Washington Redskins (3-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-5)
Sunday - 1 pm on Fox
The Redskins lead the all-time series 81-71-5.
This week's opponents, the Philadelphia Eagles, are led on offense by the NFL's current rushing leader, LeSean McCoy, and on defense by stud linebacker DeMeco Ryans. In order for the Redskins to get a victory on Sunday and stay alive in their division, they MUST do the following:
1) Don't let McCoy get to the second level - In their awful loss to the Vikings last week, the Redskins did a fairly solid job of not letting Adrian Peterson run wild, as he only finished with 75 rushing yards and a 3.8 yards per rush average (granted, he had two touchdowns, as well). McCoy is also an elite back, and it will be crucial for Washington to keep him from busting out long runs. This is no small task, but it will be important to make sure the front line of the Redskins' defense is wrapping up when they tackle, staying in their gaps and not over-pursuing. As is the case with several other players on the Eagles' offense, McCoy's speed is deadly, and he can take one to the house in a hurry. He is also a threat in the passing game, as he has 30 receptions this year and is fourth in the league with 356 yards after the catch.
2) Keep DeSean Jackson in front of them - Did I mention the Eagles have speed? Redskins' fans already have seen Jackson kill them many times over the last few years. This season, he is the NFL's third leading receiver with 54 catches for 903 yards and 7 touchdowns. He also leads the league with 17 catches of 20 yards or more. The Redskins must do everything they can to keep him from getting deep on them. His partner on the other side, Riley Cooper, also has seven touchdowns this season, including five in the last two games. The Eagles' offense currently ranks first in the league in total yards with 4,134 and is fourth in the league with 413.4 yards per game. However, they are only 11th in the league in points per game with 25.2 and two spots behind the Redskins, who are ranked 9th with 25.6.
3) Win the mistake/penalty battle - I pointed this out last week as the Redskins prepared to face the Vikings, and it bears repeating. It was truly amazing how Washington completely dominated Minnesota in the first half, and then completely fell apart in the second. The Eagles are a much better squad than the Vikings in almost every category. If the Redskins hope to have a chance, they will have to cut down on the offensive "concentration" penalties. This includes holding calls, delays of game, movement before the snap, illegal formations, etc. Right now, the Redskins are simply not good enough to overcome them and, in truth, the good teams don't make those mistakes. The positive news is that Philadelphia ranks worse than Washington right now in that category, as they have had 63 offensive penalties this season to the Redskins' 59.
4) Don't get cute, keep feeding Morris - One of the reasons the Vikings were able to make their significant comeback in the second half last week was that Washington could not sustain drives, allowing Minnesota more offensive opportunities. For the game, Alfred Morris played well and finished with 26 carries for 139 yards. He had 17 of those carries for 88 yards in the first half, however, and only 9 for 51 yards in the second half. While I can appreciate a mixed game-plan and a strategy of trying to catch the defense off-guard, they chose a poor time to start running less. It appeared as though they were looking for a quick score when they sensed the Vikings coming back in third quarter. Morris gets better as the game goes on, so when Washington has a lead or is only down by one possession in the second half of games, it makes sense to keep giving him the rock. The Eagles rank 14th in the league against the run, allowing 110.5 yards per game.
5) Bring Nick Foles down - Notice I did not say pressure Nick Foles. Too many times when the Redskins were on defense last week, the receivers would initially be covered and the pocket would start to collapse. Normally, that would be a fine scenario, but because the players applying the pressure did not actually reach the quarterback, he would simply run out of the pocket and find a receiver who was now open as a result of him extending the play. To put it straight, Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and whoever else is coming on a blitz has to actually put Foles on the turf and not just flush him out. So far this year, the Redskins' defense has done a poor job of getting sacks and rank only 20th in that department as a team with 22 total. That will need to improve going forward.
The Redskins have not played well as a team this season. In most years, a 3-6 record is a death knell and (even though they managed to do it last year) something from which teams usually do not recover. Washington's saving grace is that the rest of the teams in their division have also struggled this season, and they find themselves only 1.5 game back from the NFC East lead. Despite the losing cloud that currently hangs over the franchise, this season is not over.
Last year, it was a loss to the Carolina Panthers that seemed to jumpstart the team. The Redskins are hoping they will be able to look back on this season and point to the Vikings loss as the catalyst that spurred a run. A win this Sunday against a team who is 0-4 at home would put them right back in the playoff equation.