Before the Redskins take on the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, Redskins.com's Jake Kring-Schreifels and Dante Koplowitz-Fleming provide the storylines and matchups to follow on Monday.
1. Tackle better
Look at some of the most explosive plays made against the Redskins the last few weeks, and the common thread is missed tackles and missed assignments.
It was extremely apparent in last Thursday's game against the Cowboys, in which the Redskins missed seven tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. During the second of wide receiver Amari Cooper's touchdown catch and runs, the Redskins had multiple hats around him over the middle of the field and, without the proper leverage, didn't bring him to the ground. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said Thursday some of those problems come before the play reaches the secondary.
"There's always lessons, like sometimes the post safety and the angles they come out of the post safety, or guys that missed tackles, but we have to get them on the ground," Manusky said. "That's the biggest thing is all the great defenses that I've been around, it's usually they could get them down right now. The YAC yardage is not as much and that's what we didn't do. That's very important, when you play a game of football, is tackling. We have to do a better job tackling. We're practicing it on the field and we have to do a better job on Monday night."
In the last three games, in which Washington has allowed more than 100 net yards rushing, it's missed 24 combined tackles, including 14 against the Buccaneers. Run defense in particular had been a strength of this Redskin team, but too often in recent weeks, opponents have found large gaps to run through due to unplugged gaps or mistimed blitzes.
"A couple times there were a couple missed fits that we had and it's very important to have the post safety making those plays," Manusky said. "One time we didn't have that support system in there and they ended up scoring – which we don't like – but we have to fix that."
While the Eagles don't have running back Jay Ajayi on the roster due to injury, his backups Josh Adams and Corey Clement have been a nice pair for Philadelphia, recently totaling more than 120 yards together in the Eagles' victory over the Giants.
The most effective way to slow down quarterback Carson Wentz and the pass game from using play action and more explosive plays is to shut them down, turn the Eagles one-dimensional and get off the field on third down better than they did on Thanksgiving.
"We have to buckle down up front, get on the outside, set a good edge across the board and have those inside linebackers filling those gaps the way they're supposed to," Manusky said. "We'll be back on track."
Take advantage of the Eagles secondary
The Eagles have been hit hard by injuries to their secondary this season. Starting cornerback Ronald Darby is on IR, other starting corner Jalen Mills has missed three games. Corners Rasul Douglas and Sydney Jones have missed three and four games, respectively, but both have practiced in full this week and should be back. Opposite Malcolm Jenkins, the Eagles have started four different safeties due to injury.
And in an unsurprising turn of events the Eagles backup defensive backs have struggled this season. Those injuries have been a deciding factor in their defensive drop-off from fourth in points per drive allowed to 19th, per Football Outsiders. Last week against the Giants the Eagles gave up 19 points and 346 yards in the first half.
The Eagles three starting corners last week have given up 17 receptions on 22 targets for 299 yards and a touchdown on the season. The group presents a prime opportunity for Colt McCoy to get settled into his new role as starting quarterback. McCoy had a tough time last week against the Cowboys with a three-interception game, but he has told reporters that he intends to keep going downfield. It will be a matchup of backups to watch on Monday.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said their first half issues were directly related to having players in key positions who were filling in for starters.
"The biggest thing is we were just having so many new guys on the field and we were having some issues with communication and execution and we just simplified some things," Schwartz said.
It would be remiss not to mention the Eagles only allowed three points and 56 yards in the second half, in which the Giants inexplicably went away from Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr., who had both been effective in the first half.
So, Washington should find their playmakers and stick with them Monday night in order to exploit Philadelphia's backup defensive backs, like New York did during the first half.
Get Chris Thompson going
When you look at ways to maximize an offense that's being run by a backup quarterback, near the top of that list has to include getting the ball to your playmakers. Having weapons on offense that can turn short dump off passes, or runs, into explosive plays takes the burden off of the quarterback.
So, getting Chris Thompson back, and getting him going, could propel a struggling Redskins offense right into the end zone. Colt McCoy could surely use some help from his injury-plagued offense, and Thompson's ability to turn draw plays into first downs and screen passes into touchdowns could be the difference-maker in Washington's Monday night journey to Philadelphia.
The Eagles have had their own tackling problems this season, especially with their new crop of fill-in corners. In their Week 12 game against the Giants, the Eagles starting corners combined for six missed tackles per Pro Football Focus. Those missed tackles showed up on outside runs and short passes to running backs in the flats, plays that are Thompson's bread and butter.
Six of Thompson's 26 rushes have gone for 10-plus yards, according to PFF. Couple that with his ability to turn nearly any reception into a huge gain, as he showcased last year during his 10-game tear before going down with an injury, and Thompson has a premium matchup this week.
Thompson has broken 11 tackles on 54 touches per Football Outsiders. A 20.4 percent broken tackle rate is respectful, but sits below his 28.2 percent broken tackle rate from last year. A healthy Thompson has one of the highest ceilings on the team, and Monday is his first opportunity to get back to making defenders miss and creating yards.
"He's got natural quickness really and he's a tough kid. We try to get him in positions where we can get him out in space and make some plays and he very seldom drops the ball," Head coach Jay Gruden said. "I can't remember the last time he had a drop. He's got great hands, runs great routes, creates separation with his quickness and then after the catch. He's a special guy."
Thompson told reporters on Monday that he's ready to get back to being a special player on the field, and the six-year pro thinks he'll fit back into the Redskins backfield nicely.
"I really believe that I can go back and make an impact with the group of running backs that we've already got here," Thompson said. "You know, we're dealing with a new starting quarterback right now at this time so I think [he] would feel comfortable having a little more veteran leadership adding to him out there."