Can the Redskins offensive line protect QB Robert Griffin III enough to beat the Eagles? Getty Images
Through the first nine weeks of the season, the
Washington Redskins have dug the grave for their own playoff hopes. The funeral
date is almost set — the Skins could make the post-season with perhaps one more
loss, but that's a major "perhaps." Each week for the remainder of the season,
the message to the team is simple: Win.
The "must-win" portion of the season begins today
at home against the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that spent lavishly on free
agents before last season, but which has disappointed fans with poor play. This
season, they've been undone primarily by a bad offense — a surprising
development considering they're led by offensive mastermind Andy Reid.
The offense has been hamstrung by poor play from
quarterback Michael Vick, but Vick is sidelined this week with a concussion.
Now maybe the Eagles will be handicapped by rookie QB Nick Foles.
In the "hey how 'bout that" category is this: in
each of the previous two seasons, Washington has emerged from the bye week for
a home game against Philly. The Skins lost both.
Here's what I'll be watching for in today's game:
Release the Hounds — The Eagles have been
playing a patchwork offensive line all season, and they've mostly been
unsuccessful. They were overwhelmed by a good Cowboys defense last week (3
sacks, 4 QB hits, 8 hurries). The Philly coaching staff has responded by
reshuffling the line. Left tackle Demetress Bell is heading to the bench, they're
moving the right tackle to the left side (where he's struggled), bringing back
a right guard (who didn't play well as a starter), and moving a right guard
(who played poorly at guard) to tackle. Got all that? Washington's best
strategy against a rookie making his first pro start would seem to be hitting
Foles early and often. Hopefully the Skins can rattle the rookie and buy some
coverage help for their weak secondary.
Back in the Lineup Again — Washington's prize
free agent acquisition was wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who played a terrific
first quarter of the first game, and then...hurt his foot and has been out of the
lineup since. This week there was so much talk about his plantar injury, it
felt like talking about the Wizards and their plantar injury epidemic. Garcon
is going to try to play. Hopefully, Garcon can provide some big play threat —
Washington desperately needs someone in the receiving corps to step up and give
him a reliable target who can threaten the defense.
Exploit the Secondary — The Eagles have some
names in the secondary, but they've actually been weak in coverage. Not
Redskins weak, but still. Their play is characterized by poor coverage and
shoddy tackling, even Nnamdi Asomugha, who has been considered one of the game's
best cornerbacks. There should be opportunities for Washington's receivers to
make plays against Philly — if they can hang onto the football. Skins receivers
have 15 drops so far this year.
Protect the Rookie — Rookie QB Robert Griffin
III has displayed his otherworldly ability. I'd like to see him given the
opportunity to throw downfield more frequently, which I suspect will happen
more often the rest of the way. His ability to extend plays is unrivaled, but
it would be nice if he could have time to maintain focus downfield instead of
escaping pass rushers. There's no bigger pass-blocking culprit than right
tackle Tyler Polumbus. The Skins had hoped that Jamaal Brown might be ready to
take some playing time this week, but he had a "setback" so Washington will
still have to rely on the guy they signed as a street free agent late last
season. Polumbus opened the season as an abject disaster in pass protection,
improved for a few weeks, and then went back to "abject disaster." Against
Carolina, Polumbus allowed 3 sackes and 8 QB hurries. There will be
opportunities to make big plays against a middling Philly defense — if Griffin
can stay upright long enough to make them.
What Will He Think of Next? — Offensive
coordinator Kyle Shanahan has prepared a succession of imaginative offense sets
and game plans. The Skins are running the same types of plays, but doing it
with an array of formations and looks that make the defense think. Their
ability to threaten with the run helps Griffin because play-action and
backfield "trickeration" freezes linebackers and safeties. I'd like to see that
creativity continue, although I want fewer designed runs and more downfield
passing opportunities for Griffin.
Make it Work — While Kyle Shanhan's varied
offensive looks have been successful, that spirit hasn't seemed to help much on
the defensive side of the ball. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has seemed to
try nearly every defensive strategy — from high-risk blitzes to
ultra-conservative coverages and all sorts of stuff in between. Nothing has
worked. Going against a rookie QB and an offense that has struggled all season,
Haslett and the defense needs to come up with something. Maybe Haslett could bring in the o-coordinator as a consultant.
Let's see, it's a must-win home game coming off a
bye week against a beleaguered opponent without its starting QB. Gotta figure
Washington finds a way to lose this one. In my thinking, both offenses are likely to move the ball and generate points. Ultimately, I suspect that Washington will succumb to Philadelphia's superior play-makers at WR and their inability to protect Griffin in key moments.
Philadelphia Eagles — 31
Washington Redskins — 27
Hopefully this prediction will be like most of my
other game prognostications this season: Wrong.