Redskins hope they learned their lesson

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
8:00
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ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins thought they knew what was coming. In many ways they did. Stopping it, though, proved much tougher. They prepared all summer for a style of play they hadn't seen at a pace they rarely defended.

It was different.

“They shocked us with that," Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said of the Philadelphia Eagles, who beat Washington, 33-27, in that opener.

Now the Redskins get a second chance with 10 weeks of game film at their disposal. Before the opener the Redskins watched film of Chip Kelly's offense at Oregon and also the Eagles' preseason games. Now they have something more tangible.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceLeSean McCoy rushed for 184 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting with the Redskins.
“Immensely, it's going to help us," Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall said. “We got a lot of film on them. We know what's been working against them. They've been rolling the last couple weeks."

Yes, quarterback Nick Foles has been hot, with 10 touchdown passes the past two games -- and 16 for the season. With no interceptions. But their biggest task: Stop running back LeSean McCoy, who gained 184 for the opener.

“We've got to stop the run better this time," Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “That will be our focus."

The Redskins learned a lesson, or three, in that opener. They hope, too, that certain aspects of their defense have improved enough to make a difference in the second meeting.

For example, the Redskins say their safeties did a good job in the first game, but it was Bacarri Rambo's first NFL game (and start) and corner E.J. Biggers was moved to safety for this game. That's a tough task for any safety, let alone two who had a combined zero previous starts at the position.

Rambo has played better since returning from his benching and has been more decisive. And it's not as if he were to blame for this game. But there are two plays he's handling better now than he did in that one. In that game, Rambo slowed down too much as quarterback Michael Vick tried to block him on a LeSean McCoy run around left end. Because Biggers had contain on the outside it didn't hurt, but since that game Rambo has done a better job taking on those blocks more aggressively, while staying in his path.

On the next drive, Rambo hesitated while racing up to attack Vick, who kept around left end off the zone read. That hesitation led to a juke and 36-yard gain. The Redskins now have Brandon Meriweather at safety; Reed Doughty played in the first game, but not until the second half when the Eagles were trying to run out the clock and using two-receiver sets.

Rambo was far from alone in hesitating. Fletcher, in the first half at least, paused on several plays because of the multiple run/pass options Philadelphia has on some plays. They caught Washington twice on passes to the tight end, thanks to having to defend: a hand-off to the back; the quarterback keeper and a bubble screen to the right.

“We're definitely more prepared now," Fletcher said. “It's one thing to try and practice and simulate what we expected them to be, but it was another thing when we faced it and you go watch it and see the tempo and the formations and different things they hit you with."

The Redskins say they played better in the second half in part because they shifted some alignments up front, allowing them to stop the Eagles' dive play better as well as the quarterback run. At times the linebackers weren't as far back in their alignment and were able to play more aggressively. Other times it was just a matter of getting off blocks better. Having nose tackle Barry Cofield play without a club, as he did in the first game, is a plus, too.

The Eagles used unbalanced lines and shifted quite a bit to try and force the Redskins out of position.

“We were able to settle down and make sure everyone gets aligned properly," Orakpo said. “The first half we weren't aligned correctly. That's why McCoy kept having so many yards rushing and kept having huge holes. That was a major thing we got adjusted and just played our defense."

They'll have to adjust to tackling in the open field, something they did not do well. The Eagles consistently put them in one-on-one situations in space, which is one reason why they managed 8.0 yards after the catch (fourth most in the NFL for Week 1, according to ESPN Stats & Information). They gained 58 yards after contact on the ground, though that was limited in part because the backs weren't getting hit at times until they were downfield.

“It's hard, but it definitely can be done," Hall said of stopping the Eagles. “They've lost a couple games; teams have definitely been able to stop those guys."

The Redskins' offense has played much better since that first game, which was Robert Griffin III's first game action since the January playoff loss to Seattle. The Redskins lost a fumble and then had another one they recovered in their own end zone for a safety. Washington's offense must perform better to reduce pressure on the defense, as it did in the second half of the opener when they cut a 33-7 deficit to the final score.

The Redskins held Philadelphia to 123 total yards in the second half, though McCoy still gained 63 yards on 11 carries, though 34 came on one run. They used more seven-man boxes in the second half, among other tactics.

They also ran plays at more of a turbo pace than Washington had been used to. The Redskins felt they handled that well.

“I wasn't fatigued," Hall said. “So fatigue didn't play into it. Just a variety of plays and we didn't know what to expect. It was a little overwhelming at times. That definitely played a part in a lot of their success against us. We got a good dose of what they're gonna do."

John Keim

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter

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