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Redskins: What To Watch For

Posted Dec 22, 2012

When The Eagles Have The Ball:

When these two teams squared off back in Week 11, it was Nick Foles' first-career NFL start.

The Redskins, who rank tied for fifth in the league with 17 interceptions, picked off Foles twice in his first 10 pass attempts. Overall, the Redskins rank tied for ninth with 26 total takeaways on the season. Meanwhile, the Eagles are tied for 31st in the NFL in both turnovers (34) and turnover differential (-22).

Foles finished the game 21-of-46 for 204 yards with no touchdowns and the two interceptions. Since that rough first quarter in Washington, Foles has actually thrown just one interception in his last 175 pass attempts. The Redskins have capitalized on picks this season. In six games with multiple interceptions, the Redskins are 5-1 including last Sunday's win against Cleveland.

It wasn't just interceptions that plagued the Eagles against the Redskins. The Eagles were set to trail 14-3 at halftime until the usually reliable LeSean McCoy fumbled in Eagles' territory which allowed the Redskins to tack on an extra field goal before the half expired.

That was the last game McCoy has played in since he suffered a concussion late in the game. McCoy has been cleared to return to game action and could play this Sunday. The Redskins boast the league's sixth-best run defense, allowing just an average of 95.9 yards per contest. Through the air, however, the Redskins are 30th in the NFL allowing 285.3 yards per game.

The centerpiece of the Redskins' 3-4 defense is the ironman London Fletcher, who has started in each of his team's previous 197 contests. The Pro Bowl middle linebacker has already accumulated over 150 tackles this season.

The pass rush is led by 2011 first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan, who has successfully made the transition from playing with his hand down in college to a two-point stance. He leads the team with 6.5 sacks after Brian Orakpo suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle. Kerrigan will battle his former college teammate Dennis Kelly, who made his first start at right tackle against the Redskins back in Week 11. Rob Jackson has stepped in for Orakpo and has 4.5 sacks on the season. Up front, the Redskins start longtime NFC East stalwarts Barry Cofield (former Giant) at nose tackle and Stephen Bowen (former Cowboy) at end with second-year end Jarvin Jenkins opposite of Bowen.

In the secondary, DeAngelo Hall is tied for the team lead with four interceptions, along with Fletcher. Hall recorded one of his picks against the Eagles in the first meeting. Opposite Hall is former Raven Josh Wilson. At safety, the Redskins have Reed Doughty on the strong side and Madieu Williams at free safety. If you recall, the Redskins had Brandon Meriweather for the first meeting and he recorded an interception. It turned out to be Meriweather's only game and play of the year as he tore the ACL in his right knee.

Eagles Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
QB Nick Foles LDE Brandon Graham
RB LeSean McCoy LDT Cullen Jenkins
FB Emil Igwenagu RDT Fletcher Cox
WR Jeremy Maclin RDE Trent Cole
LT King Dunlap WILL LB Mychal Kendricks
LG Evan Mathis MIKE LB DeMeco Ryans
C Dallas Reynolds SAM LB Jamar Chaney
RG Jake Scott LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
RT Dennis Kelly RCB Nnamdi Asomugha
TE Brent Celek SS Kurt Coleman
WR Jason Avant FS Colt Anderson

When The Redskins Have The Ball:

The Redskins, along with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, have received a lot of credit for transforming the team's offense around Robert Griffin and rightfully so. The Redskins ranks fourth in the league in yards per game and fifth in scoring, but their production may actually be even more impressive than that. The Redskins gain 6.2 yards per play, the best mark in the league. They also lead the league with 164.8 rushing yards per game (including a third-best 5.1 yards per rush) and though their mark of 225 passing yards per game only ranks 18th, the effectiveness of those passes is tops in the league at 7.9 yards per pass. All told, it's clear to see how the Redskins have bounced back from a 3-6 start to sit in a position where they can win their way into the playoffs. And though the offense has been built around Griffin, the effectiveness of Shanahan and the team's personnel was on display last week when Kirk Cousins threw for 329 yards and a 104.4 quarterback rating in his first NFL start.

