NFC East: 2013 Week 1 PHI at WAS

Eagles 33, Redskins 27: Ten observations

September, 10, 2013
LANDOVER, Md. -- Ten observations from the Redskins' 33-27 loss to Philadelphia:

1. The Redskins did not look like a team intent on defending the NFC East title. Not on this night. Yes, they showed something by rallying to make the final score close and forcing Philadelphia to recover an onside kick to clinch the win. Sure, that’s good. But a heck of a lot more was expected than for fans to go home saying, “Well, at least they were resilient and didn’t quit.” This quality does matter, and it’s why they rallied from a 3-6 record in 2012 to make the postseason. And it’ll matter if they go into Green Bay and win on Sunday. It’ll also matter in future weeks. OK, so you can’t question their attitudes. But they didn’t solve a lot of questions, either, about the secondary or about where Robert Griffin III is at with his game. You can’t go crazy drawing grand conclusions from one game, but you also can’t assume you’ll bounce back the same way you did last year. I don't think the Redskins think they're guaranteed the same thing will happen; I do think they're confident in what they can and still will accomplish.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Alfred Morris
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesAlfred Morris rushed for 45 yards on 12 carries and had trouble holding onto the ball.
2. Griffin had the expected rust after an offseason of not much practice and no games. That’s fine. What I didn’t expect was a sloppy effort on the run game. Running back Alfred Morris gained only 45 yards on 12 carries and fumbled twice. Morris looked good in camp. But he and the run game needed to let Griffin ease into the game and couldn’t do so. His yards weren’t the issue; had the score been different he probably would have finished with good numbers. But the fumbles were a problem and led to nine points. The one in the end zone was about concentration.

3. It didn’t help that Washington started 10 of its 13 drives inside the 20. The Redskins did not start a drive outside their 20 until their second possession of the third quarter. Did it make a difference? Of the 10 drives that began at the 20 or worse, the Redskins scored once. They managed 12 first downs on those drives, but nine occurred in the final two series. In comparison, Philly started five of 14 drives at its 20 or worse. Only one of those drives ended in points (a second would have if not for Michael Vick’s lateral returned for a touchdown by a heads-up DeAngelo Hall).

4. A big problem for the run defense was simply about numbers. Eagles coach Chip Kelly does a terrific job of putting his offense in favorable spots, and as long as his blockers make their block, a big play can follow. It really was left to the Redskins' front seven to get off blocks and make plays, and when they did, they stopped the Eagles. It just didn’t happen enough early. It didn’t help that Washington’s offense couldn’t do anything, which meant the defense was always on the field (53 of the Eagles’ 75 plays came in the first half). Blame the defense for some bad play, but they were put in many bad situations. Philly started four drives in Redskins' territory and scored touchdowns on three of them. This offense is too dangerous to give such breaks.

5. Back to the Eagles’ offense. The first touchdown of the second half is a perfect example. The Redskins had six defenders in the box; the Eagles countered with six blockers. The problem is Philadelphia forces teams to honor the ball to where it appears it’s going. On this play, if they were going to run, based on LeSean McCoy's alignment (to the left of Vick and a bit behind) it would have been an inside zone to the right. On the handoff, tackle Barry Cofield slides to his left to cover the gap and linebacker Perry Riley races to the outside. But tackle Stephen Bowen was blocked to the back side and linebacker London Fletcher had to wait, but that bought time for yet another blocker to arrive. A huge gap was created. It didn’t help that the safeties -- corner E.J. Biggers was playing strong safety -- couldn’t stop him. If McCoy gets to the third level, forget it.

6. Another sequence showed how Kelly’s offense operates. Actually, it was the second and third plays from scrimmage. Vick connected with tight end Brent Celek off a zone read fake; slot corner Josh Wilson scrambled to catch up. It was a 28-yard gain. On the next play, the Eagles had the numbers to the left. Wilson was in the slot, but showing blitz. That left two receivers to block two corners -- and no one on Jackson. A bubble screen turned into a 16-yard gain. “They did a good job with their run-pass numbers,” Fletcher said. “If the numbers weren’t to their liking as far as whether they would run the ball, then they would throw it and vice versa. They did a good job with that.”

