Here’s what I’m thinking after the Redskins blew out the Philadelphia Eagles, 31-6, at FedEx Field on Sunday:
The Redskins’ postseason pulse, however faint, still is beating. They probably won’t make the playoffs because they have no margin for error, but we at least can reasonably discuss it because of how the schedule falls.
Imagine this scenario: the Redskins win at Dallas (who needed overtime to beat Cleveland on Sunday) on Thanksgiving and the Giants lose at home to Green Bay (which won its fifth-straight on Sunday) next Sunday night. Then Washington would host the Giants on Dec. 3 in a Monday night game with first place in the division at stake. That absolutely could happen.
What a difference a win makes, huh? Two weeks ago, the Redskins appeared left for dead. Now it’s clear how the Redskins could get back in the race. That’s why you don’t make reactionary personnel or coaching changes in the middle of the season.
Get your hopes up at your own risk, though. The Redskins committed 13 penalties for 80 yards against Philadelphia and converted only one of their first five third downs on offense. In other words, some of the shortcomings that put them in such a deep hole still were problematic against the Eagles.
However, the Redskins have proven they can compete with anyone on their schedule when the defense forces turnovers. And considering Dallas swept them last year by a total of only five points, the Redskins have a real opportunity on Thursday to make their December – at least the start of it – meaningful. That minor accomplishment is worth savoring after the season seemed lost two weeks ago.
At the risk of being a wet blanket, it’s important to keep this win in perspective by acknowledging just how awful Philadelphia is. Their sieve of an offensive line is reminiscent of the patchwork unit the Redskins cobbled together last season, so we know how that undermines any chance for success.
The Eagles were undisciplined (nine penalties for 70 yards) and strained by a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start. Foles completed only 21 of his 46 passes (46 percent). His lack of poise hurt the Eagles.
Take for example CB DeAngelo Hall’s interception on Foles’ second pass of the game. Foles tried to hit TE Brent Celek on an out route at about the line to gain. ILB London Fletcher jammed Celek and stayed in tight coverage, so credit is due there. But Foles stepped up in the pocket when he didn’t have to. He sensed pressure that wasn’t there.
OLB Ryan Kerrigan was blocked too far upfield after coming from the left edge of the defense, and RB LeSean McCoy picked up LB Perry Riley rushing from the other side. Foles had a clean pocket, but he fled the pocket to the right, extending the play unnecessarily and disrupting the timing of the route.
Of course, the Redskins deserve credit for capitalizing on the opportunities Foles helped create – they haven’t always done that against bad teams this season.
But it wasn’t just Philadelphia giving the Redskins opportunities to take control of the game. The Eagles also failed to capitalize on chances Washington gave them.
How about the opening series of the second half? The Redskins came out with a 17-3 lead and received the kickoff. But they turned first-and-10 into fourth-and-25 with two procedural penalties, a screen pass for a loss of 1 and an 8-yard loss on a sack.
Washington punted, and the Eagles gained possession at the Redskins’ 47. But they scored only a field goal off that great field position partly because they committed a delay of game penalty on third-and-4 from the 14-yard line. That’s losing football.
So just keep the quality of the Redskins’ opponent in mind when grading out this lopsided and well-deserved victory.
I don’t think the Redskins blitzed and stunted a lot more than usual, but it did seem more noticeable because those tactics generated pressure more effectively than in recent weeks.
“It opened it up a lot,” ILB Perry Riley said of the stunts and how some blitzes were designed. “They’ve been shuffling around the rotation up on that O-line. They shuffled it again this week, and with a rookie quarterback we wanted to put as much pressure in his face as possible, get him rattled. I thing it had a big part in the win today.”
Riley’s sack in the third quarter was a good example. OLB Ryan Kerrigan rushed from the right edge of the defense, and he crashed down hard on LT King Dunlap. That freed Riley to loop around the edge and get to Foles unblocked. Kerrigan grabbed hold of Dunlap’s jersey to make sure Dunlap couldn’t kick out. The refs didn’t see that, so we’ll call it savvy.
Or consider the pass rush that resulted in SS Brandon Meriweather’s interception. Riley and ILB Keenan Robinson stunted on a double-A-gap blitz. They both got through, and their cross forced RB LeSean McCoy to try to pick up Robinson before his feet were set. That enabled Robinson to run through the block and force Foles into an overthrow that Meriweather picked off.
Several defensive players credited a quality game plan that coordinator Jim Haslett and his assistants created.
“I think Coach Haslett did a great job of calling the game, mixing it up, and really getting after [Foles],” ILB Lorenzo Alexander said.
It’s no coincidence the Redskins failed to force a turnover in their two most lopsided losses – 15 points to Pittsburgh and 8 points to Carolina. What a difference turnovers make. Washington’s plus-3 ratio on Sunday turned into 10 points.
