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Didinger's Eagles-Redskins scouting report

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 12:21 PM


Didinger's Eagles-Redskins scouting report

November 16, 2012, 9:00 am

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Sizing up Sunday’s game between the Eagles (3-6) and Washington Redskins (3-6) at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

When the Eagles have the ball
This isn’t a bad spot for a rookie quarterback to make his first NFL start. In fact, it is a pretty good one.

On Sunday, Nick Foles will face a Washington defense that ranks 28th overall and 30th against the pass. The Redskins have only 14 sacks (same as the Eagles), so Foles won’t have to worry about a ferocious pass rush. He has a chance to do well if he just keeps his wits about him.

The Redskins took a huge hit this season when linebacker Brian Orakpo was injured. Orakpo was their best pass rusher (nine sacks in 2011) and when they lost him along with end Adam Carriker, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett was left with a toothless bunch.

Ryan Kerrigan is the only playmaker left. He leads the team with 4.5 sacks. He also intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown, so he must be accounted for. But that is easier to do with Orakpo gone. Haslett planned for Orakpo to line up on one side and Kerrigan on the other. If teams slid their protection to block one man, the other had an easy path to the quarterback. With Orakpo out, teams can double Kerrigan.

The lack of a pass rush exposes a secondary that wasn’t very good to begin with. The Redskins give up a ton of big plays: 17 completions of 40-plus yards. They also have allowed 20 touchdowns through the air, tied for most in the league with Tennessee.

All of this is good news for Foles who had his moments -- good and bad -- after replacing Mike Vick on Sunday. He completed 22 of 32 passes, including the 44-yard touchdown to Jeremy Maclin. He also made mistakes (one interception, one fumble), which led to two defensive touchdowns in the 38-23 loss to Dallas.

Foles should be better Sunday after a full week of practice with the starters. He is operating behind a terrible line, which has some folks predicting dire things for the rookie, but he gets rid of the ball quicker than Vick and that combined with the Redskins’ feeble pass rush should allow him to run the offense well enough.

Reid won’t change things very much. We won’t see any quarterback draws, but otherwise it will be the same offense. Don’t expect Reid and Marty Mornhinweg to lean more on the running game; that’s not what they do. You saw what happened Sunday when Foles came in -- they still called pass after pass. It will be the same approach in Washington. When Reid and Mornhinweg see a lousy pass defense -- and the Redskins qualify -- they attack it.

With Foles at quarterback, the receivers will have to adjust to the ball getting on them a lot quicker. You saw it Sunday on the very first pass, which hit Jason Avant in the face. Foles is more of a timing passer than Vick, so receivers must be looking for the ball when they come out of their break.

When the Redskins have the ball
The Redskins’ offense was hot early in the season, averaging more than 30 points in the first three games. But since a 38-26 win over Minnesota in Week 6, the Redskins have dropped three games in a row and the offense was shut down in losses to Pittsburgh (12 points) and Carolina (13).

Some have suggested quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris hit the “rookie wall.” In other words, the long season and the pounding have taken their toll. There could be something to it, although the rookie wall usually doesn’t become a factor until after Thanksgiving.

It is more likely the rest of the league now has seen the Redskins’ offense and studied the tape on Griffin and Morris and the trickery that fooled teams early in the season isn’t fooling them now. That’s the way it works in the NFL.

If you saw the Redskins in September, they were different and exciting. They ran the read-option with Griffin either handing the ball to Morris or keeping it himself depending on what the defense did. If the end and linebacker went for Morris, Griffin would keep the ball and turn the corner.

It was a dynamic offense: RG3 threatening the outside while the 5-10, 220-pound Morris ran between the tackles. Mike Shanahan put some neat twists on it, having a receiver line up in the backfield as a triple option. He ran reverses with RG3 going right and pitching it to a receiver coming the other way. The idea was to make a defense play the full width of the field.

Shanahan worked his passing game off the option. RG3 would fake a handoff and then drop back to pass. The defense had to respect the run threat, which slowed the pass rush and spread out the coverage. RG3 completed 70.4 percent of his pass attempts through six games.

It is the same offense RG3 ran at Baylor, so unlike most rookie quarterbacks, he was fully comfortable from Day One. But defenses have caught on to some of the tricks. They are getting pressure on RG3 (he has been sacked 20 times) and the Redskins are converting just 28 percent of their third down plays to rank 31st in that department.

Part of the problem is the loss of tight end Fred Davis, who was Griffin’s favorite target. Without Davis, the receiver corps is weak. There were officially 10 dropped passes in the loss to Pittsburgh and Leonard Hankerson (who had two costly drops) was benched in favor of Aldrick Robinson.

Santana Moss (five touchdowns) is the best of the Washington receivers, but he isn’t the threat he once was. Josh Morgan leads the team with 29 receptions, but he is averaging a mere 10.7 yards per catch with no touchdowns.

Morris, a sixth-round pick from Florida Atlantic, is a real find. He is seventh among the league’s rushers with 793 yards, a 4.8-yard average. He ran a slow 40-yard dash at the combine (4.67 seconds), which caused him to slip in the draft but he runs hard and finds cutback lanes in the zone blocking. He is similar to backs Shanahan had success with in Denver such as Terrell Davis, Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary.

Special teams
Just when you thought the Eagles’ special teams couldn’t get any worse, they hit new depths against Dallas, allowing Dwayne Harris to return a punt 78 yards for a touchdown. Also, kicker Alex Henery missed an extra point that would have cut the Cowboy lead to seven in the closing minutes. The kicking game is a mess, top to bottom.

The Redskins aren’t much better. Brandon Banks is 20th on kickoff returns (24.6 yard average) and 24th on punt returns (6.2). Punter Sav Rocca is having another mediocre year (37.1 yard net). The team did improve its placekicking by signing Kai Forbath, who is 8 for 8 on field goals. Billy Cundiff was 7 for 12 before he was released.

The Redskins had a great home-field advantage at RFK Stadium, but it is a different story at FedEx Field. The fact that the team was good back then and not so good now has a lot to do with it but the difference is pretty amazing.

The Redskins are 1-9 in their last 10 home games, 1-3 this season with a win over the Vikings and losses to Cincinnati (38-31), Atlanta (24-17) and Carolina (21-13). The Eagles have won five of their last six games at FedEx Field. They are 10-5 at FedEx Field overall.

Shanahan caused a stir with his comments after the Carolina loss. He suggested the season was over for the Redskins and it was time to “find out what kind of character we’ve got.” He later said his comments were “misunderstood,” but it was not a happy bye week at Redskin Park.

The Redskins aren’t very good and they certainly aren’t good at home, but against a poor-tackling team like the Eagles, RG3 should have a field day.

Redskins 24, Eagles 14

E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net.