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Sunday, November 17, 2013
Redskins Gameday: Ten thoughts

By John Keim

1. There are a lot of good running backs in the NFL. Not sure many are held in higher esteem by the Redskins’ defenders than Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy. One Redskin compared him to Barry Sanders in terms of his footwork. If you asked the Redskins who the most underrated player in the league is, many would say McCoy.

LeSean McCoy
The linebackers have to get off the blocks better to stop LeSean McCoy.
2. One key to stopping him: Getting off blocks better. The linebackers, London Fletcher, did not do such a good job of this in the opener. In the second half they were more aggressive, sometimes lining up a little closer as well, and it made a difference. It should also make a difference that nose tackle Barry Cofield can play with two hands in this game and not a big club. As he said, it wasn’t the difference in winning or losing but “two hands are better than one.”

3. Robert Griffin III took a step up last week in terms of throwing receivers open and showing more anticipation. That’s a byproduct of his having more trust in certain targets and getting on that so-called same page with his wideouts. There were three throws against Minnesota in which he threw with trust and anticipation that I had not seen in other games. At times the receivers will have to run their routes faster because with quick interior pressure, Griffin does not always have time to let things develop. Was this a one-game aberration or the start of something? We’ll find out Sunday.

4. The Redskins say their safeties weren’t the big problem in the first game, but the fact was this: They opened the season with a rookie at free safety and a converted corner at strong safety. That’s tough. Brandon Meriweather will start in this game. They used E.J. Biggers as a seventh defender in the box in the first game in their nickel defense; just lining up an extra defender in the box won’t always get it done. That player has to be able to make plays in the box, too. Anyway, having Meriweather should help at least a little bit in this game. “You can see Brandon is getting his legs under him,” Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “He’s starting to feel good. He’s starting to move well. Coming back from the injury a year ago you can see he’s starting to get better and better every day when he’s out on the practice field, so I think it will help immensely.”

5. One thing you don’t sense being around the Redskins is that they’re an uptight team and coming apart inside. There is still dissatisfaction with special teams and how things are done -- I don’t expect that to change, either -- but the grumbling or finger-pointing often associated with losing has been kept to a minimum so far. Part of that can be attributed to how they finished last season. But one reason they finished strong in 2012 is that they kept the same attitude. Before you start thinking it’s a sign of a repeat, the Redskins need to play a complete game -- and then do it the following week. They haven’t done that in 2013.

6. Nick Foles will run the read option and throw off it, and a defense should be able to tell when it’s a handoff or not: When he’s going to throw, Foles’ eyes are on his target as he fakes the handoff. Saw that a few times in the Green Bay game. And he will keep it on occasion as well; he did it on a short-yardage run versus the Packers, completely fooling the defense. It wasn’t a long run, but it got the first down and he quickly slid for a four-yard gain.

7. The Eagles love testing the eyes of a defense, with play-action and their package plays. So discipline and reading keys is a must. They ran, at times, a play in which the back would sprint in motion to the right where two receivers were in a stacked formation. A linebacker would race over with him as the defense focuses to that side -- it looks like some sort of screen. Foles would pump that way and then throw a screen back to the left. Green Bay stopped this play because the backside contain read their keys (linemen leaving early to the left). File it away.

8. Foles will throw long so the Redskins, who feel victimized by quick passes, will have at times more of a chance to rush the passer. Some of those deep throws come off play-action, but they can take time to develop. The Eagles will run a post-corner and a post to the same side, stressing the safety. They’ve scored on that play each of the past two weeks. But the point: It gives the Redskins’ rush an extra half-second to get home. However, the Eagles’ line is excellent and holds up well.

9. Curious to see what sort of coverage Washington uses in this game. The Redskins played zone and used a number of six-man boxes in the first half of the season opener. As you saw, that didn’t go so well. There were too many gaps against soft coverage and when, say, DeSean Jackson, would catch the ball there were too many chances to run. Philadelphia averaged 8.0 yards after each reception. In the second half the Redskins mixed up their coverages a little more, used a few more seven-man boxes, and did a better job. Their man coverage took away the Eagles’ bubble screen option.

10. Know what else helped the Redskins’ defense in the second half? Their offense. In that first game Washington’s offense ran 21 plays in the first half. A fumble ended one drive, an interception ruined the next and a safety followed on the ensuing drive. Voila: 26-7 at halftime. In the second half Washington ran 49 plays to Philadelphia’s 24. They’ll need similar help Sunday.