What Can We Learn from the Redskins' Games Against the Cardinals and the Eagles?

Olav SmithContributor IJanuary 15, 2009

Something that 'Skins fans can keep in mind as they watch the Conference Championships this weekend is that the Redskins played all four of the teams still vying to get to the Super Bowl.

In the first of this two-part series, I will discuss the Redskins' victories over the Cardinals and the Eagles, who are playing each other for the NFC Championship this week.

The Cardinals were undefeated when the Redskins faced them at home in Week Three.  People were wondering then, as many still are, if the Cardinals were for real. One thing we found out is that Larry Fitzgerald is for real. He caught seven passes for 109 yards, including a 62-yard pass play that went for a touchdown.

The Redskins' defense, which finished fourth in the NFL this season, could not shut down Fitzgerald. It may turn out that no one can. What the Redskins were able to do is to make sure no one else had a big day.

Warner was harassed by a swarming defense all day. No other receiver caught more than three passes, and Edgerrin James was held to under 100 yards rushing. On one important series in the second quarter, Jason Taylor tipped a Warner pass that was intended for Fitzgerald, and it fell incomplete.

On the very next play, Kedric Golston sacked Warner, and the Cardinals were forced to punt.

The key to this game, as it is in many NFL games, may have been turnovers. Carlos Rogers picked off one errant Warner pass, and Rocky McIntosh forced one fumble. Significantly, the Redskins cashed in on those two turnovers, scoring 10 points off of them.

Jason Campbell was what he needed to be. He was calm and efficient. He completed 19 of 30 passes for 193 yards.  He spread the ball around to 7 different receivers. He threw two touchdown passes. One was to Santana Moss and the other was to Todd Yoder.

And importantly, he threw no interceptions. In fact, the Redskins had no turnovers on the day. 

Santana Moss and Chris Cooley caught 14 passes between them. Some of those were important third down conversions. 

Two weeks later, the Redskins faced the Eagles in Philadelphia. Washington was coming off of an incredible road victory against the Cowboys, and the thought that they could beat two NFC East rivals on the road two weeks in a row seemed too much to hope for.

The Eagles came out firing, picking up nine first downs in their first two possessions. It looked like it might be a long day for the Redskins. In fact, the Eagles went up 14-0 in the first half before the defense toughened up, and the 'Skins started chipping away at the lead with three field goals. It was 14-9 at the half.

Both quarterbacks had similar games. Donovan McNabb, who is something of a role-model for Jason Campbell, completed 17 of 29 passes for 196 yards. Campbell completed 16 of 29 passes for 176 yards. 

Neither quarterback threw a touchdown pass or an interception. In fact, remarkably, there were no turnovers in the game.

There were two main edges for the Redskins in the end. Clinton Portis continued to lead the NFL in rushing by running for 145 yards in the first Eagles game. The Redskins pretty effectively shut down the Eagles ground game, which only accumulated 58 yards for the day. 

The other major difference was that while the Eagles had no real go-to guy in crucial situations on that day, Jason Campbell found Chris Cooley eight times for 109 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles had no answer for Portis or Cooley on that day. The final score was the Redskins 23, and the Eagles 17.

Being division rivals, the Redskins weren't finished with the Eagles yet. With the Redskin season spiraling out of control, and the Philadelphia making their playoff push, the Eagles came to Washington in Week 16 of the NFL season.

It was a titanic defensive struggle throughout the day. The Eagles finished third in the NFL in defense this season, and the Redskins finished fourth. 

The fact is that the Redskins could not do much against the Eagles' defense. Happily for the Redskins, the Eagles could do nothing against the 'Skins' defense.

DeAngelo Hall had a big day, recording eight tackles and three deflected passes. But Jason Taylor had his best game as a Redskin, with two sacks and a forced fumble that gave the Redskins a short field and set up the only touchdown of the day.

These were well-managed games again. Neither quarterback threw an interception. Both quarterbacks were efficient, again.

The most important key difference, once again, was that the Redskins put together a solid running game, while the Eagles were forced to pass all day. As a team, the Redskins rushed for 122 yards. The Eagles rushed for 62.

Another key difference was that the Redskins' punter, Ryan Plackemeier, kept pinning the Eagles down inside their own 10-yard line. This game was a battle of field position, and the Redskins, with Plackemeier's help, won that.

The final score was 10-7. The Redskins sealed their victory only in the last seconds when Fred Smoot and LaRon Landry combined to tackle Reggie Brown inside the one-yard line. Fortunately for the Redskins, there was no time left on the clock for the Eagles to try to punch it in.

As we look forward to this weekend's matchup between the Cardinals and the Eagles, there are a few points we can keep in mind based on the Redskins' games against these two teams.

The first thing is that while it is unlikely you can shut down Larry Fitzgerald for the day, you can make it difficult for others on the team to get involved. I'd look for defensive coordinator Jimmy Johnson to put lots of pressure on Warner, and to keep the damage Fitzgerald does to the minimum. 

The second thing we learned is that you can shut down the Eagles' rushing game. And when you do, McNabb has to throw the ball a lot. It's mostly dinks and dunks, and the question will be how well the Cardinals' defense gets to the ball after the catch.

The 'Skins did a great job at it, but they were the fourth-ranked defense in the league.  The Cardinals' defense has improved through the season. It's not clear if they are up to the task, or not.

The Eagles were able to put up big points against the teams that did not have a great secondary this season. I expect them to test the Cardinals early and often.

Kurt Warner tends to make mistakes when he's under a lot of pressure. No one puts pressure on like defenses coached by Jimmy Johnson. 

I expect to see the Eagles win. But the question is what it has been all year. Are the Cardinals for real, or not? I guess we'll see.

From a more selfish standpoint, is there something we can learn about the Redskins from these games? I'd say so.

The Redskins are able to beat some of the best teams in the league. They do this when the are able to rush the ball well, and when Jason Campbell is able to spread the ball around efficiently. 

In the end, I think the Redskins are becoming a team very similar to the Eagles. They have an aggressive defense that they rely on heavily. And their West Coast offense that is emerging has a lot of similar characteristics. 

Jason Campbell is clearly a quarterback in the mold of McNabb. And in the second game against the Eagles, Betts was used in a role very similar to Westbrook, catching five passes for 43 yards.  

The difference is this curious blend of the West Coast offense with a significant rushing attack that the Eagles have never had. Can the Redskins play like the Eagles, only better? Time will tell.