Washington Redskins players were scattered around the country last Sunday afternoon during their bye, temporarily away from the misery of their 3-6 season, when opportunity came knocking.
In Philadelphia, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick walked down the sideline and into the locker room, where he would be diagnosed with a concussion. Nick Foles, a third-round rookie from the University of Arizona, replaced him.
Now, Foles is positioned to make his first career start Sunday against the Redskins in Landover, Md. Washington’s maligned defense seemingly has been thrown a lifeline, as the Redskins try to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.
Players, however, are trying not to think that way. And considering the Redskins have lost eight straight games against opponents that started a rookie quarterback, what appears to be opportunity might actually be a trap.
“Complacency is probably the No. 1 issue,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “You’re going against a guy who’s going to be at a lower level, not gonna be operating at the way you expect a quality quarterback. You go out and not play your best ball and they look like a Pro Bowl quarterback. It’s gonna be a challenge.”
Redskins defenders this week have extolled Foles while highlighting Sunday’s NFC East matchup as the first chance to put a dreadful first nine games behind them.
Washington has surrendered 301.7 passing yards per game, which is on pace to break the NFL record of 299.8 set last season by Green Bay. The Redskins have given up eight passing plays of at least 40 yards; only Tampa Bay has surrendered more.
Better play during the final seven games would help a prideful secondary repair its reputation to some extent.
“Every time you step out there is an opportunity to do that,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “Guys aren’t out there trying to give up plays. They’re trying to make plays. But every game is an opportunity to try to leave a better taste in your mouth and everybody else’s mouth. When you win, it cures a lot of things. Hopefully, we’ll get this win and keep on marching.”
Strong safety Brandon Meriweather might provide a boost. The two-time Pro Bowler has not played a regular-season game because of a sprained left knee, but he was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday, and there’s a sense of optimism he will play.
“He can do a lot of different things,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “Obviously, he’s an ex-corner, so he can cover. He’s got good rush ability. There’s a lot of things that you can take advantage of him if he’s healthy.”
Haslett also hopes some players respond well to one-on-one meetings they had with coaches during the bye.
Coaches recently spent time analyzing game film for technique deficiencies and detrimental tendencies. They presented findings to players with hopes of improving the final product.
“We talked to guys about things we expect from them, things that we haven’t gotten on a consistent basis,” Haslett said. “I think we got our point across, and I think they understand where we’re at and where they’re at. Hopefully it will pay off.”
Such meetings are not abnormal, but “this was a good time to have them,” Haslett said.
Sunday’s matchup against the Eagles, then, seems opportune for a Redskins defense looking to establish some momentum. That would start with an effective pass rush, which has eluded the Redskins in recent weeks.
The Eagles have electric speed at the skill positions, but they will be miss at least two injured starters on their offensive line, and Foles is not nearly as mobile as Vick.
“This guy’s just a pocket passer, so we can just pin our ears back and rush him and don’t have to worry too much about staying in our lanes and our dots and things like that,” outside linebacker Rob Jackson said.
But the Redskins, of all teams, must be wary of a rookie quarterback. They haven’t beaten one since a victory over Ryan Fitzpatrick and the St. Louis Rams in December 2005.
Washington’s eight-game losing streak against rookie quarterbacks is in the longest since 1950, when quarterbacks were first tracked, according to STATS.
Three of those losses have occurred since coach Mike Shanahan took over in 2010. Unfamiliarity with a rookie quarterback is problematic, Shanahan said. They have studied Foles extensively to try to help break the streak — and get the season back on a satisfactory course.
“You get a chance to go back into preseason, but you just really don’t know for sure,” Shanahan said. “We were lucky enough to have him for a week at the Senior Bowl; not that you know everything about him. He’s a great kid with a lot of ability.”