The Philadelphia Eagles ambushed an ill-prepared Washington Redskins squad in Week 1. The Birds were out to a 33-7 lead within the first 32 minutes of Chip Kelly’s NFL head coaching debut, his famed uptempo offense firing on all cylinders while Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III looked undeniably rusty in his return from a torn ACL.
This time around, there are no surprises. For one, Washington’s staff has 10 weeks’ worth of film on Philadelphia’s offense now. Perhaps more importantly, though, Griffin has been gradually improving since that drubbing in the season opener, and the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year is back to the point where he could be the difference-maker on Sunday rather than a helpless bystander.
Griffin is still far from the levels of efficiency that earned him a Pro Bowl nod last season, but he wasn’t a threat at all back on September 9. The splits show a slightly more formidable passer compared to a month ago, while the biggest positive sign for Skins fans might be his increased willingness to run with the football.
|Robert Griffin III's Splits|
|Weeks 1-4 (4 GMS)||7.07||83.0||18||72|
|Weeks 6-10 (5GMS||7.47||84.6||38||236|
Chip sees the progress Griffin has made, and he expects the dynamic signal-caller to present a greater challenge in Week 11. The head coach discussed the changes in the opposing QB at Wednesday’s media session transcribed by PhiladelphiaEagles.com:
Obviously when we played them the first time [Griffin] was coming off the injury and didn't get any live reps in camp and getting ready for it. … He's running around a lot more. And he's throwing the ball really well. So we expect a little bit different look than we got the first game.
The Eagles coasted to a 33-27 final in the previous meeting, a score nowhere near indicative of the lopsided action. Yet before everything was said and done, Washington was in a position to attempt an onside kick late in the fourth quarter down by only a possession. Had RG3 been able to make one or two more big plays earlier in the contest, might the outcome have turned out different?
It’s better if nobody has to find out. Game-planning for a dual threat under center is never easy. The best hope for the Eagles is to try to keep Griffin in the pocket and make him beat them with his arm. He’s already chucked nine interceptions—almost twice as many as last year—so the defense has to count on its ability to force an errant pass.
In order for the Eagles to complete the series sweep, they must prevent Griffin from reverting to his 2012 form, when he carried that team to the playoffs. Washington may be entering the week with a 3-6 record, but that’s exactly where the franchise was at this juncture a year ago. The club wound up reeling off seven wins in a row to steal the NFC East championship.
No doubt Washington is upset-minded once again, but the Birds need this win too. Philly is in a tie of sorts with the Cowboys for first place in the East, although Dallas owns the potential tiebreaker with a 3-0 record in the division. If the Eagles fall to Washington on Sunday, three division wins will be the best they can do.
As difficult as it is to limit Griffin, unfortunately he’s not the only key cog in Washington’s offense. For the second week in a row, the Eagles will have their hands full with a powerful back who’s been steamrolling the competition.
Washington’s Offense vs. Philadelphia’s Defense: Stop the Run
The Birds defense may have to focus on shutting down Washington’s vaunted ground attack first. Alfred Morris has been punishing opponents since Philadelphia held him to 45 yards rushing in Week 1. The second-year back hasn’t averaged less than 4.4 yards per carry nor kept under 70 total in a game since.
Morris has really been heating up the past two weeks, going over 100 yards in back-to-back games including a season-high 139 against Minnesota last week. He’s sort of come from nowhere to jump into third place on the NFL’s rushing leaderboard, up to 825 yards for the season.
The good news for the Eagles is they have experience containing big, bruising backs like Morris this season. Just last week, they held Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy to 73 yards on 24 carries for a paltry 3.0 average. They made it look easy too, loading up the box and swarming the ball-carrier at the point of attack every time he touched the rock.
The problem is the Eagles could leave the Packers wide receivers in one-on-one coverage at Green Bay with the confidence that backup quarterbacks Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien weren’t going to carve up the coverage. That’s not necessarily the case against Griffin, who has Pierre Garcon up to seventh in the league with 803 yards receiving.
Regardless, the Eagles have to trust cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher on the outside with minimal help from a single safety over the top if they’re going to get control of this Morris situation—especially with Griffin a threat to take off as well. Death by 1,000 cuts is worse than one quick strike.
Washington’s Defense vs. Philadelphia’s Offense: Go Deep
Philadelphia’s success on offense the past couple weeks is not all that difficult to explain. Nick Foles is playing out of his mind for the Eagles under center right now with 10 touchdown passes to 12 incompletions over his previous two starts.
It’s the explosiveness of the offense under Foles that is really turning heads, though. With two more passes over 40 yards against the Packers last week, the second-year quarterback upped his total to nine for the season—only Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton (12) and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco (10) have more. Combined with five from Michael Vick, the Birds lead the NFL in passes of 40-plus.
If you’re the Eagles, you’ve got to continue pushing the ball deep this week. For starters, consistent completions down the field prevent defenses from loading up the box to stop the run, which should only make life easier for LeSean McCoy. It certainly seemed to help in Green Bay, where the All-Pro back topped the century mark for just the second time since Week 3.
As it turns out, Washington’s defense is vulnerable against the pass as well. The unit is ranked 26th, allowing 274.8 yards per game through the air, while opposing quarterbacks are posting a healthy 98.8 passer rating against.
Despite the porous numbers in coverage, the Skins do have one thing going for them—only three defenses have allowed fewer than their three passing plays over 40 yards. Then again, they’ve typically not had much luck when dealing with DeSean Jackson. He has two 40-yarders in 10 career games versus Washington.
And as we’ve been harping on all season, when Jackson catches a touchdown pass, Philadelphia usually wins. The Eagles improved to 5-1 this season when the two-time Pro Bowler found the end zone (0-4 when he didn't), so there’s little doubt that Foles will be looking for the NFL’s third-leading receiver to get over the top of Washington’s defense on Sunday.