The Matchup: Eagles Vs. Redskins

After the Eagles’ 15-7 loss to the Giants in Week 8, Chip Kelly’s message to his team carried a tone of optimism.

The offense had managed just three points in two weeks. Outsiders were taking jabs at Johnny College Coach left and right. And the quarterback situation appeared to be a complete mess.

But Kelly wasn’t about to make any drastic changes. The focus would be on better execution, not the scheme.

“I think we stuck to what we like to do,” said wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

“One thing I can say about Chip is he’s not really into switching up too many things. He feels very confident and comfortable with the system and what we’re able to do out there. At times, teams do a good job of challenging us, but just sticking with it and getting the same opportunities and just knowing maybe one time they might guard us or they might be on our play, but as long as we’re able to keep grinding on it and stick with what we know to do, eventually it’s gonna open up.”

And it did. The Eagles put up 76 points in their next two games. They now find themselves in a first-place tie with the Cowboys, and the offense appears to be on a roll.

Through 10 games, the Eagles are the top rushing team in the NFL. And the offense has piled up 61 plays of 20+ yards. That’s tops in the league and 16 more than any other offense.

“We all have faith in Chip and this offense without a doubt,” said guard Evan Mathis. “And going through that lull, everybody just had to look within, look at the individual reasons on the plays why they were breaking down and not think that it’s just a concept problem because it wasn’t.”

Added rookie Lane Johnson: “After the Dallas game, we didn’t really have a good offensive game. We stuck to the plan. You don’t change what you do. You just have to start executing better and throw a few wrinkles in there.”

The wrinkles will be tested this weekend as the Eagles face the Redskins for the second time. In Week 1, there were offensive fireworks during a 26-point first half. Since that game, Kelly has been tweaking and adjusting on a weekly basis, but the core scheme on offense has stayed the same in many respects.

The Eagles still want to be a run-first team. When opponents try to take that away and play man coverage with a single high safety, the goal is to make them pay with big plays over the top. When teams play zone, the offense runs a series of packaged plays to put key defenders in situations of conflict.

There are other pieces too: tempo, unbalanced lines, 2-TE sets, moving players around to create favorable matchups and so on.

Asked how different the scheme is now compared to what the Redskins saw in Week 1, Kelly said: “Not much from a scheme conceptual standpoint. We’re going to add a formation here or tweak here. But usually during the week we’re tweaking things. We’re not putting in brand new packages and saying, ‘Hey, we gotta do this against this team.’ You just don’t have enough time during the week to rep all that stuff.”

Redskins linebacker London Fletcher says he sees a lot of similarities between what the Eagles did in Week 1 and what he’s seen on film in recent weeks.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a whole lot different,” he said. “Obviously they’re still running their zone read stuff with [LeSean] McCoy and their offensive line and doing all the different things that they do in the run game. I think some of the vertical passing game they’ve been able to get going, whether it’s Jackson or whether it’s Riley Cooper. That’s something that they’ve been able to get going now as opposed to in the first game. They’ve been able to get some more of the down-the-field throws. But as far as the concepts and the offense, a lot of it’s still the same, especially in the run game.”

That jives with Kelly’s overall philosophy. A practice obsessive, he believes in doing the same things over and over again during the week so that they’re second nature on Sundays. There may come a point where the offense needs significant changes instead of minor tweaks. And Kelly will likely decide on bigger adjustments when he has an offseason to reflect. But in the meantime, he’ll continue to harp on execution as the Eagles look to make a playoff push in the final six games.

“There’s two different approaches,” said center Jason Kelce. “You can have the one approach where you just throw a bunch of stuff at the guys and try and get in perfect situations with plays and whatnot against particular defenses, whereas I think Chip has a bunch of plays that work well off of each other and they all work against pretty much every team you’re gonna see defensively.

“The only thing that changes from week to week with us is a lot of the formation-stuff. We try to give defenses a different look. We really try to major in what we major in and force defenses to adjust accordingly.”