Redskins vs Eagles: 10 Keys to the Game for Philadelphia
Rookie superstar quarterback Robert Griffin III will be returning to the field, as coach Mike Shanahan said on Thursday afternoon that he "should be ready to go [on Sunday]" (h/t ESPN). This will obviously be RG3's first game in Philadelphia, giving the home fans a first hand look at one of the league's most exciting player.
This creates an interesting dynamic as the Eagles try to spoil the Redskins' shot at taking the top of the NFC East. It won't be easy, but a couple of key factors could throw the odds in their favor.
1. Get to RG3 Early and Often
All eyes will be back on Robert Griffin III as he returns after missing last week to a knee injury. As a notable rushing quarterback, it will be interesting to see how the rookie rebounds from his first setback.
Eagles fans have seen the deterioration these setbacks can cause to a rushing quarterback. Between Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick, various injuries had limited their once fantastic mobility and elusiveness.
One would think these thoughts hang around in the minds of those within the Redskins' organization, as RG3 was spared of any major damage after what looked like a severe injury.
Giving the quarterback the benefit of the doubt, you must assume he's not going to be playing timid. However, if the Eagles can remind him early on that they are there, it may be enough to rattle the rookie.
It seemed that after every passing play this season, Michael Vick ended up on the ground. Even if the Eagles can't get to the scrambler (although the Redskins have allowed 31 sacks this season, tied for 16 in NFL), a couple of good shots could do the trick.
2. Pass, Pass and Pass Some More
I have already gone on record and said how I feel about LeSean McCoy playing tomorrow. He has no business touching the ball.
With that being said, however, it may be advantageous for the Eagles to air it out on Sunday. Why? Quarterbacks who have been the skins have done it in two ways. Passers have either been extremely efficient, or have thrown in volume.
For the most part, that can be seen in the table above. Eli Manning and Matt Ryan were the only two who got to air it out, but it paid off with well over 300 yards. Ben Roethlisberger, Sam Bradford and Andy Dalton all threw between 25 and 35 times, but stayed efficient with their passing percentage. Cam Newton is an outlier, but his rushing ability adds an extra dimension the others don't have.
So how does this add up to Foles airing it out? The rookie has not exactly been the definition of efficient. Between growing pains, the state of the offensive line and his limited receiver options, you can't blame him.
However, if he is able to air it out and sniff 350 yards on a not-so-great Redskins secondary, the Eagles could be in good shape.
3. Don't Let Redskins Wide Receivers Behind Secondary
How many times last game against the Redskins did we see deep passes to uncovered receivers? That's the last thing the Eagles need this week.
As previously stated, the best thing the Eagles could do would be to keep RG3 in the pocket going through his progressions.
Even if he is picking apart short routes and mid-routes, it still limits the Redskins big-play ability. If RG3 is forced to stand in the pocket and search for a receiver, it increases the time the Eagles have to get to him.
At this point teams don't try to stop RG3, but only hope to contain him. If the new, non-wide-nine defensive line can hold the rookie in his place and the secondary keep the receivers in front of them, the Eagles may be able to dominate.
4. Hold RG3 in the Pocket
Holding the quarterback to short passes won't be possible if he's running all over the field. Last meeting between the two teams resulted in 84 rushing yards for Griffin III, including a 28-yard scramble.
The Eagles should pounce on the opportunity RG3's iffy knee provides and keep all gaps close and the edges tight. Whether he be slower or less likely to take off is yet to be seen.
In the event he does escape the pocket, safe and clean hits should help make sure he thinks twice about it next time.
5. Utilize the Screen Pass
In their last meeting against the Redskins, LeSean McCoy was the team's leading receiver at six receptions for 67 yards.
Some of the easiest passes for Foles to make are screens and dump-offs. If they were also the most efficient against the Redskins, it's a no-brainer for the team to use more often on Sunday.
6. Prepare for Kirk Cousins
With all this strategy for keeping Robert Griffin III in check, there is a likelihood that the Eagles could see rookie backup Kirk Cousins in the game at some point. Whether it be re-injury or even a little discomfort, it's safe to assume the Redskins won't risk any further damage.
Cousins has showed his importance to this team in the past two weeks, first leading the Redskins to an OT victory against the Ravens and a victory against the Browns last week. He was 26-of-37 with 329 yards and two touchdowns in that game.
Failing to prepare for Cousins as if he were to start could leave the Eagles vulnerable to a player they have never seen before. As college coaching grew John Wooden once said, "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."
7. Lock Down Pierre Garcon
Wide receiver Pierre Garcon has been able to post a 14.6 yards per reception so far in 2012. With only 34 receptions on the season, it seems as Garcon is the Redskins' big-play option versus a volume catch guy.
While Garcon has flashed this knack for a big play since Week 1 (88 yard TD reception against the Saints), the Eagles have also shown their ability to give them up. Even if the secondary can keep the Redskins receivers in front of them, they will still need to play smart and tackle to avoid a long touchdown.
Just how valuable has Garcon been to the Redskins this season? When he's player they are 7-1. Without him, they are just 1-5.
8. Increased Targets to Riley Cooper and Jason Avant
Last time the Eagles and Redskins met, Riley Cooper had five receptions for 67 yards. Last week against the Bengals, Jason Avant only saw three receptions but managed to rake in 44 yards for a 14.7 average yards per catch.
These aren't exactly two receivers you would hope to build a game plan around, but for the Eagles they are key. No. 1 receiver Jeremy Maclin cannot create on his own with his obvious size limitations. Because of that, Cooper's 6'3" height and Avant's ability to go over the middle should create a secondary press. If that happens, the opportunity to hit Maclin downfield increases.
If Foles is going to be throwing close to, if not over, 50 times, Cooper and Avant are the players who need to benefit with extra targets. Not only will this continue to build chemistry for the future, but also may be the key to unleashing the offense.
9. Limit Turnovers
Of course limiting turnovers is something generic and important enough to be a key for every game. But after last week's five turnovers, it obviously hasn't been important to this team.
The Eagles tie for the league lead in giveaways this season at 34. Up there with them are the Kansas City Chiefs, the New York Jets (33) and the Arizona Cardinals (29). Not exactly the teams you want to be grouped with in any statistical category, let alone leading the way with.
They need to protect the ball. Foles threw two interceptions in his first start (against the Redskins), which hopefully can be chalked up to jitters. The introduction of LeSean McCoy over Bryce Brown should also help limit the chances of a fumble.
The last thing the Eagles need to do is put the ball in the hands of the explosive young Redskin stars like Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris. Having an efficient offense that protects the ball will not only put points on the board but also keep the most dangerous opponent players in the building off the field.
10. Give the Fans a Reason to Cheer
Earlier this week, Featured Columnist Timothy Rapp gave 10 reasons why the Philadelphia Eagles had the best fans in the NFL. This is Week 16 against a division rival. This is the time to prove it.
Good fans are the ones that are still in the stadium when their team is 4-10. The best fans are the ones who are in the stadium screaming when their team is 4-10.
At the end of the day, records don't matter. This is the Washington Redskins. This is a team that the Eagles have beat up on the past couple of years. Now, they look prime to return the favor.
No player wants to play in front of lifeless fans. This is the reason some venues are tougher to play in than others. Lincoln Financial Field has always been one of those places.
Hopefully the opportunity to keep the Redskins from the playoffs is enough incentive to get fans up off their feet and will the Eagles to a victory.