The Washington Redskins’ 2013 season didn’t get off to the start that they envisioned, and now the team must quickly regroup and prepare for Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers.
If you missed the game and just saw the final score and statistical breakdowns, you’ll think that this game was very much a shootout. But in reality, it wasn’t. It was a much more lopsided affair than numbers indicate.
For the better part of three quarters, the Eagles moved the ball at will, and Washington’s offense couldn’t get out of its own way. By halftime, the Eagles had already gained more than 300 yards while the Redskins had only three first downs. Philadelphia’s offense slowed things down from the second half of the third quarter on, and their defense went into prevent mode, allowing the Redskins to get back into the game.
Here are five observations from this game.
1) Befuddled defense The Redskins entered the week expressing confidence that they would be able to handle whatever the Eagles threw their way, and they pointed to their success against Buffalo in Week 3 of the preaseason and believed that served as a good indication of what they could expect. But there’s a big difference between Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy and the limited talent the Bills have to work with. The Redskins looked like a defense that at times had no idea what was coming, and other times did appear to have an idea but lacked the decisiveness needed to make stops. Part of the overall struggles can be attributed to what the Eagles’ offense forces a defense to do. They spread you out, taking defenders out of the box, and that leads to tractor trailer-size running lanes. Couple that with the uncertainty caused by the zone-read looks the Eagles gave the Redskins, and how Philadelphia was able to run passing and rushing plays out of the same formations, and you had an off-balance Redskins defense that found itself guessing for much of the first three quarters. Because of that, rushing yards were easier to come by for the Eagles, receivers ran free in the secondary and Washington quickly found itself in a sizable hole. “When a team gets up, it’s kind of hard to determine run-pass. They had us off-balance all game,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “There were a couple times where we thought it was one thing and it turned out being something else. I didn’t think that offense would be like that. I didn’t think they’d be able to jump on us like that. But that offense, they had us at bay the better part of the game.” The Redskins did get a better feel for things in the second half. They started leaving more defenders in the box, and that helped them limit Philadelphia’s big plays. The Packers run a much different offense, so the same strategic challenges won’t present themselves on Sunday, but the Redskins have to be more disciplined in the tackling department.
2) Ball security, time of possession The offense didn’t do the defense any favors by turning over the ball twice in the first two series and then giving up a safety on the third and having to give the ball right back to the Eagles. At one point, the Eagles had run 19 plays to the Redskins’ three. Had Alfred Morris not fumbled, and then secured the pitch from Robert Griffin in the end zone, maybe the Redskins could have strung together a couple of possessions to help their defense stay fresher, and also keep the Eagles offense off the field. What happens if even one of those turnovers is eliminated? But the turnovers weren’t the only problems with the Redskins’ offense. There were a number of times when all but one player would make his block, and the one missed assignment foiled a play. There were other times where the Eagles gave the Redskins looks they weren’t expecting, sending two defenders up the middle on a delay, and there was no one in place to pick up the second blitzer. The Redskins simply were unable to give themselves a chance to produce, and could only watch from the sideline as the Eagles ran up and down the field. Philadelphia Coach Chip Kelly said this week that in his mind, if your team can run more offensive plays than the other team, you’ll win, and that’s just what the Eagles did.
3) Griffin’s return Despite Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan and Robert Griffin III’s insistence that the quarterback wouldn’t have a lot of rust in his first game action since Jan. 6, Griffin did appear to encounter some timing, rhythm, feel and confidence issues Monday night. Even after the game, Griffin didn’t want to admit he was rusty, because he said that was just an excuse and that he had simply played poorly. But the truth is, game speed is significantly faster than practice speed, and because of that, Griffin had a number of passes behind or out of the reach of his receivers. He uncharacteristically forced a pass to Santana Moss, who was in triple coverage, and that resulted in an interception. The pitch that Morris wound up fumbling was a little wide, and Griffin said afterwards that he had erred on both of those plays. (The second interception was more of a credit to Carey Williams, who made a leaping grab just before the ball reached Pierre Garcon. Could Garcon have come back and got the ball? Not likely. His momentum was taking him the other way. Williams flew through the air Superman style the play and picked off the pass.) A number of people started crowing that Griffin wasn’t ready, that he shouldn’t have been on the field. His issues in the first 2-1/2 quarters weren’t health-related, however. He just looked like a guy who hadn’t played in eight months. Mike Shanahan said he would have Griffin as prepared as possible through practice reps, but the coach undoubtedly knew that there would be some ugliness to work through. And that’s what Griffin did. Kyle Shanahan scrapped his original game plan and went with a drop-back passing attack, and things started to click for Griffin. It started on a second-and-10 play from the 35 where Griffin began to take off scrambling to his right, and then pulled up having spotted tight end Jordan Reed, and completed an 11-yard pass. From that point on, the offense started clicking. That drive ended in a missed field goal by Kai Forbath, but the Redskins went on to score three more touchdowns down the rest of the game. The Eagles’ defense had gone into prevent mode by the fourth quarter, so that helped some. But Griffin and his receivers did click better. Griffin obviously was upset with the loss, and he didn’t want to use rust as an excuse, but he came away from the game with something to hang his hat on. Now we’ll see how he comes out in Week 2.
4) Meriweather’s absence The Redskins strong safety situation remains a problem. Once again, Brandon Meriweather was unable to play, making it now 16 of the 17 games that he has been with the team. Would Meriweather have helped Washington’s defense against the Eagles? It’s hard to say just because of the fact that he hasn’t played in so long. But, he would’ve been in his natural position, unlike E.J. Biggers, who played nearly the entire game at strong safety despite having never played safety in the NFL. Meriweather if healthy has big-hit, big-play ability, and the Redskins definitely needed someone flying around and making hits. There were a number of plays where Biggers and/or Rambo missed on open-field tackles. Meriweather, if healthy, might have made those, maybe. The guy that we saw in the preseason finale in Tampa who looked tentative against the run might not have. But maybe Meriweather would have worked his way back into the flow Monday night and helped out.
5) Time to regroup Maybe it’s a good thing the Redskins have a short week and must quickly turn their attention to the next assignment. This week, their defense will face a conventional offense, although it is one led by one of the best in Aaron Rodgers. The offense will face a defense that is nearly identical to its own. The line repeated often in the locker room Monday night went along the lines of, “We just need to learn from our mistakes and get better.” The Redskins need to do so quickly. It’ll be hard to win at Green Bay, but an 0-2 start isn’t the way anyone wants to open the season, and the week after that, another potent offense, featuring Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson, comes to town, and that certainly could cause more problems for Washington’s struggling secondary.
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesday.
The Redskins do not practice on Tuesday, but with the quick turnaround for Sunday at Green Bay and a battle of 0-1 teams with high expectations hoping to avoid 0-2, Alfred Morris and Mike Shanahan will speak with reporters in the afternoon.
Mike Jones’s mailbag.
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