It’s been 10 weeks since the Philadelphia Eagles took the Washington Redskins by surprise with their new offensive scheme, putting up 33 points of offense in just over 31 minutes of game time. This Sunday is a date that I’m sure every Redskins player and coach has had circled on their calendars since then. Some things have changed for both teams since the season opener. For the Redskins, their offense is starting to come back to life as Robert Griffin III continues to shake off the rust stemming from his off-season recovery from knee surgery, and Alfred Morris is finding his stride as he’s averaged 112 yards and 5.1 yards per carry over the past 4 games.
For the Eagles, Nick Foles is now the quarterback and is on an incredible hot streak, Riley Cooper has emerged as a serious playmaker, and the defense is starting to find its groove as they’ve held their last 6 opponents to 21 points or less. Neither team can afford to head into this game thinking they are going to see the same team they saw in Week 1.
Here’s a look at two key matchups heading into the rematch between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins.
LeSean McCoy vs. Redskins’ Linebackers and Defensive Backs
This first one is not a 1 on 1 matchup, because frankly, you can’t tackle Shady McCoy with simply 1 defensive player. The Redskins tried that in Week 1 and the results were dreadful for them as missed tackles lead to huge gains for Shady. McCoy had 31 carries for 184 yards (5.9 ypc) in that week 1 game. On 8 of those 31 carries, McCoy was able make a defender miss and pick up additional yards. 84 additional yards to be exact. That’s over 10 yards per missed tackle, and is a sign of a team not swarming to the ball. 4 of those missed tackles lead to first downs, while 1 of them lead to a 34 yard touchdown (27 yards gained after the missed tackle). Now, I know it’s been 10 weeks, so here’s a few clips of McCoy making defenders look silly to refresh your memory and get your palette wet for Sunday’s game.
Ok, are you back with me? Good. A big part of the reason the Redskins had so much trouble with the Eagles run game in week 1 is that for a majority of the game, their defense played with 2 deep safeties. This is an absolute no-no when facing a Chip Kelly offense. Since Kelly likes to run a lot out of spread formations (mostly shotgun with 1 tight end and 3 wide receivers), playing with 2 deep safeties opens up too many opportunities in the run game as the defense becomes too spread out to be able to swarm to the ball effectively. It also opens up easy opportunities for the Eagles to run their basic read option play, where the 3 options are 1) handoff to the RB, 2) seam route to the TE in the middle of the field, and 3) bubble screen to the slot receiver.
When a defense plays with 2 deep safeties against this read option play, it forces their 2 linebackers to have to guard against the run AND a pass to the tight end at the same time. If a linebacker goes to cover the tight end, it leaves 5 guys in the box which opens up huge lanes for the runningback. If both linebackers stay in the box, then the tight end will be open on the seam route for an easy pass, such as what happened on this play from week 1 which resulted in a 28 yard pass to Brent Celek.
And here’s what happened when one of the linebackers went to cover the tight end, leaving only one linebacker in the box to guard against the run.
You could drive a truck through this hole.
So look for the Redskins to bring one safety closer to the line of scrimmage this week and play him over the tight end, which will allow the two inside linebackers to keep their attention focused on LeSean McCoy and the run game. And if the Redskins want to stand a chance against the Eagles tomorrow, then they’re going to have to do a much better job of swarming to the ball and paying much more attention to McCoy than they did in the week 1 matchup. This should open up some big opportunities in the passing game, which brings me to my second key matchup of the day…
Riley Cooper vs. Josh Wilson/David Amerson
Despite Riley Cooper’s recent emergence, Desean Jackson will still be the Redskins’ primary concern in the passing game. And with only one safety playing deep, Jackson will undoubtedly draw double coverage more often than not. This will leave Riley Cooper single covered for a good portion of the day like he has been in recent weeks. Cooper has been a key cog in the Eagles offensive explosion these past few weeks (in addition to the obvious key player in Nick Foles who has thrown 16 touchdowns and 0 interceptions so far) as defenses have been daring the Eagles to beat them by throwing to Cooper. And the Eagles and Cooper have been doing just that. In the past 5 weeks, Cooper has caught 20 passes for 462 yards (23.1 yards/catch) and 6 touchdowns and has shown that he can make teams pay when he’s left single covered.
The 6’3″ Cooper has a 6″ height advantage over the 5’9″ Josh Wilson. If Wilson is matched up against Cooper in single coverage, look for the Eagles to try to take advantage of this early and force the Redskins to make an adjustment to their defense. Because of this height difference, the Redskins may look to put 6’1″ rookie cornerback David Amerson on Riley Cooper. While he is most likely a better matchup from a physical standpoint, he’s also a rookie. And we all saw what Riley Cooper did to rookie D.J. Hayden (who was the 12th overall pick of this years draft) two weeks ago in Oakland.
It will be interesting to see what adjustments the Redskins make to try to slow down the Eagles offense, and it will be even more interesting to see what Chip Kelly comes up with to exploit their adjustments.