Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Five questions facing the Redskins
By John Keim
How will Robert Griffin III perform? Special athletes do special things in situations where little is expected. Griffin falls into the category of special athlete, don’t you think? What helps Griffin is the same thing that helped him last season: his legs. Yes, knee injury, etc. But if Griffin is on the field he will use his legs, whether on designed runs, the read option or scrambles. They bail him out of trouble and allow him to contribute and make plays while still finding his rhythm as a passer. I have no idea how he’ll do in the passing game, but the Eagles’ defense isn’t a powerhouse. There will be chances. Besides, the scheme will provide opportunities and Griffin does not have to do it alone. With running back Alfred Morris (better this year), receiver Pierre Garcon (healthy this year), third-down back Roy Helu (healthy this year) and tight end Fred Davis (healthy this year), Griffin has enough help. That’ll be the key: Don’t try to do it alone. I’ll be curious to see how he handles scramble situations. A big point will be made if he runs out of bounds, but don’t be fooled: Griffin improved at this last season, too. After his concussion against Atlanta, Griffin ran out of bounds on 14 of his next 17 scrambles (compared to eight in his first 16 scrambles).
Can they slow the Eagles’ pace? The key will be limiting what the Eagles do on the early downs; if Philly is hitting four- and five-yard gains on first down, then the Redskins would have a tough time against anyone’s pace. And their weapons would scare me more than the pace. Any team with Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson should be feared, regardless of how they’re used. In the past, they didn’t need many plays to beat a team, just a couple. In 2010, the Eagles ran 67 plays yet scored 59 points against the Redskins. I’ll look more in-depth at how to slow the Eagles’ pace later in the week, but two areas are vital: conditioning and communication. Depth along the line is important (teams that had success versus Oregon in college had this). And having a linebacker such as London Fletcher is key; his ability to quickly diagnose plays and get teammates in the right spots help negate some issues. The tough part is that Philly will try to cause mismatches by using, say, four tight end sets in multiple formations. It can cause matchup issues, but that’s where being disciplined comes into play. Also, I'll be curious to see how the Redskins' six-linebacker set, their fast nickel, plays. The extra speed will help, but if the Eagles force them into this look for a few plays in a row it could cause matchup problems. But it does present the Redskins with another possibility -- and a way to pressure without blitzing; they'll need seven in coverage against these weapons.
How will the Eagles’ D handle the zone read? Part of me says who cares. Why? Because the zone read was not a huge issue when the Redskins swept the Eagles last season. Morris carried a combined four times for nine yards out of the zone read in those games and Griffin threw a combined four passes off zone-read fakes in those wins. Overall, Morris rushed for 167 yards in those two games and Griffin completed a combined 30-of-39 passes for 398 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. It is a different defense because of the change in coordinators. Last season the Eagles’ defensive front did not mesh with the talents of those behind them. So last year’s numbers aren’t quite as meaningful because of the change. But the point is this: Monday night is not about seeing how the Eagles stop the zone read. It wasn’t a factor in any of the touchdowns versus Philly last season. This will be more about seeing how the Eagles’ defense is overall – and if they can force turnovers. If not, they’ll struggle.
Will Brandon Meriweather play? At this point, I’ll just consider Meriweather day-by-day the rest of the season. Since he’s been here it’s always been something. Now it’s his groin. My guess is that he’ll play, but with him you never know. Why is it important? When healthy, Meriweather provides extra speed. In his one game last season, also against Philly, the Redskins ran some blitzes I hadn’t seen. Specifically, Josh Wilson blitzed from the numbers (they usually blitzed from the slot). They called for this because Meriweather was behind him and was fast enough to rotate to his man (Jackson) and cover him. They called this blitz later in the year, too, but not against fast receivers. Reed Doughty is a capable backup capable of excellent games, but he does not have the same speed or versatility.
Who will return punts? Another one I can’t answer yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if it depends on the situation. If the Eagles are punting from, say, their own 45 and you just want someone who can catch the ball, then perhaps you put sure-handed Santana Moss (or Josh Morgan) deep. If you want someone who can make a play, then Chris Thompson. The rookie’s inexperience has to be a concern -- he didn't do this in college -- but he looked good handling five of the six punts he fielded this summer and is dangerous. As former Redskins return great Brian Mitchell reminded me recently: He had never returned punts until coming to the NFL.