The Redskins.com crew breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Sunday's Redskins-Eagles 2016 Week 14 showdown at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
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MAKE IT A BALANCING ACTWhile Trent Williams appears poised for another late season power move as the Redskins' quarterback, the offense continues to struggle at times getting their run and pass attempts near 50-50. Now, the NFL has become more of a passing league in recent years, but when the Redskins are significantly more balanced they've pieced together some big wins on the year.
In Washington's six victories, they've passes the ball 201 times to 167 rushes. In their five victories along with the tie to the Bengals, they've thrown it 274 times with just 126 pass attempts.
Granted, some circumstances have forced the Redskins' hand to throw it more often – their comeback bid against the Cowboys in Week 12 for example – but offensive coordinator Sean McVay admitted this week that they need to stay committed to the running game.
"Looking back at Arizona with some of the plays that Rob Kelley was able to make, I definitely feel like I could've been more patient on some of those early down and distances where you get a little bit pass-heavy," McVay said. "And that's something that as a decision-maker and as a coordinator, I have to do a better job for players being able to keep that balance when you do a good job running the football. He had a couple plus-10-yard runs and then we ended up going three passes and out. And those are situations where I have to look at myself critically and make sure that I'm aware of that and we do a better job, and most importantly, I do a better job for our offense moving forward."
Kelley, of course, had his breakout run against the Eagles in Week 6, a 45-yard dash through the heart of Philadelphia's defense. In the game, the Redskins threw the ball 34 times and ran it 33 times.
As they look for a similar balance on Sunday, Washington will try to feed "Fat Rob" a little bit more.
"We ideally would like to get that running game going a little bit more – more touches for Robert because he's been very good as far as running the football," head coach Jay Gruden said. "We have got to make sure that we get him more involved, maintain the time of possession and stay more balanced."
SLOW THE WENTZ WAGON
Eagles rookie quarterback entered Week 6's matchup between these two teams at FedExField hot, as it looked like the North Dakota State product would have few struggles making a seamless transition to the NFL. The 23-year-old had led the Eagles to a 3-1 record behind seven touchdowns to just one interception.
But the Redskins had an answer for the white-hot Wentz, as they sacked him five times as he threw for just 179 yards – that remains his career-low – along with no touchdown passes.
Since that game, Wentz has thrown five touchdown passes to 10 interceptions.
Still, the Redskins fully understand that he's a talented player that deserved to be taken with the No. 2-overall pick in this year's draft.
"He's got an NFL arm," cornerback Josh Norman said. "Any time you have an NFL arm, there's a chance you will be beaten. When that seems to relieve itself, that's when I won't have a worry. I'm not worried about that no time soon."
A potential reasoning behind his recent woes may be on the Eagles' coaching staff's shoulders, as he's being asked to throw the ball nearly 40 times per game. In fact, Wentz is coming off a 60-attempt game against the Bengals.
"We want to go out there, stop him, make him throw the ball each and every play if he has to," safety Donte Whitner Sr. said. "Our offense wants to put up points and make (Philadelphia) fight from behind. Hopefully that's how the game goes Sunday."
HAVE DECEMBER MOMENTUM ON YOUR SIDE
This weekend, the Redskins are playing in a December divisional road game with playoff hopes very much so on the line. Combine these factors and there is no denying the importance and pressure being put on Sunday's matchup with the Eagles.
Take a look at some key players for the Week 14 match up against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"You go into this one, we've got to get a win," linebacker Will Compton said. "It's just one game, we're facing the Eagles. They're somebody that's in the hunt. …It's a rivalry game, mono-e-mono, just us two teams. We have to go into Philly, we have to find a way to scratch whatever to come out with the win. We got to beat Philly and get some momentum back and build from there."
After losing the past two games on the road, the Redskins will be looking to find their way back into the playoff picture. At 6-5-1 they are in the No. 7 spot in the NFC, just on the outside looking in the current playoff picture. With just four weeks left in the season, opportunities to make that final push into the postseason are extremely important.
On the other hand, the Eagles are currently in a tougher position to make the playoffs at 5-7 and the visiting team will have recent events also on their side as the Redskins currently have a four game winning streak over the Eagles.
The first game between the two teams this season should serve as some form of comfort for the Redskins. After the loss, the Eagles began a streak in which they have won only two of their last seven games.
Wentz, as mentioned, has not looked as strong since the early portions of the season and the Redskins' defense will look to build on its five sack performance in Week 6. Despite the earlier win, the Redskins know that this is a game they cannot afford to overlook.
"They're still a talented team," linebacker Mason Foster said. "He's a very talented quarterback so he's going to make plays. They kind of had their little problems, but everybody does. You've got to go out there and prepare like he's going to play at his highest level because he is. We're ready for whatever. He's a great athlete, he's got a great arm, so it's going to be tough, but we've just got to make more plays than they do."
With the tightness of the playoff race, there is not a lot of wiggle room for the Redskins. Multiple teams are right behind Washington in the playoff push and can pass them if the Redskins don't start collecting more victories. The players know that despite the major distraction that reality is, they need to focus on walking away from Philadelphia with a 'W' and not looking ahead.
"Try to get a 'W.' There's nothing more about it. Every game we approach [the same], this is no different," Norman said. "Try to get a 'W.' Those guys do a great job over there, the Eagles, Carson Wentz and those boys. So we got our work cut out for us. Just have to come to work."
GET OFF THE FIELD ON THE MONEY DOWN
Following a 31-23 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday, the criticism surrounding the Washington Redskins was focused on third-down defense, and for good reason. Arizona was 10-for-16 on converting third downs – a 63 percent clip.
To put that figure in perspective, Washington is currently last in the NFL, and they're still only allowing 48 percent of third downs to be converted by opposing teams. It was a tough day that resurfaced an issue the Redskins had appeared to have taken care of following a rough start on third downs to begin the season.
"It was frustrating last week, it really was," defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. Barry told the media Thursday that the team's goal is to allow 35 percent of third downs to be converted each week – a figure that would rank in the top five among NFL teams.
But for reasons that are hard to pinpoint, the Redskins have consistently fallen short of this mark. The Redskins' defenders are taking the third-down issues personally as they prepare for a pivotal matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles. In the first meeting with Philadelphia, Washington allowed the Eagles to convert just 4-of-12 third downs as the Redskins defense limited their rival to just six offensive points.
"It's very prideful, especially for any defensive player, any defense," defensive end Chris Baker said. "Third down is always called the money down and it's up to us to make the plays and get off the field. We'll just have to do a better job among all 11 people, coaches, everybody will just have to be on the same page and when it's time for the defensive coordinator to call the play, it's up for us to go out and execute, but all 11 of us have to be on the same page. We've done a good job this week in practice getting our communication down and people being in the right place at the right time."
Continually allowing third-down conversions can wear on a defense both emotionally and physically. Of course, the momentum swing of an offense converting on third down exists, but the physical result is more time on the field. In Sunday's loss at Arizona, the Cardinals possessed the ball for more than seven minutes longer than Washington did. The Cardinals had three scoring drives of at least 10 plays.
"It's going to wear on you, but that lets you know what kind of character, what kind of person you are," defensive end Ziggy Hood said. "You're going to let that keep beating you down, then it's going to take you over.
"For me personally, if they get the third downs, that's just more opportunity for us to get in and smack them, hopefully cause a fumble, an interception or something like that. I hope everybody else feels the same."