So it's clear that the Eagles defense will have their work cut out for them. Hopefully, they won't be put in a bind by last week's turnover-prone Eagles offense that provided the Bengals with drives beginning in Eagles' territory on every Bengals' scoring drive. When the Redskins do pass the ball, the Eagles should have an opportunity to continue the pressure they created last week with six sacks. The Redskins offensive line is not great at pass protection, as they rank 22nd in sacks allowed per pass. Right tackle Tyler Polumbus, in particular, can be exploited, as he's allowed the most sacks on the Redskins offensive line this season and ranks as the second-worst right tackle in the league according to ProFootballFocus. That's good news for Brandon Graham, who has impressed since earning the starting left defensive end job in Jason Babin's absence. Graham has 4.0 sacks over the last three games, including 2.5 last week, so he'll be licking his chops to keep that string moving.

When the Eagles and Redskins last met, wide receiver Pierre Garcon was just returning from injury and barely played at all. Now, Garcon will pose the biggest threat to the Eagles secondary, as the big-ticket free agent acquisition has averaged 5.8 catches for 85 yards over the last four games. Last week, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie shadowed Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green all over the field and was able to limit Green to a pedestrian day by his standards. Keep an eye on whether Rodgers-Cromartie is again tasked with playing shadow this week on Garcon, or whether defensive coordinator Todd Bowles allowed Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha to remain on their respective sides.

Finally, don't sleep on rookie running back Alfred Morris, who has somehow remained under the radar despite ranking third in the league in rushing as sixth-round pick. Morris has topped 100 yards rushing in three of the last four games and his downhill, battering style will prove an interesting test for a defense that is still adjusting to the change in defensive line philosophy. Gone is the every-down wide-nine, which has pinched the defensive ends in a little bit and allowed the safeties to abdicate much of the run responsibilities they had earlier in the season, which sometimes caused big plays down the field in the passing game. A reworked linebacking corps that still features DeMeco Ryans (one of only two or three Eagles who can make a Pro Bowl case this season) in the middle but has slid Mychal Kendricks to his natural WILL position and swapped Jamar Chaney into the strongside will be put to the test by Morris and crew.

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

Key Matchups

RB Alfred Morris vs. Eagles’ Run Defense

Quarterback Robert Griffin III may be the rookie getting all the headlines in D.C., but another first-year player is having an equally impressive season. Running back Alfred Morris, a sixth-round pick, has rushed for 1,322 yards so far this season. That’s good for third-best in the NFL. He is also near the league leaderboard with nine rushing touchdowns. Morris has already broken the Redskins’ rookie rushing record, and needs fewer than 200 yards to break the franchise’s single-season rushing record.

Needless to say, the Eagles need to take Morris seriously.

In their last meeting, the Eagles were able to keep Morris relatively quiet. He finished the day with 76 yards on 20 carries and was held without a touchdown. The Eagles did not allow a 100-yard rusher for the first 12 games, but have allowed one in each of the past two weeks. It’s a trend the Eagles would like to correct, and they’ll get another chance Sunday against a formidable opponent.

QB Nick Foles vs. Redskins’ Pass Defense

Nick Foles made his first career start in Week 11 at FedEx Field and did not have the kind of game he had hoped for. The offense never got off the ground as Foles went 21-of-46 for 204 yards and two interceptions in a 31-6 loss.

But that was then. Foles is showing improvement each week and has now played in six games, making five starts. Since game against the Redskins, Foles has thrown for 933 yards, four touchdowns and only one interception. Meanwhile, the Redskins are ranked 30th in pass defense, surrendering 285.3 yards per game through the air. Since these two teams last met, the Redskins have allowed an average of 298.5 yards to opposing quarterbacks. Foles would likely be more than happy to put up similar numbers Sunday afternoon.

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