Redskins vs. Eagles: 10 Keys to the Game for Washington
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The script has been flipped.
Washington is riding a five-game winning streak and needs to close out the year with two victories to ensure its first division title since 1999.
Philadelphia is sauntering along at 4-10, looking to cap a disappointing year with some positive results at the end.
The stakes could not be higher for the Redskins, who have fought their way to the fourth seed in the NFC after falling to 3-6 just before their bye week. The aforementioned five-game streak began with a 31-6 pasting of these very same Eagles, a team decimated by injuries and with a roster that was simply playing out the string.
But that doesn't mean the Eagles are a pushover. Games within the NFC East are always competitive, and winning on the road is never a given in the NFL.
It should be a fun game to watch and will be a lot closer than people may realize.
If the Redskins want to keep their playoff hopes alive, there are several ways to keep the Eagles at bay and move toward a potential winner-take-all showdown with the Dallas Cowboys.
Keep Running the Ball
Alfred Morris could reach 1,500 yards this season if he continues to run hard.
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For all that Robert Griffin III has done in the passing game, the fact remains that the Redskins run the ball more effectively than any team in the NFL.
RG3has been a large part of the success, but rookie Alfred Morris has been the key. He is on pace for an impressive 1,511 yards and 10 touchdowns and has spearheaded the rebirth of the classic Mike Shanahan ground-and-pound approach to football.
The running game's success is tied directly to the passing game, as the Redskins have gained the most yards off of play-action passes in the NFL.
In last week's 38-21 win against the Cleveland Browns, the running game was stagnant for the first 30 minutes—but Shanahan stuck with it, and Morris took it to the Browns with 87 yards on 27 gritty carries.
If the Redskins stay committed to the run game as they have all season, the Eagles will have no answers. Be it a one-cut stretch play or a read-option call, an effective running attack will propel Washington to victory.
Don't Turn the Ball over
The Redskins have done a superb job of holding on to the football, one of the major factors in their turnaround.
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When a team makes a dramatic turnaround, the first statistic to look at is turnovers.
The Redskins have been immaculate this year when it comes to holding on to the ball, giving it away a measly 13 times in 14 games. Their plus-13 margin is tied for fourth in the NFL and has been the catalyst for one of the NFL's most efficient offenses.
The defense has held its own as well, balancing spotty play with big turnovers, forcing 26 total. The combination of both defensive and offensive success in this area has been huge for Washington in 2012.
A positive turnover margin is the reason bad teams can become good overnight. As such, the Redskins must be wary that the same philosophy can be utilized by the Eagles.
The fastest way to lose to an inferior opponent is to be careless with the ball. If the Redskins finish plus-1 or plus-2 in the turnover margin on Sunday, they should cruise to victory. Philadelphia doesn't have enough talent to keep up, and simply keeping the ball in RG3's hands should be enough to take control.
Next Man Up on the Offensive Line
Tyler Polumbus is one of the walking wounded in the offensive line for the Redskins. The unit has performed well in 2012 and must continue against a deceptively talented Eagles front.
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The Redskins' offensive line has played decently in 2012, and that's because it's avoided the devastating injuries that have decimated the front in recent years.
This week could pose problems as there are a few important injuries on the line. Center Will Montgomery, who has enjoyed a stellar year, will attempt to play despite a sprained MCL, and right tackle Tyler Polumbus is hoping for the green light after fighting off a concussion.
With RG3 coming off a significant injury, it will be up to these wounded men in the trenches to keep his pocket clean. If one or both of them fails to play a full 60 minutes, it will be up to the backups.
In that case, it will be all about who can step up in a big situation. The line has been very good this year, and if the Redskins are to combat an athletic Eagles front, they'll need the big guys to play their hearts out.
If they control the trenches, the Redskins will come out on top. If they don't, it will be a struggle to stay afloat.
Score Early and Often
When healthy, Pierre Garcon has been an important part of a Redskins offense that averages just over 27 points per game.
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The best way to beat a team that has essentially thrown in the towel is to demoralize them early.
If the Redskins can jump out to a 14-0 lead or something similar, they could lock up the game. The Eagles simply do not have the personnel—let alone the motivation—to dig out of a hole that deep.
Washington is clearly the superior team, so it would behoove the Redskins to make quick work of Philadelphia and get out of town healthy.
There is no need to tarry with a team that isn't up to par. This game could be close, but the Redskins should look to put it away early and save their legs for the next game against Dallas.
There is nothing more dangerous than a desperate team that can hang around at the end of a game. If the Redskins want to avoid any unnecessary drama, they need to build a comfortable lead early and get out of Philly with a solid victory.
Contain the Eagles Running Game
LeSean McCoy will make his return this week and could pose problems for the Redskins if he and backfield mate Bryce Brown can find some lanes.
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The Eagles don't do a lot of things well, but if there's one aspect of the game Andy Reid's club can hang its hat on, it's the running game.
LeSean McCoy, though prone to injury and generally a disappointment, is one of the most talented backs in the league. His replacement Bryce Brown has proved more than capable as well.
The Redskins defense has played very well over the last five weeks. Jim Haslett's worst nightmare would be for all that hard work to be undone by a couple of 50-yard runs.
The Eagles are still a formidable offensive team. If their running game is up to snuff, it could become very difficult to stop them. The Washington defensive line must maintain gap control and the linebackers, particularly London Fletcher, must continue to play solid football.
