Thoughts and observations after re-watching the Redskins' defense against the Philadelphia Eagles:
The Redskins did an excellent job against LeSean McCoy in limiting him to 77 yards on 20 carries (he had 184 in the opener). Unlike the first meeting, they used seven defenders in the box most of the game. They also aligned their inside linebackers consistently two to three yards off the ball, to help them avoid blocks and be more aggressive. It worked as McCoy was tackled for a loss five times.
Alas, here's the tough part for Washington: He was hit in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage on eight other runs. But on those he still managed to gain 63 yards. They hit him in the backfield on four of those runs, but a jump cut or a spin move later he wound up with positive yards (a combined 28, in fact). You can blame the Redskins for not tackling him, but McCoy is a phenomenal runner. One Redskin last week compared him to Barry Sanders; I saw some electric jump cuts to avoid would-be tacklers in the backfield. There was one run in the second half in which he bounced wide, but David Amerson was there to tackle him for a 5-yard loss. Typically, though, McCoy gained positive yards after these moves.
Their ability to handle McCoy is why I liked their game plan. They had to start by doing this and they did so. You can argue over certain calls -- like how Ryan Kerrigan is ever matched against McCoy in the open field. I was not a fan of the zone coverages (that's in general, too, not just this game); the Redskins do not play zones well (you do have to mix it up, just to keep offenses guessing and I get why they use it against some teams. But if you do that, you need to play it better, be it the drops of certain positions or applying faster pressure).
The pass defense has killed the Redskins all season. Sure, they played some quarterbacks who threw quick in previous games. Not in this one. Quarterback Nick Foles ran play-action and would take deep drops. There was pressure, but not consistent enough. It's about the rushes; it's about the coverage. It just doesn't work hand-in-hand enough. Coaches always say you can take away something if you really want to; the Redskins did that with McCoy. They just couldn't do enough in the pass game and this is a passing league. They need to win more one-on-ones up front.
A couple times the Redskins' rush couldn't get free because of the Eagles' protection. On the second play, for example, off play-action, they kept seven in protection to block five rushers. Foles had 3.0 seconds to throw deep to Riley Cooper, who had beaten Amerson. It was incomplete. I'll be curious to see if Amerson is more consistent next season.
On a deep out to DeSean Jackson for 23 yards, against zone coverage, Foles took 3.1 seconds to throw. No pressure.
Brian Orakpo's first sack took 3.4 seconds (he lined up three yards over right guard and ran outside stunt with Ryan Kerrigan) and his half-sack with Jarvis Jenkins took 4.4 seconds. That's asking a lot for coverage to consistently hold up that long. I did like how Orakpo played the run.
Back to Kerrigan on McCoy. I know why the Redskins wanted to attack inside with Perry Riley and London Fletcher; the Eagles' play-action is mostly to the outside, leaving the middle vulnerable and with no one there to pick up a blitz. On the 49-yard wheel route to McCoy, the Redskins sent both Riley and Fletcher. But the rush didn't get home and the pass did.
However, the Redskins ran that same coverage on Fletcher's sack as well as one other time in which Riley stuck Foles on a blitz as he unloaded an incompletion to Cooper. Still, it's a tough situation for Kerrigan. Riley covered him solo a couple times, though on the horse collar penalty it almost looked like Riley reacted too slow to go with him when McCoy motioned out of the backfield, leaving an empty set. Yet nobody ran with McCoy, until Riley did so too late. It didn't make sense.
The problem with playing the Eagles in the red zone is they kept the Redskins in a nickel defense, with two down linemen and four linebackers. Makes it tough to stop a run. On McCoy's 1-yard scoring run in the second quarter, the Eagles motioned receiver DeSean Jackson to the left; he sprinted at the snap and that caused Riley and safety Brandon Meriweather to widen a half-step that way. It took them out of a chance to help on McCoy's run.
The screens. One thing I saw on film and I'm positive the Redskins saw it too is how the Eagles loved to sprint a player one way, fake a toss and then throw a screen back the other way. They did this twice against Washington, for gains of 42 and 24 yards. On the 24-yarder to running back Bryce Brown, the defensive linemen, Chris Baker and Jarvis Jenkins were let in too easy. That's the tipoff something's coming, but both kept rushing at the quarterback -- it could be what they're told to do regardless. But the recognition on both plays, including the one to tight end Brent Celek, was too slow.
The defense did a better job on third downs after it was 24-0 (1-for-6 the rest of the game). They set up more third-and-longs but on one third and short, Kerrigan raced in from the backside for a pivotal stop. And on a fourth-and-1 in the fourth, London Fletcher filled the gap hard to tackle Brown.
The Eagles had seven plays for 20 yards or more (they entered with 69 for the season, so it was about average). They had one after halftime.