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Behind Enemy Lines With Philly Team Writer


Earlier this week,'s Brian Tinsman caught up with Philadelphia Eagles team beat writer Chris McPherson on the Week 11 matchup between the two teams. How have the Eagles changed? What should the Redskins expect? Get the full scoop below.

Brian Tinsman: Now that the Redskins boast a healthy Robert Griffin III, how do you expect the Eagles defense to change their look?

Chris McPherson: "From Pierre Garçon on the outside and tight end Jordan Reed inside, the Redskins really combine the best of what the Eagles have seen from their last two opponents. In Oakland they had [quarterback] Terrell Prior who was a big, physical quarterback who could run with the football, we are going to see that with Robert Griffin III. The Packers were a power, downfield rushing attack, which the Redskins run as well.

"The Redskins are very good at creating misdirection. It's going interesting to see how aggressive he is, especially if he doesn't have [linebacker] Mychal Kendricks, who spied Terrelle Pryor in the game against Oakland a couple of weeks ago. If he is not able to go, you are going to see linebacker Najee Goode play alongside linebacker DeMeco Ryans.

"It's going to be interesting to see how aggressive Davis will be knowing that Robert Griffin III is much more mobile and not afraid to take chances with his legs or with his arm throwing into tight spots. It's something you didn't see in Week 1, when he was hesitant, when he was really a sitting duck in the pocket because he was just getting used to playing on that injured knee.

"I think Bill Davis, overall, has picked his spots this season where he has been aggressive. The Eagles have done a much better job overall of tackling, which really sounds boring and fundamental, but it's something they have stressed each and every day in practice.

"They have done a very good job of limiting teams from yards after the catch. They're making teams work their way down the field in order to be able to score. The more plays you force an offense to make, the better a chance you might force a mistake."

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Tinsman: Obviously Michael Vick and Nick Foles present very different skillsets at the quarterback position. How have you seen the offense change with Foles at the helm?

McPherson: "I think the biggest thing obviously when defenses had to prepare Vick, there was always the running element. London Fletcher actually said on a conference call, when Nick Foles has a rushing opportunity he might get 10 yards and that would be a good gain but with Vick, who is the all time leading rusher amongst quarterback in NFL history, that's 20 yards, 40 yards, 60 yards.

"Certainly the Redskins have seen that in the past, but Chip Kelly has not gone completely away from the zone-read option. The biggest thing with Nick Foles is that, certainly he doesn't have the dynamic rushing ability Vick has, but what Foles does a very good job of doing is moving around the pocket. He does a good job of having a presence of where the rush is coming from. He makes some very smart decisions, looking at the field, the matchups, the numbers.

"Chip Kelly's offense comes down to simple math; how many people are in the box vs. how many people are they using to defend the pass? If the numbers line up where there are more people on the offensive line to attack the rushing defense, he's going to hand off the football and vise versa.

"The biggest thing with Nick Foles is that he's making very smart decisions, running the offense very efficiently and there is still elements of the read option when Vick was in place it's just different because Nick Foles is beating people more so with his arm than his legs."

Tinsman: Perhaps the most profound stat since taking over the offense this season is the ball security Nick Foles has shown. That was an issue last year—what's different this year?

McPherson: "Nick Foles has done a very good job of making smart decisions and has not thrown an interception yet this season. Right now, he has 16 touchdown passes against zero interceptions on the season and the fumble last week against Green Bay was his first turnover, period, of the entire season.

"I don't think there is anything that they stress with him, I just think he is very, very good at taking care of the football. He knows when to get rid of the football, when it's not there and overall has done a good job in that department.

"The 16 touchdowns to zero interceptions is tied for second in NFL history for the most touchdowns before throwing an interception to starting the season. Peyton Manning, with 20, is the all-time leader, which he set earlier this season.

Tinsman: You have the NFL's top running back in LeSean McCoy. Have you seen his usage or production change with Foles under center?

McPherson: "More single back sets with the quarterback coming out from under center, where as Chip Kelly would typically have everything come out of the shotgun and nothing coming from under center. Also, sending McCoy in motion to try and confuse the defense and create some more favorable matchups; just different ways to try and get McCoy in space.

"That's the biggest part of Chip Kelly's offense is to get his playmakers in space. With the zone-read, they're trying to get those big rushing lanes and be able to use LeSean McCoy and his quick cutting ability so he's one-on-one with a defender. Nine times out of ten, McCoy is going to be able to win that matchup because there are very few [defenders] with that quick cutting speed that LeSean McCoy boasts.

