On Thursday, I broke down the challenges that Washington presents the Eagles on the offensive side of the football, so here I want to provide a closer look at Joe Barry's defense. This is a team that, much like the Atlanta Falcons a couple of weeks ago, deploys a zone-based system that doesn't look to blitz the quarterback often or run things from a wide variety of different fronts and alignments. Instead, they rely on execution week in and week out to get the job done. So far, it's worked very well for them. Through three weeks, Washington ranks second in the league in yards (277.3 allowed per game), third in rushing (75.0 yards per game), and seventh in passing (202.3 yards per game). Their 31 percent success rate on third down is also good for third in the entire NFL.
This team has a bit of a different look this year from a personnel standpoint as well, where up front they added a lot of beef to the defensive line. Jason Hatcher, a productive veteran who enjoyed a number of quality years with the Dallas Cowboys, steps in at right end. Stephen Paea is the new starter at left end in the 3-4. Terrance Knighton (#TempleMade 4-0), the one nicknamed "Pot Roast" holds down the fort at nose tackle. A former third-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Knighton is one of the largest linemen in the league, and is understandably very tough to move at the point of attack.
From last Thursday night, you can see the issues the Giants had getting any movement up front against Knighton, who eats up two blocks, then sheds them to make a play on the football. Knighton's prowess in the run game has certainly had an impact on the team's ability to defend the ground game inside, but don't discount his athleticism.
For a man who is listed at 350 pounds, that's pretty impressive. Knighton is a fun player to watch. The Redskins' strength against the run doesn't stop at the defensive line, however, as they have two quality run defenders at outside linebacker in Ryan Kerrigan and second-year player Trent Murphy. Neither are what you would call outstanding athletes for the position who will be counted on for double digit sacks every year, but they do a lot of the little things right and their ability to both set the edge and make plays from the back side make them a tough duo to run against.
The Miami Dolphins found that out the hard way in Week 1 on this fourth-down play. Murphy sets the edge well against the zone run play, causing the back to hesitate for just a second. That split-second gives Kerrigan enough time to close from the back side and finish behind the line of scrimmage, coming up with the turnover on downs.
With Murphy and Kerrigan outside, Washington has a pair of rangy, instinctive, physical inside linebackers in Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley, Jr., who will miss Sunday's game due to injury. Riley has always reminded me a bit of Mychal Kendricks in his ability to navigate traffic and burst through creases at the line of scrimmage. His athleticism gives him the ability to run with backs out of the backfield and play man-to-man against tight ends as well. Robinson has all those same characteristics, but his length really provides Barry with the ability to match up against athletic tight ends because he has both the athleticism and the size to win in those contested situations.
In this shot against Miami, Robinson takes on the guard in space, sheds him, then chases down the running back in the open field. Robinson has outstanding range, and his ability to close in a flash makes him a true sideline-to-sideline player for this defense.
You can see how impressive that speed is in the open field on this play against St. Louis, where Robinson chases down an end-around play from the Rams and makes the tackle for a loss. That's a great example of speed and instincts pairing up for a big play. When the Redskins go to nickel and dime subgroups, Robinson is the one who stays on the field in the linebacking corps. There was one play, in particular, that I saw numerous times on tape.
This is a play against St. Louis where Washington lines up in dime, with Robinson lined up over the center. The four players on the line of scrimmage are Kerrigan, Murphy (No. 1 and 2), second-round pick Preston Smith (No. 3) and Hatcher (No. 4). This would be the defense's "speed" package up front when they're looking to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
I saw this "game" from the Redskins' defense multiple times on tape, with Robinson stunting inside at the guard and Smith looping inside up the A gap. On this play, the stunt along with pressure from Murphy force an incomplete pass from Nick Foles on third down. I mentioned it at the top of this piece, but Washington is a big zone coverage team, and its most prevalent coverage is Cover 3.
This is the same coverage we looked at when we broke down the Atlanta Falcons leading up to Week 1. There are lots of different ways to attack it. The Eagles had success against it, particularly in the second half in that game. The benefit of Cover 3 for the defense is, you have in essence what equates to an eight-man box, with the safety rolled down into the intermediate area of the field.
That extra safety helped the Redskins' defense on this play against St. Louis, as they stop them for a short gain. In this version of Cover 3 in particular ("Buzz" the most common form of the coverage), you have two outside linebackers as your "force" defenders, meaning they are responsible for the perimeter run game. Attacking the Washington secondary and its three-deep defenders will be important on Sunday's game to keep those underneath defenders honest in their post-snap decision-making.
The injury to cornerback Deangelo Hall is a big one for Washington. However, the Redskins have a young player in the wings who has played a lot of football already in his short career, and has all the tools to be a shutdown cornerback in this league.
You can see Bashaud Breeland here last Thursday against New York and its star receiver Odell Beckham. Breeland has the size, length and athleticism to be a top-shelf player at his position. You can see how those traits shape up as he breaks up this pass in the flats against OBJ. This is a tough unit overall, and the Eagles face a stiff test on Sunday.
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.