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In Thursday's key matchup, we take a look at the Redskins' key battle with the Eagles in Philadelphia.
Eagles QB Nick Foles vs. Redskins pass defense
The last time these teams met, it was Foles’ first NFL start, a week after he had replaced an injured Michael Vick against the Cowboys. Foles was rocky against the Redskins back in Week 11, leading the Eagles to a mere two field goals against a defense that had been allowing nearly 28 points per game at that point. He completed 21-of-46 passes for 204 yards with two interceptions, taking four sacks.
Foles struggled, sure, but the offensive design and game plan were weak. It was too heavily shotgun-based (41 of 71 offensive snaps), predictable by formation and spot on the field (the Redskins sniffed out the opening deep pass) and the extremely limited run game (most often left, most often out of the shotgun).
The Redskins pressured well and did so primarily with four-man rushes (three of the four sacks came when four rushed). It prevented most of the deep routes from developing and put them in longer to-go situations, which helped minimize the run effect. There’s no other way to say it than to point out how bad the Eagles’ offensive line was that day. The Redskins also did a good job of sniffing out screens late in the game.
But a few things have changed since then. Although DeSean Jackson is now out for the season and the offensive line has taken more injury hits, LeSean McCoy is back after missing every game since he was concussed against the Redskins. It had been the Bryce Brown show since then, and though the rookie had his moments, fumbling was his major undoing. The Redskins also will not have S Brandon Meriweather, who had an interception in that previous matchup (his only game this season) before suffering a knee injury that landed him on I.R.
The Eagles have changed their run game since then, with less shotgun running, but it will be interesting to see what the effect of McCoy’s return will be. Foles has been less jittery since the first matchup, and one of the reasons has been because a stronger run game has slowed down opponents’ rushes.
Last week against the Browns, the Redskins played nearly as well as they had in the first Philadelphia matchup, save for one blown coverage by dime CB D.J. Johnson. CB Josh Wilson was beat deep early (although Browns QB Brandon Weeden overthrew his receiver) but otherwise played a good game, jamming receivers well at the line. Expect him to get physical with Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin, who has been slowed by a bad back, if they are matched up. CB DeAngelo Hall has been slowed with injuries lately, but the Eagles lack blazers whom Hall will have to turn and run with. He also has been used effectlvely (including in Week 11) as a blitzer.
The mode of success for the Redskins has been to force more 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations to get them into more blitz-friendly downs. The Browns had a few big first-down gains early but totaled only 40 yards on 17 of their 23 first-down plays. That’s exactly what the Redskins want to do against the Eagles: stuff or contain runs, force incomplete passes and make it 3rd-and-8.
Foles’ footwork in the pocket has been very good. He has felt the rush well, not bailed too early in recent games and has gone through his progressions, showing a skill to extend plays. If he can manipulate S Madieu Williams with his eyes — as so many quarterbacks have done this season — Foles might be able to hit for a few big plays down the middle.
Foles should be better equipped to handle the Redskins in this matchup, and the Eagles' coaches surely will do a better job now that they have put together five game plans for him. Look for the Redskins to come out with blitzes and personnel packages he hasn’t seen yet and try to fool him with unpredictable coverages and pressures.