Redskins.com's Andrew Walker breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Saturday's Redskins-Eagles 2014 Week 16 showdown at FedExField.
"Redskins-Eagles: 4 Keys To The Game" is presented by Papa John's. Every Monday, fans can order a large cheese pizza for only $9.99, plus for each touchdown that the Redskins score, fans get one free topping. And with a Redskins victory, fans get double the toppings.
GRIFFIN III'S GRIT[
If you are a Redskins fan, you probably couldn't help but be excited with the way quarterback Robert Griffin III played in the first half of last week's game against the New York Giants.
Entering the game in the first quarter to relieve then-starter Colt McCoy – who wouldn't return after re-aggravating an injury to his neck – Griffin III completed 9-of-15 first-half passes for 140 yards and a nine-yard touchdown to running back Chris Thompson. The Redskins were also 3-for-7 on third downs in the first half against the Giants, showing a marked improvement in that area over recent games.
Griffin III was decisive and confident, as the Redskins saw nine different players catch passes in the first half. Then there was the play at the end of the first half that reminded many of the Griffin III that took the league by storm in 2012.
With eight seconds remaining in the second quarter, Griffin III and the Redskins faced a 3rd and Goal from the eight-yard line. Griffin III dropped back, and was flushed out of the pocket to his right and turned on the burners, racing the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul to the pylon. Griffin III, doing his best Superman impression, dove from the four-yard line and was able to get into the end zone for the score. Yes, the officials reviewed the play and determined Griffin III had fumbled the ball in mid-air, recovered, but did not maintain possession to the ground – wiping out the touchdown – but it was an impressive play by Griffin III, nonetheless.
On Saturday against the Eagles, Griffin III looks to re-gain that same confidence, and then apply it to the second half, as well. In the third and fourth quarters last Sunday, the Redskins would convert just 1-of-7 third-down opportunities and saw Griffin III sacked five times, as the Giants pulled away for a 24-13 win.
If Griffin III can be a little more consistent overall on Saturday – and get better overall protection – then the Eagles could have a little battle on their hands.
KEEP UP THE PACE
By now, it's crystal clear that Eagles head coach Chip Kelly likes an offense that can move at a quick pace.
Check out the top images from Washington Redskins' practice on Dec. 18, 2014, at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
When at its best, Philadelphia's offense is fast, efficient, void of major mistakes – and penalties – and can make a quarterback look really, really good.
The Redskins' defense knows it must keep up if it stands a chance on Saturday.
"The biggest thing is just being able to align and assign, do your job, know the play and not get caught up in what they want and get guys out of position and what not," rookie outside linebacker Trent Murphy said. "I played Chip Kelly when he was at Oregon in college, so I have a lot of experience there, but really you just got to focus on your assignment, do your job and it shuts it down."
Of late, however, the Eagles' fast-paced offense has, in a way, been a detriment to its defense. The past couple weeks, Philadelphia has had possession of the ball for about an average of 18 minutes a game, leaving its defense out on the field for about 42 minutes a contest.
Their record in their last two games? 0-2. Coincidence? Maybe; maybe not.
Nevertheless, the Redskins are going to be on their toes on Saturday.
"They do a lot of 'trick you with their play fakes and all of their misdirection screens' and stuff like that," second-year cornerback David Amerson said. "So you definitely got to be locked in to what you're doing and what's going on, get the call, and you got to move a little bit more up the beat, be ready faster than usual."
The Washington Redskins saw Nick Foles turn in a terrific performance against them Week 3 at Lincoln Financial Field, as the Arizona product completed 27-of-41 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns to zero interceptions in Philadelphia's 37-34 win.
But on Saturday, Washington won't get a chance at redemption against Foles, as he will sit out again with a broken collarbone he suffered Nov. 2 against the Houston Texans.
In his place, veteran Mark Sanchez will get his sixth-straight start for the Eagles. Sanchez – who had spent the first five seasons of his career with the New York Jets – has played in seven total games so far in 2014, completing 138-of-223 passes (61.9 percent) for 1,752 yards with 10 touchdowns to nine interceptions.
Sanchez has been anything but consistent for the Eagles in relief of Foles. He's been brilliant – 332 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers; 217 yards and a touchdown in a 33-10 win over the Cowboys – but he's also had his struggles, including throwing two interceptions in four of the seven games in which he's appeared. He's also fumbled six times, losing two of them.
In other words, Sanchez will give the opposition the opportunity to take the ball multiple times throughout the course of a game – they just have to get it.
Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said the Eagles' offense is "essentially the same" with Sanchez under center compared to Foles, and although Sanchez will give you some opportunities, he still does a good job finding their plethora of weapons.
"They still do a great job running the football," Haslett said. "They do a great job getting their playmakers, they got a lot of playmakers. The receivers – Maclin's having a great year. The tight ends are excellent. They spread it around and it really hasn't changed much and they're doing a nice job with it."
Saturday's game will feature the NFC's two sack leaders: Philadelphia's Connor Barwin (14.5) and Washington's Ryan Kerrigan (12.5).
Barwin – in his sixth season out of Cincinnati – is simply turning in a career year at the outside linebacker position for the Eagles. Along with his pass rushing skills, he has 59 total tackles, five passes defended and two forced fumbles.
PhiladelphiaEagles.com's Chris McPherson said Barwin – who was hand-picked by the Eagles to help the team transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 in the 2013 offseason – has made a huge jump in the second year of defensive coordinator Bill Davis' scheme.
"Davis has been able to give Barwin more chances to get after the quarterback," McPherson told Redskins.com "Barwin deserves credit for honing his pass-rush ability. In fact, Barwin spends time after each training session working on his fundamentals."
McPherson said an overall improvement at the linebacker position around Barwin has allowed him to flourish.
Barwin will just be the latest in a long line of talented pass rushers to face the Redskins this season. Washington has allowed the second-most sacks in the league, and offensive coordinator Sean McVay said consistency has been an issue at times.
"We got 11 guys playing and sometimes it's somebody up front, sometimes it's the quarterback, sometimes it's the back," he said, "and what we have to do a better job of, starting with the coach, is collectively figure out plans to stay out of those situations where we might have some of those longer developing plays and things like that, but it is a combination of everybody."
To avoid letting Barwin take over Saturday's game and continue his impressive season, the Redskins know they'll have to stay out of third and long at FedExField.
"We've got to do a better job of staying in third and manageables, and where you do have the ability to get the ball out of your hand a little bit quicker," McVay said.
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