7. It left the Redskins’ defense stressed. And if they did not make one-on-one plays, then they were in trouble. The key for any good defense is to swarm to the ball. But the Eagles made that tough the way they spread the field and forced Washington to honor every intention. There was one time in which Brian Orakpo tripped up McCoy in the backfield for a short gain. Had he not gotten him down, McCoy would have run for 20 yards. The hole was that big. It happened time and again. The scheme is good, but the talent really makes it work. When you have McCoy, Jackson and Vick, you have players well-suited to playing in space.

8. The defense knew what was coming much of the time. They just couldn’t stop it. The same cannot be said for the offense, particularly early. Receiver Pierre Garcon said the Eagles threw looks at them they had not practiced against or had seen before. At least the offense had plenty of Oregon tape to study to prepare for Kelly -- and they knew the offensive talent better. The offense had to go back three years to Arizona’s film to try and guess what Eagles’ defensive coordinator Bill Davis would do. “It’s hard to prepare for that,” Redskins guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. “We still have rules that should work against anything. We just didn’t execute as well as should have.”

9. The Eagles were unconventional at times, sending two defenders through the B gap for example.
It was by design. They caught the Redskins on an inside zone with the perfect blitz to handle the play. They caught them on an outside zone with a call perfect for that run. “They did things that had it gone a different way we could have made them pay for being unsound sometimes,” Lichtensteiger said. “But we didn’t, so they look like geniuses and here we are.”

10. The secondary had a rough night tackling. Rookie Bacarri Rambo missed Celek on his 28-yard catch and run (wrong angle perhaps)? He also missed Vick in the open field, getting juked outside. I don’t know this for sure, but Hall said the coverage was busted on the 25-yard touchdown pass to Jackson. There was no safety deep. Rambo was playing up. “There was supposed to have been a couple guys back there,” Hall said. “I don’t know exactly what went wrong, but there was definitely supposed to be a couple guys.” Biggers was playing out of position (I saw him work at strong safety during one practice) and missed an open-field tackle on McCoy. Join the club. Again, give Hall credit for a heads-up play, and rookie corner David Amerson did a solid job, even undercutting a route for a breakup and near interception.
Chip Kelly Rob Carr/Getty ImagesChip Kelly's fast pace took its toll on both teams as fatigue gave way to sloppy play in the second half.
LANDOVER, Md. -- For the first half of Chip Kelly's NFL debut, Philadelphia Eagles fans were pinching themselves, giddily thinking (and texting and tweeting) that this was too good to be true.

Those fans spent the second half being proven correct. Kelly's team may be good. It may even be very good. But that manic first half -- 26 points, 53 plays, 21 first downs, 100-plus yards each for DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy -- was not sustainable for an entire NFL season. Heck, it wasn't even sustainable for an entire NFL game.

"It was a crazy game," Eagles quarterback Michael Vick said. "I have never been in anything like it. When the first quarter was over, I thought we were going into halftime. It was unreal."

The Eagles took a 33-7 lead early in the third quarter because their quarterback, Vick, was sharp and playing his best football while the opposing quarterback, Robert Griffin III, looked very much like a young player who missed the entire preseason while rehabbing a knee injury.

But Philadelphia city officials were wise not to schedule that February parade just yet. Griffin brought his team back to within a touchdown. The game came down to an onside kick with little more than a minute left. That was a little close for comfort after the Eagles' dazzling display in the first half.

"A lot of fun for the first half and a lot of nerve-racking bad play in the second half," Eagles center Jason Kelce said. "We have to be able to close out the game."

"We never should have let them come back," said McCoy, who finished with a league-leading 184 yards on a career-high 31 carries in the 33-27 win.

"We made some mistakes, including the coach," Kelly said.

This is more than nitpicking about the quality of the victory cigar. Everything that could make Kelly a stunning NFL success was on display in his debut. But so was everything that could undermine his attempt to bring his innovative Oregon offense to the pro level.

The Eagles' uptempo offense worked brilliantly in the first half. They ran a play every 22.4 seconds -- 53 in all. The offense was so efficient, it produced Washington's only touchdown of the half: a 75-yard fumble return on a batted pass that was ruled a lateral.

