Well that was massively disappointing. Yes the Redskins fought back in the fourth quarter and tried to make a game of it, but they shot themselves in the foot in the first half, which they couldn't recover from. The Eagles took the 33-27 win in the end, but the little consolation the Redskins can take out of the game was that star quarterback Robert Griffin III looked better with every series he played in the second half. While we're on that topic, lets move onto my initial thoughts and observations.
- Robert Griffin III started off rusty, to say the least. It's hard to tell if he wasn't trusting his knee or if it was still bothering him, but he wasn't driving off of it to create the necessary torque for him to throw the ball with accuracy and velocity. Because he wasn't driving off his back leg, he wasn't turning over his front one, making his mechanics completely out of wack. When he threw to his right, the ball was sailing on him; but when he threw to his left, the ball died on him (costing him his second interception). But he was always going to be rusty having not played in preseason. What was more worrying for me was some of the decisions he made. He threw a horrible interception in the first quarter trying to force a throw. The Eagles offense had run a ton of plays and the defense had hardly had a break. Griffin did something uncharacteristic and let that pressure get to him as he forced the throw into a crowded area. Santana Moss was well covered by his corner, as well as both safeties closing in on him. The ball was intercepted and ended up putting even more pressure on the defense. That kind of decision can't be blamed on his leg, he knows he can't allow that kind of thing to happen again.
- As previously mentioned, Griffin did get better as the game wore on. I saw a lot of tweets saying he was reluctant to run, and perhaps he was a little bit, but I liked that he was willing to stay in the pocket and try to progress through his reads. Griffin was seen by a lot of people as a one-read and run kind of quarterback, which he was for a lot of the time. If Griffin wants to grow, he needs to progress through reads and keep his eyes downfield, only scrambling when he has to. I thought he did a decent job of that today for the most part. Griffin finished the night with his two best throws. The first was a bullet on a deep in to Leonard Hankerson. The second was a beautifully placed pass over the top of safety Patrick Chung into Hankerson's arms for a touchdown. I'm not sold that the touchdown pass was a great decision by Griffin, I though Chung played it horribly and could have had an interception had he played it better, but I need to see it back again to know for sure. But the touch Griffin placed on that ball was absolutely fantastic, which is promising going into next week.
- I think its tough to put this loss on the defense. It was almost a curse for them when Ryan Kerrigan batted down a ruled backwards pass that Hall recovered that fumble for a touchdown on the opening drive. The Eagles had just run 10 plays in less than three minutes, meaning the defense was bound to be tired. For them to get 30 seconds on the sidelines for the kick off and then have to go back out there for another eight plays in less than three minutes was tough. To come out of that situation 7-3 up without the offense having yet touched the ball should have been HUGE for the Redskins. But then Alfred Morris fumbled and put the defense right back out there. Having faced 18 plays in about six minutes with maybe a minute rest, the defense was shot. Michael Vick ran a bootleg off play-action and hit DeSean Jackson 25 yards downfield for a touchdown. The story continued in that fashion throughout the first quarter and into the second. For the Redskins to be just five points down going into the second was a heck of a job by the defense.
- The fatigue eventually caught up with them and the Eagles managed to get 14 points in the second quarter. I don't believe that this was down to the defense not knowing what was coming. The Eagles didn't show anything that they haven't shown in preseason or that Kelly didn't use at Oregon. The problem was simply the amount of plays they were able to run in the first half. The Eagles managed to run 53 plays, occupying 22 minutes of the first half. For some perspective on that, most teams will run 60 or so plays a game. Instead, the Eagles managed 2.4 plays per minute in the first half. Had the Redskins managed to sustain a drive of eight minutes, that would have taken about 20 plays away from the Eagles offense. That's a massive swing, a game-changing swing. But the offense, and in particular Robert Griffin III, couldn't find any rhythm, and the defense suffered.
- Having said that, the defense wasn't perfect. Many players missed multiple open field tackles and, more infuriatingly, they struggled to consistently seal the backside of the run. The Eagles offense specializes on forcing defenders to make one on one tackles in space; with rookies like Bacarri Rambo in the team, that was always going to be a problem. But not sealing the edges on the backside was sloppy. Much too often LeSean McCoy was able to cut the ball all the way back without being touched. Brian Orakpo really struggled in this regard. McCoy was able to dance around Orakpo all day.
- Rookie Bacarri Rambo played just as you'd expect a rookie to play, inconsistent. He's much improved from the first two preseason games in terms of tackling, making a couple of nice tackles running full speed downhill. But on occasion, he was still caught hesitating. Vick took the ball on a read-option play (reading a inside lineman rather than a defense end, which was interesting) and gave Rambo a stutter step to make him look stupid. I noted in preseason that we hadn't really seen Rambo challenged deep. Today the Eagles took him on and beat him. On the Jackson touchdown in the first half, Rambo appeared to bite on the play-action, leaving his deep middle third of the field wide open for Jackson. He also appeared to be late getting across to cover tight end Brent Celek, on his 28 yard touchdown, but we need to see the film before we know for sure. It will be interesting to get our hands on the All-22 footage to see just how well he kept to his assignments in coverage.
- Ryan Kerrigan was the star on defense. He obviously had terrific awareness to get his hands up and bat down that pass on the opening drive. It was as 50/50 call, but the fact it was ruled a backwards pass on the field gave the Redskins the advantage. There was no conclusive evidence to overturn the call, so it stayed with the Redskins. His pass rush was the best of any Redskin. On three separate blitzes, he burst through the B gap and collapsed the pocket. On one of those plays, Perry Riley was able to blitz behind him and get a free run a Vick for a sack. Mike Wise of the Washington Post tweeted that Kerrigan left the game late on with concussion-like symptoms and didn't return. The Redskins need him back soon for this defense to be successful.
- I was surprised with just how well the Eagles defense played against the run. In preseason, they got shredded by stretch running plays that the Redskins love to run, but today they only allowed 45 yards on 12 carries from Alfred Morris. Morris looked rusty, like the rest of the offense. He had the fumble early on, but shouldn't be blamed for the bad pitch which resulted in a safety. He can be blamed, however, for missing several cut backs. Too often he found himself forcing the ball to the edge when he should have been cutting back. His touchdown run was a perfect example of how he can press the hole and then cut back, but it wasn't something we saw from Morris often enough. Roy Helu did a good job for the most part as a third down back, having to block for the majority of his snaps due to heavy Eagles blitzes.
- Rookie Jordan Reed was a bright spot for the Redskins offense. He took more snaps than I expected him to, often replacing Fred Davis, which raises questions about Davis' health. But Reed took full advantage, showing reliable hands and making good yards after the catch. Two catches stood out. On the first Reed had to turn and dive back towards the ball that was thrown short of him. He managed to get back to the ball and get his hands under it. The second catch was on a big blitz by the Eagles. As the tight end, Reed was the hot read on a quick in-breaking route. Griffin knew there was pressure coming and had to get rid of it quickly. He put the ball out there and trusted Reed to make the play, which he did. That turned a big blitz from the Eagles into a 10 yard gain by Reed and a first down.