“Whenever your defense plays like that, it makes you feel as an offense that you don’t have to press to try to score every time,” QB Robert Griffin III said.
This is the Redskins’ formula for victory. It has been that way all season and will be the rest of the way.
QB Robert Griffin III was a difference maker, as usual. The stability he has established at quarterback is why the Redskins’ future looks brighter than Philly’s right now.
Griffin’s numbers were next-level stuff: 14-of-15 passing for 200 yards and four touchdowns, a perfect 158.3 passer rating and 84 rushing yards on 12 carries. He simply makes positive plays and protects the ball, elements that are kind of important for a quarterback.
He helped create three of his four touchdown passes by doing little things in the pocket.
On the 49-yard touchdown to WR Aldrick Robinson, Eagles FS Nate Allen sacrificed his deep responsibility to come forward to cover TE Niles Paul on an intermediate crossing route. An excellent play design put Allen in conflict, but also Griffin helped move Allen toward Paul with his eyes.
“Niles was wide open,” Griffin said. “When you’re playing football out there, guys have certain responsibilities. The safety’s responsibility – I have no idea, but it was probably to be deep. But when there’s open guys and you can stare a receiver down, they’re going to try to cover that open guy. Aldrick is extremely fast, and if you make a misstep, he can get by you, and that’s what he was able to do.”
On the 61-yard touchdown to WR Santana Moss, Griffin slid to his left when DE Jason Babin started to push the pocket a bit against RG Chris Chester. Extending the play that little bit enabled Griffin to reach back and throw the ball 62 yards in the air, and it gave Moss a chance to go up and make a play.
TE Logan Paulsen ran an out-and-up on his 17-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Not only was Paulsen’s fake sharp, but Griffin sold it with a good pump fake that completely fooled LB Mychal Kendricks.
Griffin is so valuable because his running ability enables him to create positive plays when receivers are covered. He scrambled to convert two third downs that extended touchdown drives.
He scrambled for 10 yards on third-and-6 in the second quarter. The Eagles lost contain on the right side of the defense, and Griffin beat LB Mychal Kendricks around the edge. Kendricks took a bad angle, considering Griffin’s speed. Two plays later, he hit WR Aldrick Robinson for a 49-yard touchdown.
Then in the third quarter, he scrambled for 23 yards on third-and-14. LT Trent Williams rode Eagles DE Trent Cole upfield past Griffin, which opened a running lane to the left. Three plays later, Griffin hit WR Santana Moss for a 61-yard touchdown.
SS Brandon Meriweather had a major impact in his regular season debut. He intercepted QB Nick Foles on the Eagles’ second drive, and he finished with seven tackles. His speed was evident in how quickly he closed on the ball.
Players said Meriweather’s return invigorated the defense. It’s hard to quantify how an energy influx translates to the final result, but the consensus was Meriweather’s presence was a significant contribution in itself. It’ll be interesting to ask coordinator Jim Haslett on Tuesday whether Meriweather’s presence allowed him to call the game differently.
Meriweather sprained his right knee in the third quarter without being contacted. (A sprained left knee kept him out for the first nine games.) He seemed upbeat after the game, though, saying he remained on the sideline more as a precaution than anything else. We’ll know more either Monday or Tuesday.
WR Pierre Garcon had only three catches for five yards in his return from a sprained right foot. It’ll be interesting to rewatch the game and see if he impacted it in ways that didn’t show up on the stat sheet.
What a catch by WR Santana Moss on his 61-yard touchdown. He adjusts to balls in midair with the best of them.
Moss, who is 5-10, outjumped S Kurt Coleman, 5-11, for the ball at the 6-yard line and then fought to get across the goal line. (Remember Coleman intercepted QB Rex Grossman three times in the game here last season.)
“Tana might not be the be biggest guy, and a lot of people poke at that, but he played big in that moment,” QB Robert Griffin III said. “I know everyone says you go ‘Moss’ somebody because of Randy Moss. Santana Moss did it, too.”
Mike Shanahan’s description of the third-and-10 play: “It was an, ‘Oh no – Oh yes!’ Santana made a great play, and Robert gave him a chance.”
The zone-read option opened up in the second half, as the Redskins played with the lead. Griffin’s 28-yard run in the fourth quarter resulted from a zone-read run on which DE Trent Cole tackled RB Alfred Morris, the back to whom Griffin faked the handoff.
The Redskins also scored their first touchdown by faking a zone-read run. The safety came up to the line of scrimmage on the run fake, which allowed FB Darrel Young to slip out to the flat for a 6-yard reception.
Coach Mike Shanahan gave players 12 hours to enjoy the victory before beginning to focus on preparing for Thursday’s game against Dallas. Several players, though, ILB London Fletcher and DE Stephen Bowen, in particular, started thinking about Dallas immediately after the game.
“We actually played as the defense that we know we can be,” Bowen said. “Now it’s just all about being consistent.”
It should be an interesting few days.