McCoy ran through enormous holes or cut back to find huge swaths of open field. Jackson was wide open all over the field. So were Brent Celek and Jason Avant. Vick ran the read-option as if he'd been doing it his whole career.

But the Eagles wore down just as much as their opponents did. Kelce said he thought both teams were tired, and that led to the increasingly sloppy play. Players on both teams needed oxygen or took a few downs off to deal with cramping.

On one drive, McCoy jogged off the field, took a knee and gulped breaths of air while Vick continued to run the offense without him. Jackson caught zero passes after halftime. Vick took some hard hits in the pocket, took some more when he ran (and continued to refuse to slide) and even took a few when he blocked for McCoy.

"I didn't put myself in a position to protect myself at times," Vick said, "but that's what I train for."

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the last time Vick accounted for three touchdowns without throwing an interception was right here at FedEx Field. That was in 2010, in prime time, and Vick looked like he was unstoppable. If the past two seasons proved anything, it's that he is stoppable, especially if he gets hurt.

But it would also be a mistake to dismiss what the Eagles did accomplish here. They won a division game. Their offense showed flashes of what might make it really special, and their defense came out and played with intensity, forcing turnovers and pressuring Griffin.

It was all fun to watch. More important, in a profound way, it was fun to play. Kelly has asked these players to embrace a whole new way of doing things. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has guys such as Trent Cole changing positions and learning new schemes.

Come out and win like this, and everyone buys in just that much more.

"It's just one game, and we've got to build on it or it's not worth anything," Davis said. "They embraced the assignments and the techniques. The fact that we had success with the things that we've been preaching, that is a huge step in our confidence. That's where we are as a team."

All summer, the Eagles have carried themselves as if they had a little secret they were just dying to share. They listened to Kelly and liked what they heard. They believed it would work.

But until Monday night, when Jackson was dancing in the corner of the end zone with a football in his hands, they couldn't be sure it would work.

Now they are.

"The tempo really worked," McCoy said. "I don't think anyone has seen it that fast. We've got to learn. We're learning as the thing goes. Coach Kelly is a great coach. Today is the first time a lot of the guys in the locker room had fun. We couldn't wait to get back out there and have fun."

It wasn't perfect. How could it have been in Week 1? But it was awfully impressive. Was it too good to be true? There are 15 more games to find that out.

Eagles defense makes encouraging debut

September, 10, 2013
LANDOVER, Md. – Bill Davis made a remarkable admission last week, as he prepared the Philadelphia Eagles defense for Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris.

“I don’t know what’s coming,” Davis said.

He meant that he couldn’t really gauge the state of his squad until he saw it against a real NFL offense with a real game plan.

It's a good starting point for us. They executed the plan. I won't say it was a surprise, but it was nice to see that against a great offensive team.

-- Bill Davis, Eagles defensive coordinator
After one quarter, in which the Eagles created two turnovers and a safety, Davis might have thought he had the 2000 Baltimore Ravens on his hands. After a full game, a 33-27 victory at Washington, he knows there is work to be done, but he can still feel encouraged.

“It’s a good starting point for us,” Davis said. “They executed the plan. I won’t say it was a surprise, but it was nice to see that against a great offensive team. It was a fun night and the guys did a great job.”

Trent Cole, the veteran defensive end transitioning to outside linebacker, forced a Morris fumble on Washington’s second play from scrimmage. Cole lined up with his hand on the ground at times, as an OLB at other, but had consistent pressure on Griffin.

Cary Williams, the ornery cornerback known more for scuffling in practice, made a great diving interception. He sacked Griffin on a blitz from the slot. And, in maybe the biggest play of all, he broke up a fourth-quarter, fourth-down pass that temporarily derailed Washington’s comeback.

Second-year linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who recovered Morris’ fumble, had a team-high 10 tackles. He and DeMeco Ryans handled the middle as Morris was held to just 45 rushing yards on 12 carries.

Those were the positive highlights. In the second half, Griffin led his team to 20 unanswered points. Williams was sidelined with cramps for part of that, allowing Griffin to pick on rookie cornerback Jordan Poyer for one touchdown.

