One of Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly’s overriding philosophies is coaching to the personnel. His game plans are not all about X’s and O’s or out-thinking the headsets on the opposite sideline. It’s identifying his players’ strengths and exploiting the other team’s weaknesses.
If that sounds so simplistic, it should be obvious to anyone. Well, you’re not wrong. But then we did have Andy Reid in Philadelphia for 14 years, and he wasn’t against throwing the ball 60 times against an opponent with a 32nd-ranked run defense.
So when we draw up a hypothetical game plan for Week 1 against the Washington Redskins, we actually have reason to believe that as long as we’ve done our homework, it might be more than a polite suggestion.
There’s no telling for sure what the Birds will do in Kelly’s debut, but we can venture a guess that he might follow some of these steps on the road to victory. At least, this is how I would attack the Skins.
Call Off the Dogs! (Blitzing Griffin)
Washington will start a quarterback who hasn’t faced a live pass rush since January, so I already know what you’re thinking. The Eagles should bring the heat, right?
Not so fast. In this case, such a strategy could play right into the opponent’s hands.
Robert Griffin III will, in all likelihood, be a bit rusty coming off the torn ACL that shelved him for the majority of offseason football activities, but blitzing the second-year passer actually might be going easy on him.
According to the Football Outsiders Almanac 2013, “the worst possible thing you could do last year was blitz [Griffin].” The analytics group writes that no field general in the NFL commanded a higher yards per play against five- (9.0 YPP) and six-man (13.1 YPP) rushes in 2012.
So while I think we can all appreciate the sentiment that the Eagles would want to get after RG3 right away and make him feel, or at least see, the pressure. The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year has proven he can dissect a blitz.
I would make Griffin show me the offense is in rhythm first before turning up the thermostat. Philadelphia’s secondary may not look very intimidating, but it’s hard to believe any QB could be at their sharpest without taking so much as a snap during the preseason. Let Griffin fluster himself rather than give him easy hot reads, or worse, break the pocket to find nothing but open field in front of him.
Bring Patrick Chung Down Inside the Box
Co-public enemy No. 1 is Alfred Morris and Washington’s vaunted ground attack. The 2012 sixth-round-pick’s 1,613 rushing yards were second only to Adrian Peterson last season, while the Eagles defense was gashed for a league-worst 163.5 yards per game and 5.3 yards per attempt this summer.
There’s a good chance defensive coordinator Bill Davis will want a healthy dose of Patrick Chung in run support, which we saw a ton of during the preseason and is where the fifth-year safety earns his paycheck. He just may not always line up where you would expect.
The Eagles may have, not so subtly, announced their intentions for Chung when Kelly revealed Nate Allen and Earl Wolff will both get work at safety. Despite the fact that Nate may be steadily ceding his starting job to the rookie out of N.C. State, a rotation at this position doesn’t make a whole lot of sense—unless it’s not a rotation at all.
Chung actually saw fairly extensive action as a slot corner in practice during training camp, and Kelly, more or less, admitted then that the defense would utilize him in such a capacity this season.
This could be how the staff intends to get both Allen and Wolff on the field—by moving Chung to corner in nickel or dime packages, so he’s closer to the point of attack, but without putting too much of a strain on the back-end of the secondary.
Even if Chung is aggressive in the box from his traditional safety position, the Eagles shouldn’t be overly concerned with surrendering the big play on the ground. While Morris can certainly pound defenses into submission, he’s no home run threat, as evidenced by a long gain of 39 last season.
Protect Lane Johnson
The fourth overall pick in this year’s draft draws a tough assignment for his NFL debut. Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan racked up 8.5 sacks and a Pro Bowl nod in his second season last year, and that was without Brian Orakpo (torn pectoral muscle) drawing the lion’s share of the attention on the opposite end of the formation.
Jason Peters should be fine against Orakpo with minimal assistance. On the other hand, while Lane Johnson mostly held his own at right tackle during the preseason, he is still more polished as a run blocker than he is in pass protection. Based on the charting numbers by Pro Football Focus (subscription only), the rookie allowed one sack and three hurries on 69 dropbacks this preseason.
Those numbers aren’t bad at all, especially for somebody who’s only been playing offensive line for the past two years. Having said that, you don’t necessarily want to put Lane in a position where he’s on his heels a lot against one of the more disruptive forces in the league.
Kelly will, undoubtedly, play to his offensive line’s strength and run the ball plenty. The focus in the passing game should be on quick strikes, though, especially early in the contest, while Johnson is getting acclimated to Kerrigan and the speed of the game.
That’s not to say the Eagles should baby their franchise right tackle, but you have to anticipate some kind of learning curve. At the very least, the offense should roll tight ends and backs to Johnson’s side in case he needs a little help.
Key Matchup: DeSean Jackson vs. WAS Secondary
If the Redskins have one glaring weakness, it’s their secondary. In 2012, offenses made a conscious effort to go after Washington’s defensive backs on a weekly basis, as no NFL team faced more pass attempts.
It’s not as if their run defense was otherworldly, finishing tied for 13th at 4.2 yards per carry. Yards were simply more readily available through the air, where the Skins allowed 7.4 yards per attempt—tied for 20th with three other teams.
Josh Wilson is a decent cornerback, but DeAngelo Hall has become better known for talking the talk than walking the walk. The Eagles can’t necessarily control which player draws DeSean Jackson in coverage, but it may not matter either. The real soft spot in the unit is its last line of defense.
The Redskins’ safeties are suspect. Brandon Meriweather was voted to the Pro Bowl as recently as 2010, but his performance has dropped off since, plus injuries kept him off the field for almost all of last season.
However, the bull’s-eye here will be on Bacarri Rambo. Washington is going with the sixth-round rookie out of Georgia opposite Meriweather, and let’s just say, many an NFL safety has been caught off-guard the first time "DJacc" ran by them.
With Jeremy Maclin lost for the year to a torn ACL, Jackson figures to be featured more prominently in the offense than at any point since his All-Pro season in 2009. If he catches either one of these safeties sleeping on Monday night, that could put him on the fast track to a third trip to the Pro Bowl.