September 20, 2014 in Washington Redskins Keys to the Game
The Washington Redskins are sitting at 1-1 in a tie for 2nd place in the NFC East division, as they head up to Philadelphia to take on the first place Eagles. The Redskins can't afford to drop too far behind the Eagles this year, as it looks likely this Eagles team will put up double-digit wins. Despite being a touchdown underdog in this game, the Redskins would love to find a way to steal this game on the road. For the Redskins to upset the Eagles a lot of things need to go their way, but the most important thing is getting their ground game going.
The Redskins offense is better at running the football than it is passing and that is regardless of who is behind center and what receivers/tight ends are on the field. Alfred Morris is one of the best running backs in the league and is a true 20-25 carry a game type of workhorse. In week 1 he ran all over the Texans, and the only thing that limited him from having a great game (and possibly the Redskins getting a win) was the fact that he was limited to just 14 carries. Morris's yards per carry weren't as strong in week 2, but he still ran well versus the Jaguars who were determined to stop Morris. Despite the Jaguars best efforts Morris still came up big with two rushing touchdowns and a number of key runs early in the game before it turned into a route. It's not just Morris who makes the Redskins a better running team than passing team, as the offensive line is clearly superior in this area.
This Redskins line isn't going to make anyone forget about the Hogs from the 80's and early 90's, but they have shown themselves to be okay in the run blocking department. There will be a few mistakes, but all-in-all they do a nice job within their zone blocking scheme. They aren't as effective when asked to power block for short yardage situations, which can be problematic, but most plays they are effective. That definitely isn't the case when they are asked to pass block, when in a number of situations you will see one or more of the OL make a mistake. This of course leads to sacks, incomplete passes and in the past turnovers.
While many pundits considered the Redskins to have an explosive offense at the start of the season, there are some questions about how much that will be true going forward (their 41 point shellacking of Jacksonville notwithstanding). The Redskins will be without starting QB Robert Griffin III for this game, which impacts the Redskins big play ability. Kirk Cousins is a very good quarterback, and has a better feel in the pocket right now than RGIII, but he can't make up for Griffin's big play potential. Griffin's mobility ideally will buy time to allow for things to open up down the field. Cousins is more likely to take the safer throw or get rid of the football, rather than trying to buy time for a receiver to get open deep. Both strategies have their merits, but when it comes to trying to win by being in a shootout, Griffin has the edge.
Griffin isn't the only loss to injury the Redskins have had to suffer so far this year. Tight end Jordan Reed has already been ruled out for this game, and wide receiver DeSean Jackson is listed as questionable. Though the Redskins last week showed they have capable back-ups in Niles Paul, Andre Roberts and Ryan Grant, there is a clear down grade from Reed and Jackson. Even if Jackson is able to play, it's very likely he won't be at 100% or play as much as he would if he was healthy. The Redskins can't hope to try to throw the ball 35-45 times on the Eagles and try to win, with question marks among the Redskins receiving weapons.
The most important reason though for the Redskins to establish a strong ground game is that it's simply the best defense versus the Eagles high powered offense. The Eagles succeed by using their speed and tempo to wear down defenses and exploit inevitable mistakes. Ideally Philadelphia wants to run 70+ plays a game and if they could get that up 85 or more. In that many plays there will definitely be holes in the defense, that the offense will take advantage of. As the plays add up, the defense wears down and those mistakes will become more frequent and more costly. The Eagles do have a quick strike capability, but they really want to wear you down and win that time of possession battle. If TOP is either even or won by the Eagles, that is major advantage for Philadelphia. This is wear the running game needs to step up and carry this team.
Unless the score gets well out of hand, the Redskins need to keep up the pressure on the ground. Not only is it their strongest offensive weapon, and best chance to move the football, but it is absolutely necessary if the Redskins want to limit this Eagles offense at all. The Redskins Defense can't hope to hold up if the Eagles are allowed to dictate this game. The Eagles have shown some holes in the run defense so far, so this could be a good match-up for the Redskins and hopefully can lead to some long drives that eat the clock and end with Redskins points.