“The game changed,” Davis said. “I probably pressured a little bit more than I should have. The second-to-last score was on a couple of multiple pressures back-to-back. I wanted to let them know that we aren’t going to sit back and play prevent, and I got burned on it. Sometimes that happens. They made some plays and we played a little softer.”

That was another encouraging sign: Davis was as willing to explain what went wrong as what went right.

RG III's night leads to questions

September, 10, 2013
RGIIIAP Photo/Patrick Semansky"I'm responsible for the way I play," Robert Griffin said. "I didn't play very well in the first half."

LANDOVER, Md. -- The night held such promise for Robert Griffin III. As the crowd cheered his name during introductions Monday, Griffin kneeled and pounded the turf, as if he was about to do something he couldn’t believe. Like play a game exactly eight months after surgery. He paused and hustled down the field, waving a big Redskins flag.

It went downhill from there in the Washington Redskins' 33-27 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. At least for the first 30 minutes -- and a few more in the second half.

And then it became a night of more questions, and a lot of nit-picking, that one game won’t answer. Was Griffin still hurt? Was the quarterback just rusty? Was he planting and driving when throwing the ball? Was his timing off? Let the debating begin.

This wasn’t what anyone expected, least of all Griffin. Not after the journey back. Not after knowing how hard he had worked to return in eight months after knee surgery. And not after his history. Griffin was used to accomplishing grand things in big moments. This qualified as a big moment.

Instead, he was left to defend his game and night and to soothe the worries of Redskins fans. What he didn’t do is point to his surgically repaired right knee as a reason why he struggled early. Yes, Griffin completed 30-of-49 passes for 329 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Respectable numbers, indeed. But he was just 5-of-11 for 53 yards in the first half.

“I’m responsible for the way I play,” Griffin said. “I didn’t play very well in the first half. You move on from it. I’m not going to sit here and say I was rusty. I have to be accountable for that.”

Griffin threw the ball much better when we saw him in training camp. Early in camp, he sometimes did not step and drive into the ball the way he had when throwing last season -- and the way he did as camp unfolded. The coaches noticed it, too; quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur even pointed it out (after the fact). But when camp ended, and the media got its last good look at Griffin, those issues appeared to have ended. His timing seemed off, but the knee appeared sound and he could drive when throwing the ball. Some might still question Griffin’s playing; those people did not see him in camp.

However, Griffin was not really placed in live action at game speed until Monday night, having not played in the preseason. It makes a difference for anyone, even a second-year quarterback who many think wears an "S" on his chest. The Redskins aren’t second-guessing their decision not to play him in the preseason, either.

“The one thing I look at is that I’m hoping he’s going to be with us for a while,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “Our priority was getting him ready for the season and not putting him in there too quick. We would be quite disappointed if he got hurt the second week of camp, and then we’d be talking about, ‘Why did you practice Robert when he might not have been ready?’ He was ready to play. He looked like he was in good shape.”

Some plays stood out for Griffin, both good and bad. He made a decision on his first interception that he rarely, if ever, made a year ago -- throwing into triple coverage to Santana Moss down the middle. The ball had no chance of being completed. On his second interception, Griffin did not put a lot of zip on a pass to the outside. Corner Cary Williams made a terrific read and a diving grab.

At times, Griffin did not seem to plant and drive on his throws, or transfer his weight to his front foot. Sometimes it’s hard to do so in the pocket; sometimes a quarterback must throw from different angles. But was it a trust issue for him with his knee? Only Griffin knows, and he insists that wasn't the case. Still, for Griffin, it was an uneven performance. And when you’re coming back from an injury, everything will round back to that issue, whether it’s real or imagined. Griffin knows until he plays well for a full game -- until he shows his old form -- there will be doubts, there will be questions. He's not about to feed them.

“I was comfortable out there and I felt good,” Griffin said. “I was able to escape the pocket and move around.”

The Eagles threw some unexpected pressures at him, showing looks the Redskins would call undisciplined. They worked. They made Griffin look a little slower with his reactions, which led to more questions: Could he cut the same after surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament?

Keep in mind, though, that Griffin had some lousy first halves last season, too. Against Cincinnati in his home debut, for example, Griffin completed 5-of-10 passes for 36 yards in the opening half. But, back then, he wasn’t coming off an injury, and the focus was more on the Bengals’ defense, not Griffin’s knee.

