All-22: Washington’s Game-Winning Drive
Bill Davis wasn’t angry, but as he talked to reporters Tuesday before practice, he did want to clarify that his defense didn’t give up Washington’s game-winning touchdown drive because they were tired.
“I honestly don’t see it that way,” he said. “In talking with the players, we are in great shape. There was nobody talking about being gassed. It’s not an excuse that we’re going to rely on, even though the question isn’t about an excuse. I really believe, guys, that we are in great shape.”
The Eagles were on the field for more than 41 minutes, or nearly 70 percent of the game. Even using Chip Kelly’s preferred method of analyzing number of plays and not time of possession, the Redskins dominated the ball (79 vs. 51).
But if you ask Davis, his three starters — Brandon Bair, Mychal Kendricks and Byron Maxwell — leaving the game with injuries was far more important.
“Now the hard part of the game, if you ask me, is three first-quarter injuries are hard to absorb, because you don’t get those bodies back,” he said. “A lot of times injuries happen at different parts. But we had each position group lose a player in the first quarter. So that, in and of itself, will put some strain on the reps and we’re big at rolling.”
Before that drive, the Eagles appeared to be in good shape for their first NFC East win of the season. With 6:05 left in the game, the Redskins had 90 yards to go, longer than any of their previous drives. The Eagles’ defense hadn’t given up a touchdown since the first half, and allowed just one field goal in the second half.
Despite limiting Washington’s explosive plays — the longest in the final series was 16 yards — the Redskins scored with 26 seconds left, giving them a three-point lead.
“I’ve said this before, and I just got done saying it to the guys: I hope the next 12 games come down to that same scenario because we’ll win the next 12,” Davis said. “This group of guys will make those plays. I said after the game, we didn’t make it this time, and it’s not taking anything away from Washington. They made the plays, they earned the win and they got it. But going forward, we will make those plays. And I don’t think anybody was gassed.”
Washington called twice as many pass plays as run plays in their last drive, and they moved the ball the last 42 yards exclusively through the air. But according to Davis, the Redskins’ first and seventh plays of the drive hurt the Eagles the most.
“If you’re asking me specifically about the plays on that drive, I think the two runs hurt us,” Davis said. “That was kind of a key point to us, getting them in third down. Now we weren’t as good as we need to be and have been on third down. That was one thing that I really wish I could have done better, was third down and how we get ourselves off the field on third down. But specifically on that last drive, I think a couple penalties hurt us, and a couple of the runs hurt us.”
Outside of Chris Thompson’s 42-yard run in the first quarter, the Redskins’ two longest rushes of the game came on the last drive. Facing 1st-and-10 from their own 10-yard-line, Alfred Morris picked up 16 yards on the first play.
“We just got out of our gap, which we hadn’t done much of the whole night,” Davis said. “That is one of the things that our D‑line and linebackers have been great at: aligning and holding on to their position, and that’s why we’ve been so strong at the run game.”
Davis — and his players — didn’t mention who was responsible for the hole, but it appears it may have been Bennie Logan or Jordan Hicks, the play-side’s defensive lineman and linebacker. Hicks also got sealed to the inside — and E.J. Biggers to the outside — giving Morris the huge running lane.
According to Hicks, however, the defense had another problem.
The alignment of the front six (the Eagles were in nickel as Washington had two receivers to the defense’s left and one to the right) is above, and the Redskins ran to the defense’s left.
“We were in man defense right there. We just lined up wrong, and we weren’t ready,” Hicks said. “The problem right here is we’re down in numbers, so if we go one way, he can go the other way. We just weren’t ready, and we’ve got to be ready for that play.”
Six plays later, Morris picked up 13 more rushing yards to put Washington in plus-territory. On this snap, Davis said he should’ve made a better defensive call.
Morris again had a huge running lane, in part because Beau Allen (circled above) appeared to overrun the play. However, it’s hard to say with certainty because the players didn’t want to comment on the specifics of their assignments.
“It’s just the mundane, boring answer that we simply need to be in the right position,” DeMeco Ryans said. “When you do something different and get out of a gap, that’s when you create running lanes. Other than that, if everybody sticks to where they need to be, that play maybe gets two yards.”
Sometimes when defenses are in late-game situations and their only objective is to keep the offense out of the end zone, they’ll play prevent coverages, giving up underneath routes in favor of stopping the big plays.
It appeared the Eagles may have done that as the longest completion they allowed was 14 yards, and the Redskins only picked up half of that per catch in their last series. According to Davis, however, that’s not the case.
“We didn’t play any softer coverage,” he said. “We mixed mans and zones and split the safeties to give as much help to the passing game as we could. [The Redskins] are a quick, get-the-ball-out-of-the-hands operation, and they had a lot of short, quick passes. It was quick, methodical, move the chains, west coast offense style.”
On Washington’s longest pass play of the drive, they faced 3rd-and-6 from Philadelphia’s 30-yard-line, one of only two third downs in the series. Kirk Cousins connected with Pierre Garçon for 14 yards on the post route as Biggers was in man coverage.
“There’s not much we can do about that,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “Those people get paid a lot of money to catch the ball and make plays, and sometimes they’re going to do that. Walt [Thurmond] did a good job of hitting the ball loose, but he somehow grabbed the ball again. You can’t really look at that and dissect it; great plays are great plays.”
Two snaps later, Washington faced 2nd-and-10 from Philadelphia’s 16-yard-line. Cousins connected with Garçon for the second time that drive, who was wide open on a crossing route.
“[Cousins] just held onto the ball for a long time and that allowed Garçon to get open,” Ryans said. “He scanned the left side of the field first and then came back to the right side, so the play took a long time. When you only have three guys rushing, it’s going to buy the quarterback a lot of time.”
When Garçon (circled above) caught the ball, no Eagle was within six yards of him. Philadelphia’s three-man pass rush generated no pressure and gave Cousins plenty of time to find a hole in the zone.
With 31 seconds left in the game, Washington had 2nd-and-goal from the 4-yard line. They lined up in an empty shotgun formation, which the Eagles defend by either dropping eight people into coverage or blitzing and bringing one more rusher than the offense can block.
On this play, the Eagles chose to blitz and leave each of his five defensive backs in one-on-one coverage.
“Walt Thurman was in a perfect position and played inside out,” Davis said. “Eric Rowe did a great job of knowing that he had a running back and that Pierre was inside, so he came off his [man] quick to kind of trap that coverage. Connor Barwin is unblocked off the edge and taking a perfect angle.”
However, Cousins connected with Garçon for the third time that drive, scoring the final touchdown of the game.
“Kirk Cousins made a great throw,” Davis said. “With a guy breathing down his neck, the ball had to come out, and I’m telling you, it was that close. It was a perfect throw. If he had thrown it behind it, Walt has it. If he throws it too far in front, Eric has it. He throws it right on the money. Then Pierre caught it and held on to it after Eric hit him.
“That’s one of those plays where you have to say, ‘Congratulations, Washington. On that play you did exactly what you had to do, and it’s a game of inches.’ And we’ve talked about it a lot. We’ve got to get those inches in our favor now.”