Why Sunday means more to the Redskins

Brian Orakpo and the Redskins know their defense must contain Michael Vick on Sunday. Geoff Burke/US Presswire

Some of the players on the Washington Redskins defense say they won't even watch the tape of that game, and others say they don't have to, because it's burned onto their brains. The last time the Redskins played the Philadelphia Eagles was Nov. 15, 2010, and it was an all-time mess. Michael Vick hit DeSean Jackson for an 88-yard touchdown pass on the first play and never looked back, passing for 333 yards and four touchdowns, rushing for 80 yards and two touchdowns and creating for the Redskins a bitter memory that's having a definite impact on their preparations for Sunday's rematch.

"It plays a significant role, because obviously they embarrassed us on our own field last year," Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said in a phone interview Wednesday. "That game embarrassed the fans, the coaches, the players and our whole organization, and we know we've got to go out there and make sure it doesn't happen again."

It's easy to look at the Eagles as the more desperate team in Sunday's Redskins-Eagles matchup. They are 1-4, their lofty preseason expectations slipping away week by week. A division loss that drops them to 1-5 could be the death blow for their season, and because they're off next week they'd have two weeks to stew over it all.

But there's plenty at stake for the Redskins in this one as well. They're 3-1 and in first place after being universally picked for last. They believe they gave away their one loss in Dallas and not only should be 4-0, but should be considered real contenders for the division title. Sunday's game is a chance to prove -- to themselves, to the Eagles and to the world -- that they're not the joke they were as of last Nov. 15. They have the third-ranked scoring defense in the league, and the holdovers from last season's defense are eager to show why.

"We're a lot better defense this year," Orakpo said. "You look at the guys we brought in and the way we've played so far, our (league-leading) sack numbers ... We're very pleased with what we've done so far, but we're not finished yet."

A big part of the remaining agenda is this Sunday's game and erasing the memories it conjures. The Redskins were 4-4 and coming out of their own bye week that Monday night. The news broke just before the game of a contract extension for then-quarterback Donovan McNabb, who'd beaten his old team in Philadelphia six weeks earlier. A home victory could have set them up for a big surprise finish. Instead, they staggered out of their own building that night and went 2-5 the rest of the way. So to the Redskins, the team they're facing this Sunday is not some 1-4 bunch of can't-tackle losers. It's the team that blew up their season last year in humiliating fashion. They're taking them very, very seriously.

"Everybody's thinking they're a 1-4 team or a bad team, but that's not how we look at it," Orakpo said. "They're still putting up a lot of points. The only thing that's killing their drives is turnovers. They're going to come in here with a lot to prove, but we always feel like the Eagles are a dangerous team, regardless of the record. They still have all that talent -- Vick, DeSean, [Jeremy] Maclin, LeSean McCoy... They still have the ability to score points and do it quickly."

The Redskins' hope is that, having seen that up-close last November, they're better prepared for it this time. They knocked Vick out early in the October matchup last season, and as a result they might have been caught off-guard by his speed and athletic ability in the second meeting.

"Obviously, we weren't as prepared as we should have been," Orakpo said. "Or maybe we were prepared and he was still able to take advantage of us. So we've seen now what can happen if he gets going."

With Orakpo and rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan manning the outside spots in that 3-4 defense, the Redskins have so far this year been a team that pursues the quarterback. But Orakpo said the key with Vick is not to over-pursue, but to make sure to contain him.

"We want to get after him, but you've got to be smart," Orakpo said. "You've got to keep your eyes on him at all times. We can attack him, but we just have to communicate with each other and make sure everything's covered. Like, if we're going to use an inside move, we have to make sure somebody's got the outside covered. It's about making sure we all cover all of our bases."

This year's Redskins defense has been a much more cohesive, communicative and successful unit than last year's was, and Sunday is a chance to show off the improvements. It will be interesting to see how ready they are, but one thing we can know for sure is that for this game, the Redskins don't lack motivation.