“I think just we didn’t play well,” Griffin said. “You guys can sit here and pick apart technique. Is he rusty? Did he not play well enough? I just think we didn’t play well in the first half at all. There’s no other way around it.”

But as Griffin got warmed up in the second half, he found his rhythm. He eluded pressure on a third-down pass in the fourth quarter, sidestepping the rush the way he did in 2012, though the ball fell incomplete. Griffin’s second touchdown pass was a thing of beauty. It required touch and rhythm as he dropped a perfect 24-yarder over the top of a safety to receiver Leonard Hankerson in the back of the end zone. He was delivering more passes on target, in rhythm. Still, there had to be some consequence for not playing in the preseason, or not practicing against a full defense until three weeks ago. Even for a talent such as Griffin. The first half qualified.

“He did a great job,” Shanahan said, “for not playing [in the preseason]. He made some big-time plays.”

There just weren’t enough. And they came too late.

Locker Room Buzz: Philadelphia Eagles

September, 10, 2013
LANDOVER, Md. -- Observed in the locker room after the Philadelphia Eagles' wild 33-27 victory at the Washington Redskins:

Kelly has "fun" in debut: Rich Kotite was the last Eagles head coach to win his very first game, and he inherited a playoff team. Chip Kelly took a team that was 4-12 last season and beat the defending NFC East champions -- on the road in a hugely entertaining "Monday Night Football" game.

"It was just the atmosphere," Kelly said. "When I coached at Oregon, we had the best home-field advantage in the country, we felt. But we always loved going on the road, just that feeling of being in a hostile environment. Our players felt that. Although I did hear some Eagles chants."

Williams comes up big: Cornerback Cary Williams did not speak to reporters after his practice fight with wide receiver Riley Cooper made headlines last week. Williams saved it for the field. He had a sack, an interception and broke up Robert Griffin III's fourth-down pass in the fourth quarter.

"The interception was cool," Williams said. "I just wanted to help my team win."

Williams still didn't want to discuss the fight.

"We had a great win today," he said. "We won the game. I have no animosity toward Riley. It was just two tough guys, two competitors, playing the game we love. We bounced back from it. That's really all that counts."

Fatigue for everyone: On a humid night, the Eagles' intense offensive pace was a test -- for both teams.

"That was the first time I needed oxygen since college," Eagles center Jason Kelce said. "I don't want to say [fatigue] led to the poor play in the second half. I think both teams were tired. We were taking a knee [in the final minute], and one guy was like, 'Next time we play you guys, you've got to slow it down a bit.' "

Locker Room Buzz: Washington Redskins

September, 9, 2013
LANDOVER, Md. -- Observed inside the Washington Redskins' locker room after their 33-27 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles:

Still ailing: Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan was still being evaluated for his concussion after the game. No word yet on how bad it was; we can’t talk to him because he had concussion symptoms. And it was hard to tell how he was doing based on how he looked. He was talking to one of the team doctors afterward.

Tough go: The Eagles managed 443 yards of offense and ran 77 plays. They averaged 5.8 yards per play, a hefty amount. "When you're wrong, you're wrong. That offense is going to be a force to be reckoned with in this league," corner DeAngelo Hall said. But, linebacker London Fletcher said, “They didn’t run any plays we haven’t seen. The passing game was everything we’ve seen them run. They may have had one or two or three concepts we haven’t seen before, but that happens every game.”

Offense surprised: Receiver Pierre Garcon, who left the game with cramps, was fine afterward and spoke as long as any player in the locker room. He was one of the first to talk; he was also the last one to talk. “We didn’t know what they were going to do on defense,” Garcon said. “They surprised us. They had a lot of looks we weren’t expecting, and we didn’t get a hang of it until the second half. “

Mood: I’ve seen the Redskins react much worse to a loss. It was not a completely silent room by any means; there was disappointment and some befuddlement because of how the game transpired. But they had the feel of a team that had been in this spot before and wasn't going to overreact to one defeat. “This is a 16-round boxing match and Round 1’s over, so we’ll go a round next week,” center Will Montgomery said.