Washington has been very good at stopping the run for most of the year, but this might be the biggest challenge yet. If they can weather the storm and force the notoriously pass-happy Eagles into a 50-pass day, good things will happen for the Redskins.
Pressure the Quarterback
Nick Foles has played well in spots, but he still has a long way to go in terms of maturing into a legitimate starting quarterback.
The Redskins defense was putrid for the first half of the season but has developed into a solid unit over the course of the season. One thing that hasn't changed, though, is the pass rush, which has been virtually nonexistent for 14 weeks.
Pressuring the quarterback was a strength of the Redskins last season, but injuries to Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker have stymied their ability this season.
Washington has only 25 sacks on the year. That's not terrible, but for a team with as little talent in the secondary as the Redskins, it's a death knell for the pass defense.
It will be especially important to pressure the Eagles' rookie quarterback, Nick Foles. He was forced into two bad throws as a result of pressure the last time he faced the Redskins, and Jim Haslett should be looking to dial up some more blitzes.
This means an expanded role for Rob Jackson, who has 4.5 sacks while spelling the injured Orakpo. Jackson has been spectacular in 2012, but he must be sent on more blitzes. His talent is obviously there, and he seems to make an impact every time he rushes the quarterback.
If Jackson and the Redskins can collapse the pocket, Foles will have a tough day and Washington will come out as the winner.
Block out the Crowd
Eagles fans may not have much to cheer about in 2012, but they are still as loud and rowdy a bunch as there is in the NFL.
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Yes, the Redskins have four more wins than the Eagles do. Yes, Washington is hunting for a division title while Philadelphia seems destined for a Top 10 draft pick.
Throw all of that out the window, it doesn't matter.
On the road, statistics mean little. Winning a game in the NFL is hard enough as it is, but winning on the road is a different animal. The Redskins may be the better team, but that means very little when traveling to a place like Philadelphia.
Granted, the fanbase is a little less raucous than in previous years. The lack of success in the past two seasons has sapped their passion, but let's be honest—it's still the Lincoln Financial Field. The Linc has been a house of horrors for the Redskins (and countless other teams) and will test the mettle of Washington's young players.
The crowd noise will be a factor, so RG3 and his teammates must work together to stay in rhythm. They can't let the crowd get to them.
It will be a playoff-like atmosphere that will test them in ways they've never been tested before. If they pass, they'll be staring at the most important game of their lives with the season on the line against the Cowboys.
The Redskins are penalized more than any team in the NFL, and it's bound to hurt them soon.
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The Redskins do a lot of things well, but keeping the laundry off the field is not one of them.
Washington has managed to win five games in a row despite keeping in line with a common theme—penalties.
As the most-penalized team in the league, the Redskins have left hundreds and hundreds of yards on the table. Be it a holding call or a defensive pass interference, the blame goes to all three facets of the game.
One of the best ways to lose to an inferior opponent is to shoot yourself in the foot by going backwards, and the Redskins must stay disciplined to avoid the upset.
As was previously mentioned, the crowd in Philadelphia will be loud and it will be up to the players to execute under strenuous circumstances. The last thing the Redskins want is to have a touchdown called back by a holding call.
The concept of discipline goes beyond penalties to the kicking game as well. Kai Forbath has been superb kicking field goals this year, but his kickoffs have left a lot to be desired.
It can be assumed that the Eagles will have multiple opportunities to return kicks, and it will be on the shoulders of the special-teams players to stay disciplined and keep to their lanes on coverage.
Allowing a return touchdown would be devastating.
It boils down to smart football.
If the Redskins play smart they'll win. If they keep giving the Eagles opportunities, it will be very tough.
Don't Get Cocky
The Redskins can't take the Eagles lightly, no matter how different each team's record is.
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It's hard to imagine an NFL team overlooking an opponent, even when the talent gap is as wide as it is in this game. But the fact remains that human nature causes us to relax when things seem easier, and that's the predicament the Redskins find themselves in this week.
There is zero debate over which team is better—it's Washington, and if the Redskins don't leave Philadelphia with a win, it will be considered one of the most demoralizing upsets in team history. That's why the players absolutely cannot enter Sunday's proceedings thinking a win is inevitable.
If they do that, they'll only be setting themselves up for failure.
Mike Shanahan is a veteran coach who can motivate players in any given situation. It will be critical for him to stress the importance of staying humble and keeping things in perspective.
There's no division title if the Redskins can't beat the Eagles. That alone should prevent any sort of letdown from the burgundy and gold. If Washington can simply play as it has for the past five weeks, victory should be relatively simple.
Keep Everyone Healthy
The Redskins got away with winning a game without Robert Griffin III, but could they do the same in a must-win game against Dallas in Week 17?
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The Redskins have proved that they're more than a one-trick pony—they annihilated the Browns in Cleveland without RG3 under center.
But that doesn't mean they would be able to do the same against Dallas.
In fact, if the Redskins win on Sunday, they'll need everyone healthy for the next game. Dallas week is always one of the most important weeks of any Redskins season, and the significance of this particular matchup cannot be understated.
RG3 must stay healthy in Philadelphia, as must Morris, Pierre Garcon, Fletcher and every other player on the team right on down to the 53rd man.
The most important asset any player can provide to his team is availability. If you're not on the field, you can't contribute and the players have to realize that.
This is especially true with RG3 who, despite what anyone thinks, is the most important player on the team.
The Redskins' playoff hopes will take a hit if RG3 can't play against the Cowboys. They must make quick work of Philly and get out alive, ready to play in a huge game in Week 17.