Robert Griffin III defeated the Eagles twice last season with six touchdown passes to one interception. (USA Today Images)
Sizing up Monday’s season opener between the Eagles and Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
When the Eagles have the ball
Most likely, we only saw a fraction of Chip Kelly’s offense in the preseason. Expect the tempo to be pushed even faster and plenty of formations that were hidden this summer, saved for the season opener.
The tempo seemed unusually slower for Michael Vick than when Nick Foles led the offense. Even still, Vick had a tremendous preseason and outperformed Foles to win the starting job. Vick is still fast and elusive. His athleticism should blend nicely with Kelly’s uptempo, spread offense. The read-option should give him opportunities to pick up first downs with organized runs that take advantage of an off-balance defense. The spacing of Kelly’s offense will create several favorable passing matchups; Vick just has to make the correct reads and be accurate with his delivery. LeSean McCoy will benefit from the offensive line being healthy and Kelly’s preference for a balanced attack. There’s no reason McCoy shouldn’t have a monster season, unless injuries hit the line hard again.
Left tackle Jason Peters and rookie right tackle Lane Johnson have their hands full in pass protection. The Redskins were awful in the pass rush last year, mainly because Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo missed 14 games and Ryan Kerrigan was asked to pick up the slack as a rookie. Kerrigan’s 8 1/2 sacks led the team. Orakpo is healthy and Kerrigan should be more comfortable in the defense this season, arming the 'Skins with two players who can get after the quarterback.
Washington is weak in the secondary, as usual. DeSean Jackson shouldn’t have problems getting open. Rookie safety Bacari Rambo looked iffy this preseason and Brandon Meriweather is constantly on the sidelines with injuries and it’s uncertain if he’ll play Monday. His replacement would be Reed Doughty, an OK backup who’s better in the box than in coverage. This sets up well for rookie tight end Zach Ertz to line up on the outsides and stretch the field, and for Brent Celek and James Casey to feast off mismatches across the middle. Casey didn’t play much during the preseason, which was possibly part of Kelly’s plan to reveal very little.
As long as the offensive line can handle the Redskins' OLBs and limit third-and-long scenarios, Vick should execute at a high level against his favorite team. No QB has a higher career passer rating against the Redskins than Vick (110.5). But when the line struggles, Vick’s accuracy and overall impact start to go south; he gets skittish in the pocket and tries to force passes into small windows.
When the Redskins have the ball
Washington fielded the NFL’s second-best overall offense and fifth-highest scoring offense last season, riding the coattails of two rookies -- No. 2 pick Robert Griffin III and powerful halfback Alfred Morris, a sixth-round pick whose 1,613 rushing yards placed second in the NFL.
Griffin is the dynamic playmaker who passed for 3,200 yards and ran for 815 more, but the offense starts with Morris, a strong running back who gets big chunks of yardage after contact. Head coach Mike Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme is perfect for Morris, a one-cut runner who drags defenders for yards until he’s finally brought down.
Given how the Eagles struggled this preseason with gap fits in adjusting from a 4-3 to a hybrid 3-4, expect the Redskins to throw heavy doses of Morris at the Eagles’ front seven, especially with Griffin coming off reconstructive knee surgery.
Washington’s ground game sets up play action, especially for tight end Fred Davis and wideout Pierre Garcon. Because the blocking scheme looks the same for run or pass, linebackers can get a step behind in coverage. Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans must be patient and disciplined for the Eagles to slow down Washington’s offense. Even more so if the 'Skins get risky and ride Griffin in read-option schemes.
It’ll be interesting to see how much of the offense Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, is put on RG3’s shoulders. The 'Skins were dormant and stuck in reverse for several years before RG3 revived the franchise with his strong arm, leadership and the instincts to make dynamic plays as a runner. But as we’ve seen with mobile QBs, the more they run, the more they get hurt.
This may be the most improved area of the Eagles from last year, if the preseason tells us anything. New coordinator Dave Fipp’s energy and schemes seem to have put a jolt into the punt and kickoff return units. Coverage was much better, too. Kicker Alex Henery nailed 4 of 5 attempts of 30 or more yards and big-leg punter Donnie Jones should be an upgrade over Chas Henry and/or Matt McBriar.
Redskins kicker Kai Forbath was quite the surprise last year. He was cut by the Bucs on Aug. 31 and signed with Washington in October, then made 17 of 18 field goals with a long of 50. He led the NFL in percentage (94.1), although his 18 attempts ranked 31st. He made all 12 attempts of at least 40 yards.
The Redskins are leaving punt and kick return duties in the hands of tiny rookie running back Chris Thompson, a fifth-round pick out of Florida State. Thompson tore his ACL eight games into his senior season. Before that, he was on pace to become the 'Noles' first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1996.
Much has been made about Redskins coaches have nothing but Oregon tape to study as they prepare for Kelly’s offense. That’s true. On the flip side, Kelly has never coached in the NFL, even as a low-level assistant. His first game that counts comes against a two-time Super Bowl champion head coach.
A conservative approach by the Redskins with Griffin, who’s back on the field just eight months after major knee surgery, could actually favor Washington. The Eagles are going through growing pains with their run defense and face a nightmarish matchup against Morris. Conversely, the Eagles have some good, young pass pass rushers who stood out this preseason -- Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry among them. They probably wouldn’t mind if Griffin stayed in the pocket and tried to win the game with his arm only.