Rapid Reaction: Eagles 33, Redskins 27

September, 9, 2013

LANDOVER, Md. -- Thoughts on the Washington Redskins’ 33-27 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night.

What it means for Washington: It’s one thing to lose; it’s another to look the way Washington did much of the night in its loss to Philadelphia. The Redskins opened the season with high hopes, obviously, and now have some questions to answer. It’s only one game, but quarterback Robert Griffin III looked sloppy -- rust or lingering issues? He looked better in the second half, but his play will remain a storyline as the week, and season, unfolds. It was a bad start, even though it was a solid comeback.

Stock report falling: Running back Alfred Morris had a bad game, with 12 carries for 45 yards. But it was more than that: Morris fumbled on his first carry, leading to an Eagles touchdown one play later. And he dropped a pitch in the end zone that he fell on and then was tackled for a safety. Debate calling for a pitch in the end zone all you want, but it’s a basic play he botched. Morris is a better runner than what he showed, though he needs a little more help from his line. But it was a bad opening night for a run game that was terrific in 2012.

Stock report falling, part II: The Redskins couldn’t stop LeSean McCoy, who rushed for 184 yards on 31 carries. His cutback runs were effective against the Redskins' defense. The Redskins had to use their nickel defense all night; the Eagles shredded it on the ground.

Turnover woes: The Redskins turned the ball over only 14 times last season and had a differential of plus-17. But they turned it over three times Monday night, leading to 14 points. Both of those touchdowns were set up deep in their own territory, leading to easy scores. Morris’ fumble occurred after the Redskins’ defense had held Philadelphia to a field goal and led 7-3. One play later it was 10-7. Then with Washington needing a good opening drive in the second half, Griffin threw an interception on an out route. Two plays later it was 33-7.

What’s next: The Redskins play at 0-1 Green Bay in a game that isn’t a must win, but an 0-2 hole is never welcomed. Coming off the loss to Philadelphia, the Redskins have more worries than just the Packers. They now need to worry how long it’ll take Griffin to return to the player he was before his injury.

Rapid Reaction: Eagles 33, Redskins 27

September, 9, 2013

LANDOVER, Md. – Here's what comes to mind after recovering from whiplash during the Philadelphia Eagles' 33-27 victory at the Washington Redskins on Monday night.

What it means for Philadelphia: Chip Kelly's Eagles are going to be entertaining, at the very least. Kelly's offense turned FedEx Field into the Autobahn in the first half: 26 points, 53 plays, 322 yards. The Eagles' pace slowed in the second half, either because they took their foot off the gas or simply ran out of gas. Washington scored 20 unanswered points to tamp down the Chipmania. The rewards and the risks of Kelly's go-go offense were all on display in this game.

Stock Watch: Rising (but not sliding) -- Michael Vick showed how dangerous he can be in Kelly's offense, to defenses as well as to himself. Vick ran the uptempo, read-option system masterfully in the first half. He broke a 36-yard run to help slow Washington's momentum in the fourth quarter. But he absorbed too many hits, including on that run, and was limping around by game's end. He can't stay upright all season playing that way.

Starry, starry night: It is considered a good offensive performance when you have a running back and a wide receiver each hit 100 yards. The Eagles had that by halftime. LeSean McCoy had 115 yards on the ground by intermission, then ran 34 yards for a touchdown on the first series of the second half. DeSean Jackson had 7 catches for 104 yards and a touchdown before intermission. They are poised for incredible seasons.

Those other guys: With so much focus on Kelly and his novel offense, the Eagles defense came into the game as something of an afterthought. After three Washington possessions, the Eagles had two takeaways and a safety. They pressured Robert Griffin III and contained Alfred Morris. In the second half, turnovers and stalled offensive drives put more pressure on the defense. It held up, but just barely. Still, there was a lot to build on here.

What's next: Kelly won't have the element of surprise on his side after his much ballyhooed “Monday Night Football” debut. Defensive coordinators around the NFL, unlike Washington's Jim Haslett, will have some actual Eagles game tape to dig into. First up is San Diego's John Pagano. One suspects, though, that Kelly has a lot more where this came from. In a deeply-flawed NFC East, anything now seems possible.