benefit of facing what has been, through nine games, a decidedly mediocre pass defense. Robbed of two of their premier players, the Redskins defense ranks 30th in the league in sacks per pass attempt by the opposition, bringing down the opposing quarterback on only 3.95 percent of passes. Yes, the Eagles’ offensive line has had its struggles of late thanks in large part to injury issues of their own, but Foles, who showed a propensity for getting rid of the ball quickly throughout the preseason and against the Cowboys last week, should have enough time to work on Sunday.

That lack of pass rush for the Redskins has affected the back end, as the Redskins are allowing 301.7 yards passing per game, also 30th in the league. At cornerback, the Redskins feature DeAngelo Hall, who actually ranks 66th out of 70 cornerbacks who have played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps this season, according to Pro Football Focus, and Josh Wilson, who comes in the middle of the pack on that list at 36th. Reed Doughty and Madieu Williams form the safety tandem and Cedric Griffin is the nickel cornerback. They’ll have to contest with DeSean Jackson, who has burned Hall and the Redskins several times in the past, and Jeremy Maclin, who began the season slowly but looked to have a connection with Foles against Dallas, catching eight passes for 93 yards and hauling in Foles’ first touchdown pass.

The Redskins’ 3-4 front features the ageless London Fletcher in the middle of the linebacking corps, as the 37-year-old is still one of the better tacklers in the game. Ryan Kerrigan is a very promising and well-rounded linebacker as a second-year player and has 4.5 sacks to his name on the year thus far (after 7.5 a year ago). Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will look for ways to get Kerrigan matched up one-on-one with either Eagles tackle, whether that turns out to be Demetress Bell, King Dunlap, or, if Danny Watkins is healthy, perhaps Dennis Kelly.

Barry Cofield, who the Eagles know well from his five years with the New York Giants, is the Redskins’ nose tackle, and he’ll be facing off with Dallas Reynolds in an attempt to collapse the middle of the pocket around Foles.

With a week to formulate a game plan for Foles, the expectation might be that Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg will scheme for ways that Foles can get rid of the ball quickly. But in the ongoing chess match that is a football game, the Eagles may use that expectation to their advantage in order to help spring some plays down the field. Foles has shown throughout college and his brief NFL experience that he is willing to stand in the pocket in the face of a rush and deliver the ball downfield, so don’t expect the face of the offense to change altogether. Of course, the running game will also be a factor here, as LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown get their fair of carries against an eighth-ranked Redskins run defense.

Eagles Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
QB Nick Foles LDE Jason Babin
RB LeSean McCoy LDT Cullen Jenkins
FB Stanley Havili RDT Fletcher Cox
WR Jeremy Maclin RDE Trent Cole
LT King Dunlap WILL LB Akeem Jordan
LG Evan Mathis MIKE LB DeMeco Ryans
C Dallas Reynolds SAM LB Mychal Kendricks
RG Danny Watkins LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
RT Dennis Kelly RCB Nnamdi Asomugha
TE Brent Celek SS Nate Allen
WR DeSean Jackson FS Kurt Coleman

When The Redskins Have The Ball

This is how important landing a franchise quarterback is. The Eagles transformed their team in 1999 when they used the No. 2 overall pick on quarterback Donovan McNabb, who would lead the Eagles to five NFC title game appearances. From 1999 to when McNabb was traded to Washington in 2010, the Redskins strolled out the likes of Jeff George, Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, Todd Collins and Tony Banks. In that same time span, the Redskins made the playoffs three times and won two postseason contests.

Washington hopes for a similar transformation from Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III, who was the No. 2 pick in this year's draft after the Redskins traded a bounty of draft picks to the Rams to move up.

Griffin III has the athletic ability to keep plays alive with his feet. He has the arm strength to force defenders to cover the entire field. He's smart and has the intangibles to at least attempt to bring the Redskins franchise out of the doldrums.

On the field, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has tailed the gameplan to fit Griffin III's strengths. The foundation of the offense is the run game. You will see what is called the pistol formation which combines the best of the singleback and shotgun formations. In this, Griffin III will line up slightly closer to the line of scrimmage than in the shotgun formation. Instead of having a running back to his side, the back lines up directly behind the signal caller.

