Cheat Sheet: Eagles Defense Vs. Redskins Offense

Mychal KendricksHere are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Redskins’ offense:

1. Billy Davis couldn’t have been too pumped when the schedule came out and he saw the Redskins listed as the first test for his overhauled defense. Davis was brutally honest this week when explaining where his ‘D’ stands as it enters the season. The Cliff Notes version? Well, let’s just say work-in-progress would be putting it mildly.

The Eagles are transitioning from a Wide-9 4-3 to a two-gap 3-4, pretty much as drastic a move as you could make in the front seven. Davis will find out just how much progress his group has made when it faces a Redskins offense that was the sixth-best (sixth in passing, second in rushing) in the league last year, according to Football Outsiders and fourth in points per game (27.3).

2. The Eagles will prepare for a 100 percent healthy Robert Griffin III. RG3 was the only QB in the league to complete at least 65 percent of his passes and average more than 8.0 yards per attempt in 2012. As a rookie, he threw 20 touchdowns against five interceptions and added 815 yards and seven touchdowns as a runner. Griffin is returning to the field eight months after suffering an ACL/LCL injuries in his right knee, both of which required surgery.

3. While Griffin’s mobility is certainly an asset, the truth is he can be a statue and still probably torch the Eagles’ secondary. Last year, he was 30-for-39 (76.9 percent) for 398 yards (10.2 YPA), six touchdowns and one interception in two meetings against the Eagles.

The Birds’ secondary features three new starters. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are the starting corners. The book on Williams is he’ll allow receptions in front of him, but is one of the best-tackling corners in the league. He did, however, have 17 passes defended and four interceptions last season, per Football Outsiders. Williams has had a tumultuous offseason. He skipped most of the spring and forced every Philadelphian (present company included) to figure out what “sconces” were. He got kicked out of a joint practice with the Patriots for mixing it up with Aaron Dobson. And earlier this week, Williams scuffled with Riley Cooper. If Employee 26 (that’s how Williams sometimes refers to himself) struggles against Washington, fans are unlikely to offer him a warm welcome the following week at the Linc. If he performs well, everyone’s likely to forget about all the offseason nonsense.

4. Fletcher will start at left cornerback. He had an OK preseason, giving up completions, but generally displaying decent coverage. Brandon Boykin will play nickel. The Redskins’ biggest receiving threat is Pierre Garcon. In his first season with the Redskins, Garcon caught 66 percent of the balls thrown his way. Despite only playing 10 games, he tied for the team lead with 10 grabs of 20+ yards. And according to Pro Football Focus, Garcon averaged 7.3 yards after the catch, fifth-best in the league.

Santana Moss is 34, but still productive. He had 41 catches for 573 yards in 2012, including 10 receptions of 20+ yards. Moss also led the Redskins with eight touchdowns. He’ll get matched up against Boykin, who had a strong rookie season and an excellent summer. Josh Morgan was the Redskins’ most-targeted receiver last year, and they also have athletic tight end Fred Davis, who is coming off a ruptured Achilles’ injury.

5. How did we get this far without discussing Alfred Morris? Davis and Eagles defenders made it clear this week that stopping the run is priority No. 1. Per Football Outsiders, the Redskins ran the ball on 48 percent of all of their first-half plays last year, second-most in the league. They ran it 55 percent of the time on first down, fifth-most.

Considering that Griffin is coming off an injury and the Eagles’ run defense didn’t exactly look stout in the preseason, look for a healthy dose of Morris early on. The second-year player had 335 carries last season, third-most in the NFL and piled up 1,613 yards while averaging 4.8 YPC. He had nine runs of 20+ yards and scored 13 touchdowns. The Eagles will start Isaac Sopoaga at nose tackle with Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton on either side. They’ll rotate in other linemen like rookie Bennie Logan, second-year player Vinny Curry and possibly Clifton Geathers and/or Damion Square, depending on who’s active.

The defense is moving towards a two-gap 3-4, but Davis might be forced to go with more of a hybrid like the 4-3 under because of personnel.

“I think you’ll see a little bit of both,” outside linebacker Connor Barwin said. “It matters what the score is. It matters what other teams are doing. It matters what kind of offenses we’re facing. We’re gonna face this zone offense so you might see a little bit more of one or the other. But I think you’ll see both, and it really depends on what’s happening in the game, what’s working early and so forth.”

6. Up front, the Redskins return all five starters who played 15 of 16 games together last year. Left tackle Trent Williams is easily the team’s best offensive lineman. He owned Trent Cole last year, limiting him to two hurries and no sacks in two meetings. Cole spent much of the summer practicing dropping in coverage, but indications this week were that he won’t be doing as much of that when the real games start.

