In the first five games of this season, the Eagles have faced three rushers who finished in the top 10 in yards-per-game last season: Frank Gore, Michael Turner and Steven Jackson. Fred Jackson of the Bills is the league's third-leading rusher in 2011.
When the Eagles travel to Washington this weekend to face the division-leading Redskins, they will once again line up against a running back with game-changing potential in Ryan Torain. The powerful, yet agile, runner is projected to get a bulk of the carries and is healthy after suffering a hand injury during training camp that forced him to miss the first three games of the season.
Torain put on a show in his first appearance this year, rushing 19 times for 135 yards and a touchdown against the Rams in a reserve role. In addition to the 218-pound Torain, the Redskins have the effective power-back duo of Tim Hightower and Roy Helu.
The Redskins run the ball behind former first-round pick left tackle Trent Williams, nearly twice often as they run right. This is going to be something to watch since the Eagles will not have Trent Cole. In head coach Mike Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme, the offensive lineman run parallel to the line of scrimmage at the snap before several back-end blockers turn inside to create a seal. The runner's job is to spread the defense out wide and then quickly make the cut when the hole opens up.
Where the Eagles have had the most trouble is on runs up the middle, where the Eagles have allowed a league-worst 404 yards this season. Luckily, because of the nature of their run-blocking scheme, the Redskins rarely rush up the gut. They feature one of the league's worst offenses in that category, having gained only 37 yards rushing over center this entire season.
Currently ranked 30th in the league in rushing yards allowed, the Eagles are giving up 140.2 yards per game on the ground. Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is well aware of the Eagles' issues with stopping the run this season. He has changes in mind to keep the 'Skins rushers from having an efficient day.
"We have to make some adjustments on defense," said the first-year coordinator. "There are some things that you'll see us do this week that are new. I can't get into the particulars, but there will be some new wrinkles that will help us."
Veteran defensive tackle Mike Patterson knows that teams will continue to test the Eagles run defense until they prove they can stop it.
"That's how it is every game," Patterson said. "That's how teams are. They're going to continue to run on you if they feel like you can't stop them. I wouldn't doubt it if the Redskins came out and tried to run 20 times in a row. This is going to be a tough challenge for us, and will be a big game for us."
Luckily, the Eagles' rushing defense did show improvement last week. After falling behind 31-14 towards the end of the third quarter, the defense clamped down, allowing just 43 yards of total offense and holding the Bills scoreless.
Rookie linebacker Brian Rolle expects the defensive unit to build upon the success they had in the fourth quarter of last week's game against the Bills.
"I think that we made some strides last week," said Rolle. "I attribute that to our mindset. When we went down big against the Bills, we knew we needed to go out there and get stops, so we just clamped down and had that killer mentality.
Against the Redskins' zone-rushing scheme, Rolle said that getting downhill is the key.
"In terms of Washington, what they do is simple; they're going to run inside-outside zones," Rolle said. "It's simply a matter of getting downfield and into the gaps and forcing the runner to bounce it outside. They do a great job at what they do, so stopping them easier said than done."
Second-year linebacker Jamar Chaney knows this defense has something to prove to the rest of the league this Sunday. He is confident that the Eagles can stop the Redskins' strong rushing attack.
"They have a really good running game," said Chaney. "They have a very athletic offensive line, which fits what they do very well. They have three running backs that they switch in and out to keep them all fresh. It presents a big challenge for our defense. We want to challenge ourselves to go out there and take care of the run. We want to prove ourselves."
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