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Matchups Washington Redskins Must Win vs. Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2015

Oct 4, 2015; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed (86) runs with the ball as Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Brandon Graham (55) chases in the first quarter at FedEx Field. The Redskins won 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Redskins must win three key matchups to beat the Philadelphia Eagles on the road in Week 16 and take control of the NFC East.

Each matchup will rely on big performances from standout individuals. Most notably, tight end Jordan Reed, he of the confounding Pro Bowl snub, must make Philly linebacker Mychal Kendricks pay for some brash comments.

As usual, Reed will be the key to how effective Washington's offense is on the day, Defensively, cornerback Bashaud Breeland must continue his fine second-half season form to shut down the dangerous Jordan Matthews.

In a player-against-player sense, these are two matchups the Redskins can feel confident about winning. However, one matchup should really concern head coach Jay Gruden and his staff.

Fletcher Cox vs. Interior of Washington's Offensive Line

Big talk must be contagious among the Eagles players because Fletcher Cox has joined Kendricks in promising some pain for Washington. Actually, the beefy defensive tackle has gone as far as "guaranteeing a win" over the Redskins, according to ESPN.com's Phil Sheridan.

Keeping Cox quiet is a daunting task for Washington's young O-line.
Keeping Cox quiet is a daunting task for Washington's young O-line.Rob Carr/Getty Images

The problem for the Burgundy and Gold is Cox is destructive enough to make good on his own Joe Namath moment. He's one of the toughest blocking assignments in football, and a player who has given Washington fits in the past.

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There are few interior pass-rushers in the NFL more capable than Cox. His ability to create a ton of pressure on the pocket is proved by his 7.5 sacks and 24 hurries this season, per Sporting Charts.

That pressure could be a major problem for Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins. He won't be able to stand tall and keep his spot in the pocket the way he has in recent weeks. There will just be too great a push inside.

Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay would be smart to include plenty of rollout passes to move the pocket early on to try to wear Cox out.

But their main focus must be ensuring Cox doesn't wreck the running game the way he has so many times before against Washington.

Cox has thrived destroying the Redskins' favored zone-stretch runs. He's split gaps and gained quick penetration to attack downhill, fill cutback lanes and prevent running backs from pressing plays laterally.

That's usually been a recipe for tackles behind the line. Cox has put up six stuffs this season, as noted by ESPN.com.

The formula for controlling Cox needn't be complicated, though. If you run his way and try to block him one-on-one, disaster will follow. It did on this 1st-and-10 play in the opening quarter during Week 15's blowout loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Cox was lined up over left guard Mike Iupati, a dominant run-blocker in his own right:

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Iupati's game is all about power. But there aren't many guards who can match Cox for strength. He proved it by rocking Iupati on his heels and putting him on skates as he pushed him into the backfield:

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With Iupati off balance, Cox started to shed:

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Once he had, No. 91 engulfed rookie running back David Johnson to create a one-yard loss:

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What the Redskins need are plays that go away from Cox and use misdirection to nullify his pursuit. The Cards provided a great example on 2nd-and-5 in the third quarter.

This time Iupati would pull away from Cox to lead Johnson off right tackle. Meanwhile, the rest of the line would block down the other way:

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With the latter blocks set, Iupati got in front of Johnson:

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He opened the edge off tackle by obliterating safety Malcolm Jenkins:

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That block paved the way for a 19-yard scamper from Johnson.

This was a classic, power-based counter play. It's the type of design Washington's playbook must be loaded with this week.

Fran Duffy, the Eagles' video content manager, provided highlights of a play that shows how vulnerable the Philly run defense is when Cox is made irrelevant:

Fran Duffy @fduffy3

Shot 2 - The perils of defending stretch run. Not good when 3 defenders are in 1 spot. Must fit run better this week https://t.co/7Wg6Hix4Bh

Offensive line coach Bill Callahan ought to have a big hand in drawing up a similar scheme. He knows he doesn't have an individual matchup who can handle Cox. Neither left guard Spencer Long nor center Josh LeRibeus is up to the task.

Overloading the line to help create double-teams over Cox on obvious running plays would be another smart move.

Keeping Cox quiet will ensure the Eagles defense stays honest against the run. In turn, that will create passing lanes over the middle for Reed to exploit.

Jordan Reed vs. Mychal Kendricks

He won't like it, but it's Kendricks who has "got something coming" to him this week. He's going to have a full day trying to contain Reed.

The roving playmaker has given Washington what the franchise has never had before—namely, a tight end with legitimate wide receiver skills.

Reed has the size and flexibility of the H-back types Joe Gibbs once made a feature of his offenses. But he also boasts wideout-style speed and hands.

No. 86 is Washington's answer to a younger Antonio Gates, a player in the mold of Kellen Winslow Sr.

Reed's skill set is reminiscent of a true great.
Reed's skill set is reminiscent of a true great.LENNY IGNELZI/Associated Press/Associated Press

There hasn't been a team this season that has had a definite answer for what Reed can do. Philly defensive boss Billy Davis couldn't solve the riddle back in Week 4. Reed caught five balls for 37 yards, relatively quiet by his awesome standards this season, but enough to open slant lanes for Pierre Garcon, Ryan Grant and first-year slot receiver Jamison Crowder to exploit.

That was also a game when the Eagles could rely on fleet-footed rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks. Now he's injured, and the burden for covering the tight end will fall on Kendricks.

He's usually a tough weapon on the blitz in Davis' scheme. But Kendricks won't be able to rush with Reed around. No. 86 has 21 catches for 229 yards and a pair of scores against the blitz, according to ESPN.com.

The Eagles have struggled with missed tackles recently. That's good news for Reed and the Redskins considering 2013's third-round pick has amassed 413 of his 778 receiving yards after the catch this season, per Sporting Charts.

The Buffalo Bills tried using defensive backs to corral Reed in Week 15. But as this highlights video from Redskins.com TV (h/t Washington's official Twitter account) shows, no cornerback or safety could cope with the Burgundy and Gold's most dynamic pass-catcher:

Washington Redskins @Redskins

#FeedReed! MORE: https://t.co/qHKkS8uoF7 https://t.co/1q0cAA0NK0

However, there's one Eagles pass-catcher who can't be allowed to fly under Washington's radar.

Bashaud Breeland vs. Jordan Matthews

When he gets his hands on the ball, Matthews is a terrific receiver. He's a physical specimen who can create separation and turn on some deceptive speed after the catch.

He showed off this quickness on this play captured by Duffy. Check out the highlight to see the type of threat Matthews can pose vertically:

Fran Duffy @fduffy3

Shot 9 - Finally able to hit in 4Q on big play to Matthews. Deep comeback holds opposite safety, JMatt runs by him https://t.co/jnOW0k5c9m

Catching has been a problem this season for a player whose 72 receptions have come off 111 targets, and he's been guilty of four drops, according to Sporting Charts.

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry must create a physical scrap against Matthews. That means matching 5'11", 197-pounder Breeland over the 6'3", 212-pound ex-Vanderbilt ace.

Last week the plan should have been to double Sammy Watkins away from Breeland and leave No. 26 over Robert Woods. But this week the plan must be to give Breeland a shadowy remit, as in shadowing Matthews wherever he lines up.

Having Breeland hand-fighting on every snap will disrupt Matthews' focus and take away quarterback Sam Bradford's favorite downfield target.

Winning these three key battles can wrap up a playoff spot and the NFC East for Washington. Fortunately, the Redskins have the players to match up, at least in Reed and Breeland.

But it will take some schematic subtlety to keep Cox under wraps.

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