Out of this formation, the Redskins will call a lot of run plays that put stress on the outer lanes of the defense forcing the ends to be disciplined. In some ways, this favors the Eagles because out of the Wide 9 technique, the defensive ends are already in position to funnel traffic back inside. But if the defensive ends get sucked in on a misdirection play, it could leave Griffin in a read-option or standout running back Alfred Morris in a one-on-one situation with a defender.

Morris and Griffin III have paced the Redskins to the league's second-best rushing attack this season. The hard-running Morris is averaging 4.8 yards per carry and has scored five touchdowns while gaining 793 yards, good for fourth in the NFC. The nimble Griffin III has 529 rushing yards, tied for ninth in the NFC, and six touchdowns on the ground.

Up front, the Redskins have the offensive linemen to execute the zone run plays that have been a staple of head coach Mike Shanahan's offenses throughout the years led by former first-round pick Trent Williams at left tackle and center Will Montgomery.

The Redskins further help Griffin III by lining up multiple players in the backfield - the likes of Santana Moss and Brandon Banks - and running numerous pass routes out of the backfield in order to create confusion among defenses. In reality, the reads are simple for Griffin III, who is accurate and good at throwing the ball into tight windows in the middle of the field. The Redskins' concepts force the linebackers to hesitate which creates openings for the receivers. The Redskins lost their most athletic tight end Fred Davis to an Achilles injury. Logan Paulsen and Chris Cooley have picked up the slack in Davis' stead.

The run-heavy offense means limited production from the receiver corps. Josh Morgan leads the team in receptions with 29. The Redskins divvy up the receptions evenly as four players have at least 24 catches. To compare to the Eagles, Philadelphia has five players with at least 27 catches and four with 34 grabs. Leonard Hankerson has a team-best 342 receiving yards, while the ageless Moss is the scoring threat with five receiver touchdowns.

Redskins Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
WR Joshua Morgan DE Jarvis Jenkins
LT Trent Williams NT Barry Cofield
LG Kory Lichtensteiger DE Stephen Bowen
C Will Montgomery OLB Ryan Kerrigan
RG Chris Chester ILB London Fletcher
RT Tyler Polumbus ILB Perry Riley
TE Niles Paul OLB Rob Jackson
WR Pierre Garcon CB DeAngelo Hall
QB Robert Griffin III SS Reed Doughty
FB Darrel Young FS Madieu Williams
RB Alfred Morris RCB Josh Wilson

Key Matchups

Redskins Run Offense vs. Eagles Run Defense

Mike Shanahan-coached teams have always placed a great emphasis on the running game. Throughout his career, Shanahan has excelled at taking late-round picks and turning them into productive weapons on offense. Players like Terrell Davis, Reuben Droughns, Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell have all been successful with Shanahan, despite being overlooked at one point or another. Now with the Redskins, Shanahan has found his next standout back in Alfred Morris.

Morris currently ranks seventh in the league with 793 yards and five touchdowns. Morris’ numbers, coupled with Griffin III’s 529 yards on the ground, make the Redskins the second-best rushing attack in the NFL. Through nine games they are averaging just over 164 yards per game on the ground.

Meanwhile, the Eagles are giving up 112.7 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 15th in the league. The Eagles improved in run defense against the Cowboys, keeping running back Felix Jones out of the end zone and limiting him to 71 yards on 16 carries. A similar performance Sunday would go a long way toward shutting down the Redskins’ run game.

WR Jeremy Maclin vs. CB Josh Wilson

Last season, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin went over the 100-yard receiving mark three times. Two of those performances came against the Redskins. In those two contests he combined for 13 catches and 206 yards. Maclin would likely be happy with a repeat performance this Sunday.

The good news is that he and Foles appeared to have a nice rapport. Foles threw in Maclin’s direction five times, last Sunday, completing three. One of them, of course, was the play of the game for the Eagles – after Maclin found a hole in the coverage, he raced into the end zone and caught a perfectly placed ball from Foles for a 44-yard touchdown.

With DeSean Jackson likely drawing the attention of DeAngelo Hall, Maclin figures to be lined up against former Ravens and Seahawks corner Josh Wilson. According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson has given up four touchdowns, and quarterbacks throwing in his direction have a 115.9 passer rating. If Foles and Maclin can pick up where they left off, the duo could have success through the air on Sunday.

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