Eagle Eye: Eagles-Redskins predictions
Nick Foles threw for 345 yards with one touchdown and an interception in a 27-20 loss to the Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field last season. (USA Today Images)
In the season opener, the Redskins played almost exclusively nickel defense against the Eagles’ three-wide formations.
Instead of beefing up to stop LeSean McCoy, they went smaller to keep pace with Chip Kelly’s lightning-quick offense. At one point, they removed safety Reed Doughty -- who was starting for an injured Brandon Meriweather -- and replaced him with another cornerback, E.J. Biggers.
Remember what Kelly said about big people beating up little people?
Washington’s plan backfired. Kelly fed McCoy with 31 carries, still his most this season, and the Pro Bowl running back enjoyed mile-wide open holes by his offensive line. McCoy danced around the Redskin secondary en route to 184 yards and a 5.9 yards-per-carry average.
The big runs set up play action for Michael Vick, who passed for two touchdowns and ran for another, as the Eagles jumped out to an early 33-7 lead and held on to win, 33-27. The Redskins were terrible at making tackles in the open field.
This time, the Redskins must either make an adjustment in their nickel package to get linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage and have linemen play more up front, or stay in base and dare the Eagles to win through the air.
The 'Skins have three big bodies on their defensive line in ends Jarvis Jenkins, Stephen Bowen and veteran nose tackle Barry Cofield, but Jenkins is primarily a run stopper and won’t get on the field if Washington comes out in the nickel. Cofield played the opener with a club on his hand (sound familiar?) and wasn’t at his best.
In their last game, a Thursday night loss to the Vikings, the 'Skins stayed in base on running downs and held Adrian Peterson to just 75 total yards, but the Vikings aren’t a three-wide base team.
If the Redskins sell out against the run, it’ll open the doors for Nick Foles and his receivers to ignite the aerial attack that’s been so prolific in the past two games. The Redskins, who have the NFL’s second-worst scoring defense -- 31.9 points per game -- have struggled against the pass, mainly because of their pedestrian secondary, including the cornerback trio of DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson and rookie David Amerson.
The Redskins allow around 275 passing yards per game, which is seventh-worst in the NFL but only three teams have allowed more passing touchdowns than Washington, which has surrendered 19 TDs through the air. Only four teams have allowed more receptions of 20 or more yards.
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, who’s quickly headed for first-round bust status, somehow completed 81 percent of his passes, tossed two touchdowns for just the second time in his past 12 games and compiled a career-best 113.1 passer rating last Thursday night against the Redskins, guiding Minnesota to a 34-27 win.
There are few corners like Hall, a riverboat gambler who’s a playmaker when he gets his hands on the ball but is equally capable of being on the wrong side of deep bombs. He has three picks this year, two of which he’s returned for TDs, but isn’t a sound tackler and pretends to be a tough guy every time he’s beaten.
In the first meeting, Hall played the left cornerback spot exclusively. The Redskins have started moving him around more, isolating him on the opponent’s best corner. Look for Hall to get locked up with DeSean Jackson for most of the game. They scuffled briefly in the opener after Hall’s horse-collar tackle on the Pro Bowl wideout.
If Jackson is guarded exclusively by Hall, Riley Cooper will see a mix of Wilson and Amerson. Amerson plays outside in nickel as Wilson moves inside. Amerson, who played alongside Earl Wolff at N.C. State, is 6-foot-1, which makes him the tallest corner on the team and best equipped to battle Cooper’s length.
After his blitzes were carved up earlier this season, Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett dialed back on the exotic pressure schemes and has mainly stuck to four-man rushes, which have been more efficient for the 'Skins. They’re getting an honest rush from outside linebackers Brian Orakpo -- four sacks -- and Ryan Kerrigan -- 6.5 sacks -- and they need all the coverage help they can get.
If left tackle Jason Peters can’t go, the Eagles will start Allen Barbre, who played very well against the Packers. Barbre isn’t very tall but maintains very good leverage and has excellent footwork. Still, Orakpo will be the toughest challenge for him. Kerrigan sometimes moves inside, so don’t be surprised if the 'Skins try to match him up against right guard Todd Herremans.
The 'Skins looked vulnerable in their past two games against play action and screens, which are two of Kelly’s favorite weapons. Look for Foles to get the short passes going early if the Redskins are keyed on McCoy, then open it up as the games goes on.
(To read the Eagles’ defensive scouting report, click here.)