"Surely, there has been a difference in terms of going from Vick to Foles, but I think it's just play from the quarterback position overall. You look at a couple weeks ago against Dallas where Nick Foles struggled mightily. Nothing was going right for the Eagles offense, they couldn't get to tempo, they couldn't get in a rhythm and there was no way McCoy could get going because the passing game was ineffective.

"Against the Giants a few weeks ago, it was the same situation at the quarterback position, not getting good quarterback play, Vick reinjuring his hamstring, Nick Foles out with a concussion. Matt Barkley struggled playing in just the second game of his career. The Giants were able to swarm in on McCoy and take him out of the game.

"If you look at a couple of starts that Foles had where McCoy has had success, going over 100 yards, go back to Tampa Bay, go back to last Sunday's win over the Raiders and it's basically that Nick Foles was able to beat teams over the top. Foles has the ability to beat teams with his arm when teams bring more defenders. It's just going to open things up for McCoy because you have to respect both the pass and run elements of the game."

Tinsman: In a bizarre streak for a successful team, the Eagles are winless in their last 10 home games. How much of a storyline has that become in Philly?

McPherson: "Its been a much-discussed topic because of the media in the locker room this week. Players seem to indicate they don't talk about it amongst themselves, but certainly they know that it's out there. There really hasn't been any rhyme or reason why they have not been able to win since Sept. 30, 2012 at Lincoln Financial Field.

"The team hasn't been very good overall in that timeframe. You go back to 2012 and they finished the year 4-12; in fact they only won one game overall after that last game at home. This year, they've gotten back to .500 with a couple of wins on the road, but those last two losses, the back-to-back home losses came once again as a result of the struggles of the quarterback position.

"With any team, if your not getting good quarterback play, and the Redskins saw this earlier this season, you're not going to have a hard time winning no matter how good the rest of your team is. Right now, the Eagles are playing the best football of the season, the stars are aligned sort of speak to an end of the streak of home losses.

"I think it's just a combination of the team has struggled in certain spots from a week-to-week basis. In terms of preparation, in terms of whether they are changing any of the habits, the schedules, no. The schedules remain the same; they stay in a hotel a day before a home game the same way they do it a day before an away game. They try to keep the schedule overall as similar as possible because football players are creatures of habit and they don't want to get out of routine.

"The joke made earlier this week was, do the fans need to dress in burgundy and boo the team the entire game and try to create and away atmosphere? That's one possible solution: make it feel like it's a road game.

They're hoping that it comes to fruition this Sunday. It's just a very, very odd streak, a very frustrating streak for the organization because of the great fan base. The place sells out each and every single game and that's disappointing for them because they can see what the team can do on the road, winning five-of-six games. Then they are excited to see them play in a packed atmosphere and they're disappointed, they're going home disappointed.

Tinsman: Thanks in part to the quick-strike offense, the Eagles rank near the bottom of the league in time of possession, averaging 25:10 per game. That's a lot of extra minutes and drives for the defense to defend. Are you starting to see any signs of wearing down on that side of the ball?

McPherson: "I don't think the defense is wearing down. I don't think it has affected them to this point. One of the things they have done to compensate is rotate the defensive line heavily. The Eagles recently traded their veteran nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga to the Patriots because of the depth of young talent they have up front.

"Led by former first-round pick [linebacker] Fletcher Cox, second-year defensive end Cedric Thornton, who is a former rookie free agent, spent his first year with the team on the practice squad before getting a chance to play on the team last season. He has been named, constantly as the team's best defensive player overall through the course of the season. This year's third round pick Bennie Logan who has stepped in at the starting nose tackle spot and has been playing very, very well the past two weeks. Those three guys up front lead a young group that they rotate heavily to keep them fresh throughout the course of the game.

"There are some injuries that the Eagles are dealing with right now, linebacker Mychal Kendricks who starts inside along with DeMeco Ryans, safety Earl Wolff a rookie fifth round pick who has played a lot because of injuries to Patrick Chung so those are players to keep an eye out for.

"Overall, I think the way they are able to rotate defensive players helps keep them fresh throughout the course of a game. In terms of the numbers and production, yes they have given up a lot of yards but you look at the points allowed, ever since their Sept. 30th game against the Denver Broncos, no team has scored more than 21 points. It's been six straight games where its been 21 points or fewer.

"One of the big reasons is they have become very, very stingy in the red zone. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said that he has simplified the playbook. He has gotten much more accustomed to his players who are converting again to a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme. He has become much more in tune with what they like, what they're good at and has allowed the players to just play free and allowed them to go out there and make plays.

I think between the youth on defense, the way they are all being utilized, the way they have been playing in the red zone and just an overall mentality of bend but don't break has worked really well for the defense."




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