Nick Foles a problem for Redskins, Rob Carlin reports
What: Redskins (3-6) at Eagles (5-5)
Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet: Noon and 4 p.m. (Redskins Kickoff will be aired on CSN+)
Last season, the Redskins found themselves in a nearly identical spot after nine games. They were 3-6. They were coming off a break in the schedule. The Eagles were their next opponent. And there were no outward signs that they were primed to go on one of the more spectacular runs in recent memory.
But that’s where the similarities between last year’s game Week 11 game and Sunday’s matchup end.
A year ago, the Redskins hammered a listless Eagles’ team, 31-6, in Landover, Md. It was the Eagles' sixth straight loss en route to a miserable four-win season that ended with the firing their longtime coach, Andy Reid.
The current Eagles are anything but listless. Behind an emerging Nick Foles, they've posted back-to-back road wins over the Raiders and Packers to improve to 5-5 and move into a first place tie with Dallas atop the decidedly mediocre NFC East.
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Foles has thrown 16 touchdowns and no interceptions this season, with 10 of those strikes coming in the past two contests. The Eagles boast a multitude of other weapons such as LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher, DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper. But disrupting Foles will be job No. 1 for the Redskins.
"He's the highest rated quarterback in the National Football League," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "Nick is playing about as good as he can play."
But as much as Sunday’s game will be about stopping Foles, McCoy and Jackson, it’s also about the Redskins. They’ve had some big games on offense. They’ve had some decent games on defense. At times, they’ve even appeared competent on special teams. They just haven’t done it all in the same game—yet. And that’s why there's still a feeling of optimism inside Washington’s locker room.
“I think our guys believe they can do it again,” Haslett said this week. “I said last year at this time, I made a comment to Coach [Mike Shanahan], I said, ‘We’re going to win these next seven games and win our division.’ …Teams that are going downhill don’t practice the way we practice. Those teams are negative. We don’t have that here. We just have to go out and put a whole game together.”
Indeed, there’s still time for a turnaround. But it must begin Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field -- and the coaches and players know it.
“Everyone wants to talk about a 7-0 run and winning the division,” Robert Griffin III said. “We just know we have to take care of Sunday. That’s it. That’s all we have. Last year we played with that same amount of pressure on us and we performed. I don’t think it’s going to crush anybody.”
Here are our three keys to the game:
- The Redskins’ pass rush vs. Foles. Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and Co. racked up 15 sacks in the first four games of the season, including seven against the Raiders. In the five games since, they’ve only registered a combined total of seven. Orakpo has just one sack during that stretch, while Kerrigan has a modest 1.5. Nick Foles is completing 63.2 percent of his passes, but that number plummets to 45.2 when he’s under pressure, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
- The Redskins’ defense vs. the Eagles’ big-play offense. In the past two games, Foles has tossed six touchdown passes of 25 or more yards and three that covered 45 or more yards. That’s going to put a lot stress on a Redskins’ secondary that ranks 30th in yards per pass allowed (8.3) and 28th in passing touchdowns yielded (19). Tackling, according to Haslett, will be another point of emphasis. “They make people tackle one-on-one in space,” he said. “They use the whole field. They stretch you out. They make you play one-on-one and tackle in the passing game.”
- Washington’s game plan vs. Philly’s. When the teams met in Week 1, Chip Kelly finally pulled the covers off of his NFL version of the blur offense he implemented at Oregon. The result was 263 yards on the ground (the most Haslett’s unit has allowed all year), a 33-7 lead early in the third quarter and a Redskins’ defense that was as tired as it was disoriented. On Sunday, Kelly won’t have the element of surprise. The Redskins have had 10 games of film to study. They’ll be more prepared, having seen most of Kelly’s playbook and what other teams have done to slow the Eagles. “Overall, I think you have a better understanding of what they’re doing scheme-wise, so that will help us,” Haslett said. “I think we’ll be much better this time.”
Those are the big storylines. But here are three more items to monitor:
1—The Redskins remain relatively healthy. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall (left foot) and defensive end Stephen Bowen (right knee) were limited in practice on Thursday. But Shanahan says he expects both veterans to suit up Sunday.
2—The Eagles haven’t won a game at home since Sept. 30 …of 2012. That’s a stretch of 10 games. If the Redskins can get off to a strong start, Philly’s notoriously tough fans could make things even tougher on the home team.
3—Rookie punt/kickoff returner Nick Williams could make his debut. Signed from the practice squad this week, the generously listed 5 foot 10 Williams is fast, shifty and sees the field well. He’ll be looking to boost a return unit that 31st in kickoff returns and 30th in punt return average.