“The drops that we give the outside backers are very rarely anything that has to do with vertical,” Davis said. “It’s all about a 15‑by‑15 box that they live in. What you’re asking, it really presents some problems with the offense, too, when they are trying to run the ball and block those guys with the receivers.

“There’s a lot of things that go into it.  I know when you think of Trent Cole and coverage and everything and everybody thinks about dropping vertically and deep, you say, that doesn’t fit, and I understand that. So the things we’ll ask them to do are in a smaller box than what you would ask other linebackers to do, if that makes any sense.”

Brandon Graham was the team’s most effective pass-rusher a year ago. He’ll rotate in with Cole and Barwin.

7. The rest of the Redskins’ line is: Kory Lichtensteiger (LG), Will Montgomery (center), Chris Chester (RG) and Tyler Polumbus (RT). Polumbus is probably the weak link, having allowed a team-high 4.5 sacks and had 18.5 blown pass blocks, per Football Outsiders. Lichtensteiger is considered a good run blocker, but he had 11 penalties in 2012. Montgomery has started all 32 games the past two seasons; same goes for Chester.

8. The Eagles’ inside linebackers and safeties will have to avoid big miscues against the best play-action team in the NFL. The Redskins used play-action on 42 percent of their pass plays last year. That was the highest number of any squad since Football Outsiders started charting games in 2005. They averaged 10.1 yards per play on play-action; 5.5 without.

“They set you up and run, run, run and then hit you with a play-action and try to go up top on you,” said safety Nate Allen. “So you gotta respect both of ‘em. You just gotta play your keys and be disciplined.”

Added rookie Earl Wolff: “You’re really anticipating on first down to see run. Alfred Morris, you want to anticipate him coming because he’s a really good running back. …Basically they’re gonna try to suck up our linebackers and hit comeback routes, hit curls, thing of that nature. They just have a highly-explosive offense. We have to be ready for anything.”

Allen and Patrick Chung will start at safety, but Wolff is expected to rotate in. We could also see some three-safety looks, specifically to defend against the read-option. HogsHaven.com posted a terrific piece on how blitzing a slot corner can be effective against the read-option. The Eagles showed a three-safety look with Chung in the slot this summer.

9. DeMeco Ryans is coming off a strong 2012 campaign and is the leader of the defense. Second-year player Mychal Kendricks looks ready to make a nice leap and could see a new role in 2013. Kendricks looked great as a blitzer in the preseason and showed pass-rushing chops while at Cal.

Of course, blitzing Griffin is a risky proposition. He averaged a league-high 9 yards per play against five rushers last year, per Football Outsiders. Griffin averaged a ridiculous 13.1 yards per play against six or more rushers, also a league-high. Overall, according Stats, Inc., Griffin completed 69 percent of his attempts for nine touchdowns and no interceptions against the blitz.

10. Griffin didn’t chuck it downfield a lot as a rookie. Only 9.2 percent of his attempts traveled 20 yards or more downfield. That ranked 32nd in the NFL, per PFF. However, when he did go deep, he was successful, on-target 50 percent of the time, fifth-best… Teams only sent extra pressure at Griffin 20 percent of the time, a league-low, per FO. …The Redskins used max protection 17 percent of the time, tops in the league. …The Eagles are thin at cornerback. The fourth option would be either newcomer Shaun Prater or rookie Jordan Poyer. …The Redskins scored touchdowns on 81.2 percent of their red-zone chances last year, fourth-best in 2012.

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  • Wilbert M.

    Let’s hope RGIII is rusty, because if he completes 77% of his passes with 80% red zone TD efficiency, we’re in for a long day. The OL needs to step up after an uneven preseason. If they play up to their potential, the Eagles could be a 8-8 team this year. If not, we’re looking at 4-12 again. This team is going to have to score a LOT of points to make up for the problems I expect on defense.

    • Media Mike

      Agreed. Tough sledding ahead, I just want our D to be violent and not miss tackles vs. 2nd rate talent.

      • GEagle

        hallelujah…”the gospel of Mike”

      • Wilbert M.

        Yes to violent – no to moronic (re: Cary Williams). He’s supposed to have “attitude,” but so far all I’ve seen is divisiveness and stupidity that will lead to 15 yard penalties.

    • Dutch

      I don’t see an issue for the Eagles offense. Redskins are prime for big plays against their defense over the top of them. As is the Eagles defense.
      The Defense has a chance for a big game against the read option so long as they maintain discipline to their assignment and not look to make individual spectacular plays. Trust the guy behind or beside you to do his part and only his part and not get caught out of place.
      This should be a great game, it’s not important if they win or loss but how they play together on both sides of the ball.

