The vaunted Chip Kelly offense certainly made a successful debut at the expense of the Redskins on Monday night. Their opponents were dutifully impressed, if also ready for the rematch on Nov. 17 in Philadelphia.
“It’s intriguing,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said of the Eagles’ system.
For the most part Washington’s players wouldn’t concede that they were befuddled or confused or ill-prepared. With limited film available save for University of Oregon tape, the Eagles were always going to have an edge in Week 1. Quarterback Michael Vick said as much during a conference call with reporters last Wednesday.
“That was an advantage that they had coming into this game with a new staff,” Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said. “They ran a couple plays. But for the most part, it was everything we had run in practice, and at the end of the day, even when we play teams throughout the course of the season, they always have some plays that you haven’t seen.”
True. But it was the pace at which Philadelphia ran those plays that spelled the difference – at least early in the game. Washington’s defense couldn’t get off the field. And while linebacker Ryan Kerrigan made a huge play deflecting a Vick pass that led to a 75-yard touchdown return, the Redskins could easily have been down big in the first quarter.
“It could have got out of hand,” Orakpo said. “The offense Chip Kelly brought in as far as fast-paced tempo, trying to get guys winded, trying to get guys tired. And once you get tired the mind goes at times. Guys start missing assignments and missing gaps and missing tackles.”
Down 26-7 at halftime and 33-7 after a quick Eagles score early in the third quarter, the Redskins’ adjustments finally kicked in. They switched some alignments up front and tried to keep extra defenders inside the box. There’s some risk there given the Eagles’ ability to play in space. But Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy was gashing them on his way to 184 rushing yards. They had to take a chance.
“That was how it was going to go,” safety Reed Doughty said. “It was gonna be quick tempo, they were going to be throwing the ball quick. That’s what you want. The yards weren’t as big a deal as the seven points. They’re going to get yards. But I really feel like you can limit points.”
It didn’t hurt that later in the game Washington dominated time of possession in the third quarter, holding the ball for almost 12 minutes and keeping its defense off the field finally. But it was too little, too late.
“We hung them out to dry,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “We left them on the field too long. That’s what happens. You lose the game.”
To a man, the Redskins weren’t taking the bait when asked about quarterback Robert Griffin III’s, um…early struggles. Understandable after eight months of rehab on the torn ligaments in his right knee and with no preseason games under his belt. But it was clear Griffin was off. He didn’t step into throws. He was intercepted twice. He and running back Alfred Morris could share blame for the botched pitch that led to a Philadelphia safety.
“We couldn’t run the ball. We couldn’t catch the ball. We couldn’t get our play calls in,” wide receiver Pierre Garcon said. “It wasn’t Robert. It was the whole team. It was the whole offense.”
Garcon also opened his press conference with a euphemism for “stink” when describing the offense, which was fun. And true, at least early on when he completed 5-of-11 passes for 53 yards. It wasn’t until the second half that Griffin caught fire (25-for-38, 276 yards). He threw a career-high 49 passes and completed a career-high 30 of them, including a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to teammate Leonard Hankerson.
“It was a great throw, you know? Robert read the defense and he did a good job putting the ball in the back of the end zone,” Hankerson said of the second touchdown pass that brought his team within six points. “I tracked it down and the defender – obviously, he’s a [defensive back] because he didn’t track the ball at all. He stepped up and it went right over his head. It was a great play.”
Well, that’s funny. And, again, true. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan spared Griffin the rod, too. He also wasn’t having any of the “should Griffin have played in the preseason” question. If the first half of the first game was going to be a struggle then so be it. In Shanahan’s mind that was better than the alternative.
“I’m hoping [Griffin is] going to be with us for a while,” Shanahan said. “Our priority was getting him ready for the season and not putting him in there too quick. We’d be quite disappointed if he got hurt the second week of camp.”
And the howls of second-guessing would have been intense, for sure. Griffin said any idea of rustiness was just an excuse. He described a team with a case of the “can’t-get-rights.”
“I’m not going to sit here and say I was rusty,” Griffin said, “I have to be accountable. I’m going to be accountable for that. Didn’t play well in the first half.”
Garcon mentioned during his post-game chat with the media that Philadelphia’s switch to a 3-4 defense threw some looks at the Redskins they weren’t quite ready for. Not everyone agreed with that assessment.
“To be honest with you, from a base stand point, I can’t say that,” fullback Darrel Young said. “I’m not in on third down so I see it differently from the sideline. I also don’t see it from a receiver’s perspective. It’s a credit to them. They are not a bad football team on defense. They switched to a 3-4 and that’s what you want: Turnovers.”
That’s not quite the impression the Eagles gave off during training camp. Some critics would have described them as a train wreck in waiting. They weren’t very good last season. We’ll see if they’re better than the pundits thought. Tonight was a good start.
Washington came into the game relatively healthy. Strong safety Brandon Meriweather didn’t start because of his sore groin muscle. Other than that there were no question marks. It didn’t stay that way for long, though.
Maybe the most concerning is the status of linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who left the game with concussion symptoms in the second half. Kerrigan has never missed a game entering his third season and made that big deflection on DeAngelo Hall’s 75-yard fumble return. He was not made available to reporters afterwards, though he was in the locker room.
Punt returner Chris Thompson suffered a right ankle injury so veteran Santana Moss took over those duties for one return in the second half. Shanahan thought Thompson would be fine. Other than that, several linemen, including Kedric Golston, cramped in the late summer heat. Safety Jordan Pugh was diagnosed with a toe injury, but said afterward he was fine. He didn’t miss a series.