On a night when nothing went according to plan for the Eagles, the defense got a surprising and healthy dose of a suddenly resurgent Redskins rushing attack. Washington's ground game ranked 28th in the league entering week 4, only gaining 74.3 yards per game rushing. But on Sunday, the men in burgundy and gold flipped the script.
The Redskins ran for 169 yards on 35 attempts (they only threw the ball 19 times), as Clinton Portis averaged 5.0 yards per carry, and Ryan Terrain ran for 70 yards and a touchdown. They controlled the line of scrimmage in the first half, and once they built a two-score lead, the Redskins ran the ball 62 percent of the time (26-of-42). In fact, Donovan McNabb only completed two passes in the second half, while the Redskins ran the ball 20 times for 101 yards.
"When you're talking about the run game –and I have to go back and look at the film to get a better perspective, or a better viewpoint— you have to control the line of scrimmage," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said after the game. "You have to play aggressive, you have to play physical, and you have to come off the ball and get off blocks."
The Redskins used a specific tactic to attack the Eagles aggressive defense, and it's the staple of a Mike Shanahan-led offense. The counter, as it's called, is a play in which the running back follows his blockers one direction, and cuts back to look for holes on the backside of the defense. McDermott said the Eagles knew what to expect.
"That's their scheme; they run the one-cut scheme," McDermott said. "They've done it for years, and we've practiced it and were prepared for it. Obviously, we could have done a better job in the first quarter with it."
The Eagles defensive line has anchored a defense that led the league in sacks coming into Sunday's matchup. But the best way to counter a strong pass rush is with a strong running game. Defensive end Trent Cole said the Redskins came out with a plan to run the ball as much as possible.
"I think they ran the ball a whole ton this game," Cole said. "They used the running game a lot. They planned well.
"They did a lot of cutback runs, but they also tried to cut back a couple times (when it wasn't designed) and they just looked like they were finding holes and taking them instead of cutting it back. We should have gone out there and stopped it…that wasn't Eagles defense out there."
The captain of that Eagles defense is middle linebacker Stewart Bradley. He prides himself on leading a fast, aggressive defense, and one that looks to make impact plays. But the Redskins knew all about the Eagles' aggressiveness, and Bradley expects other teams to follow the Redskins plan of attack.
"I think we're going to have to be ready for that a lot because we're a fast defense, and teams are not going to just try and outrun us," Bradley said. "So the counters are a way to attack us."
The NFL season is 17 weeks long and this is only week 4. But after giving up 423 yards on the ground in their last three games, this Eagles defense knows exactly what to focus on as they prepare for a Sunday night showdown in San Francisco.
"It's just something that we've been struggling with lately," defensive tackle Mike Patterson said. "They just did it and we're not worried about it. We just have to get better."
-- Posted by Josh Goldman, 9:34 p.m., October 3