      • BrickSquadMonopoly

        You had me until not important.

        • http://abigbuttandasmile.com/ A Big Butt and a Smile

          It’s the first game of a new scheme. If they lose a close one, but play REALLY well as a unit – u can breathe a sigh of relief moving forward knowing we will be in pretty good shape.

          Winning or losing the first game isn’t the end of the world. Though lord knows I’d like nothing better than to shut Redskins fans up.

          • BrickSquadMonopoly

            Making excuses for why losing is ok. Don’t agree with that logic.

          • http://abigbuttandasmile.com/ A Big Butt and a Smile

            The lack of reading and comprehending is astounding.

  • Media Mike

    Here is what we need to take into this game as our mentality on D for Monday night:

    We need to kill these Skins! Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, hear the lamentation of their women!

    • GEagle

      I want us to Pillage and plunge Washington, burn that bitch to the ground on our way back to Philly with a win!!!! kids, woman, coaches…screw them all!!! Take no prisoners!!! Waited a year to kick someone’s ass. IT’S TIME!!!

    • Max Lightfoot

      I like that logic, especially against the Cowboys, and you can’t get too barbaric in this division!

    • Will

      If Nate Allen and Wolff get abused on MNF game I’m gonna be hot, with the 4th Best Safety in the NFL last year unsigned and available for an obvious instant upgrade ….

  • GEagle

    I love how Davis sound “not too optimistic” lol….I read it as Billy not being a blowhard. IMO he was hoest and said what any new coach of such a revamped defense should say at this time of year….If he would have claimed he absolutely knows that we will come out like gang green it would have been a joke…I didn’t lose a drop of confidence watching his press conference….Is it a surprise that we are a work in progress? It was known that the measure of this defense would NOT be how it opens the season, but the improvements it makes from one week to another……appreciate Billy Davis keep it real approach

  • GEagle

    Vinny Graham,Barwin,Meco,Kendrick’s,Cox will all register a sack within the first two weeks lol

  • GEagle

    carry Williams has a chance to become the most beloved Eagle in Philly if he continues to improve on his playoff performance…when you only have like a year and a half of game experience, why do people not put the most emphasis on his most recent play, the playoffs…when he sent every great QB home who’s gameplan center around picking on him?

  • Media Mike

    And the league just declared an end to street ball and open-season on read-option QBs, so we need to “put a hat” on RGKnee every time he is up to any tricks with faking the ball to RBs.

    http://tracking.si.com/2013/09/05/nfl-read-option-quarterbacks-tackled/

    • http://abigbuttandasmile.com/ A Big Butt and a Smile

      *rolls eyes*

      You and this streetball obsession…whatever that means…but the rule is no diff than it was last year, when Greenbay for all their might couldn’t lay a hand on Kaep.

      But keep beleiving the read option is going somewhere. As a matter of fact the league will be full of read option QBs in the next few years to add to he several they have now.

      So I guess you’re going to have to find a new sport to watch.

      • Media Mike

        See “cat, wild” in a few years when you need to check out read-option in the history books. It’ll be in the retired systems section.
        Harbaugh’s histrionics over the NFL’s instructions to the refs tells you everything you need to know about the system. It won’t last in the NFL because cumulative hits to QBs aged 22-26 will result in a lot of owners’ money sitting on the IR. The NFL is WAY different than 16-21 year old HS and NCAA kids getting hit by other little guys for 1 or 2 years as starters playing 12 or 13 games a year.
        The cumulative impact of big hits along with NFL d-coordinators’ collective ability to adapt to anything except rule changes (i.e. roughing the passer and 5 yard bump rules being overly strict) will cycle read-option out of the league.

        • Richard Colton

          “Mike Vick is the future of the league,” said everyone in 2001.

          • Media Mike

            Correct! Much like Sammy Hagar told us there’s only one way to rock, there’s also only one way to play NFL QB over a full career; and it ain’t by being a runner.

          • Richard Colton

            the bad news for Eagles fans is that RGIII is a hell of a pocket passer too.

          • Media Mike

            However we might not ever get burned by that if the Skins don’t smarten up with how they use him.

          • Richard Colton

            and their O-line is pretty suspect after LT. I think Barwin & Cole have a field day Monday night.

          • Media Mike

            I’m not sure. I think they might be so obsessed with not getting gashed on the run and/or deep balls that they get bled.

          • Richard Colton

            you’re probably right Mike, but its September and we’re undefeated, so lets enjoy it while we can. I know some people only care about how good their favorite player looks – real fans live and die with their team.

          • Media Mike

            I enjoy ever minute of every game no matter if we win or lose!

        • Warhound

          With the rookie wage scale in place, maybe not. Some teams might build their roster with two, or even three, QBs that can run the read option and plan to constantly cycle in new guys – never signing QBs to second deals. They wouldn’t have a “franchise” guy eating up a huge portion of their salary pool and with the savings could afford to pay for more playmakers on D, better OL depth, etc.. Just a thought.

          • Media Mike

            Bye bye NFL financial dominance then. The marketing of a starless league would flush the value of TV deals into the toilet. It would also destroy the marketing and advertising dollars if you flush the Tom Brady / Drew Brees / Aaron Rodgers / Peyton Manning demographic down the toilet and replace it with rotate a scrambler.
            The league’s current stance on anything on a pocket passer being a penalty vs. nothing on a running QB getting called tells you everything you need to know about what Mr. Goodell and the important owners thinks. Harbaugh can cry all he wants, the league has no interesting in ruining the product with nonsense.

  • Dutch

    This game should be a good test of the Eagles new defensive concept. Redskins are going to be a tough to shut down once Morris gets going. At issue is Trent, Lichtensteiger and Chester on the traditional Redskins sweep or their trap play between Williams and Lictenstelger leading Morris straight through the C gap.
    If the Eagles can’t stop that run then the back end defenders are toast trying to cover Garcon and Fred Davis underneath.
    Eagles will need violent penetration up front, hopefully through the A or B gap to disrupt any activity in the Redskins backfield. The D Line doesn’t have to get hand on Griffin but by no means can they allow him to stand tall in the pocket and pick their back end defenders like berries on/off a vine.

    • Media Mike

      I’m 100% with you on how important our D front is going to be in terms of determining the outcome of the game.

  • Dutch

    That is the initial problem, the Eagles stopping the run. The Redskins feature a 1600 yd running back who is anything but easy to stop and a Tackle/Guard combination on the left side who are as good as any combination in football. Not to mention they play where the Eagles run defense is the weakness.

    I hope we can just contain the run, force everything to the A or B gap, Ryan and Kendrick will just have to be discipline and hold their ground. That is a benefit to Ryan who has limited range.

    • Media Mike

      I’m mostly with you on the Xs and Os, but Morris is an overrated slow turd of a football player who benefitted from teams not understanding how to scheme up read-option while also over perusing RGKnee while ignoring the possibility of the ball going to Morris. Better knowledge of the system plus increased help from the CBs will reduce the raw yardage gimmick teams like the Skins can rack up.

      • Eagles4Life

        Right. Not to mention that while we lost the games to the Skins, Morris, if I remember correctly, didn’t have a field day. System RB that took advantage of some opportunities, but not as dynamic as people think.

        • Dutch

          System Running Back, just like Terrell Davis was with Shanahan in Denver where he won two super bowls using the very same formula.
          You guys are sleeping on what Shanahan is capable of cause he’s proven.
          I have seen this make up in Washington of Shanahan before and he’s very effective with his schemes.

      • Eaglehaslanded

        Absolutely agree on Morris!

  • Media Mike

    As is anybody betting the over!

  • Max Lightfoot

    I will be cheering for Sconce Daddy and Fletcher to knock down some passes.

  • Will

    Even if RGKnee goes down Kurt Cousins no Joke, stopping Alfred Morris key to winning the game. If our Defense can’t slow down the skins run game gonna be a long ugly night…Our LB’s & Safeties need to step up there games….

  • chris

    Never posted on here… Came to read what the Eagles expectations were for the game and this year… Anyways, good luck this year against the Boys and Giants, not so much my boys in B & G….

  • Dutch

    He was a 6tth round pick, one round before Bryce Brown. So long as he plays in a Shanahan system he’s going to be a premier threat in the NFL
    So that means he’s going between the Tackles lead by maulers, and around the end with maximum protection on sweeps. There is no down side between Morris in DC and Shady in Philly. Morris posted 13 rushing TDs in 2012 that’ is impressive for a 6th round selection.

    This is an exception test for the Eagles Defense and if we win it’s going to be due to a spectacular effort by our collective defensive unit supporting each other and staying loyal to the scheme.
    If we come up short it’s still a great learning experience that will help prepare our defense. It’s win win in my book

  • Eagles4Life

    That’s EXACTLY what I was going to say. Those Broncos teams were not devoid of talent. It definitely was not just a two man show.

  • Media Mike

    I think you’re overrating Morris, but I couldn’t agree more on your focus on 11 men all doing their jobs together. I think we have a few less freelance f-faces than we did last year, so that can’t hurt.

  • Richard Colton

    where did they get that 6th round pick, by the way?