Eagles' fans clamoring for offensive balance would love last week's performance by the Redskins. Against the Dolphins, Washington amassed 191 yards rushing and 197 net yards passing. Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts matched each other with 17 carries apiece, with Portis having by far the more successful day: 98 yards versus only 59 for Betts.
Monday night should see more of the same, with a young quarterback in Jason Campbell making only his ninth start and journeyman Todd Wade filling in for the injured Jon Jansen. Jevon Kearse may not be the destructive terror he once was, but it would be coaching malpractice to give him too many free shots at a bright green quarterback with only a guy who used to "block" for David Carr standing between them. So expect a whole lot of good old-fashioned, power running Redskins football.
In other word, the Green Bay Packers were a nice warm-up for the Eagles' run defense, but the real show starts on Monday night.
Now, after one whole game, I'm sold on the Patterson/Bunkley combo in the middle. They've still got room to grow, but after years of watching the likes of Darwin Walker running a no-gap scheme in the middle, I'm thrilled to see a couple of guys who actually hold their ground. That should be enough to prevent a repeat of the 171-yard Betts' debacle from last year, but it's going to take more than that to stop this offense.
On Monday night, the linebackers are going to have to make plays.
You can keep your starting strongside linebacker on the bench for 65.6 percent of your plays against the likes of the pass-happy, no-running-back Packers, but that's not going to fly against Joe Gibbs. Think about it for a second. Here's a basic Eagles' defense, with last initials of the starters:
S . Ga Go
C . B .P K
.O O X O O O
If you're a power running team, there's no reason to spend too much time attacking the big guys in the middle. You can instead seal them inside and then get to attacking the edges, where the Eagles sport two game, but undersized defensive ends. If the Redskins can get some push there, then it's down to the linebackers to read, react and make plays. Might as well try that out and see how it works. Hell, I'm curious too. (And if you replace that "Go" with a "JH" -- forget it.)
Because of this concern about the young guys, I think we might again see a fair number of plays where Gocong starts out on the line of scrimmage. That takes a fair amount of the "reading" away from him. If Cooley tries to blocks him, he plays run. If Cooley tries to get off the line into a pass pattern, jam him and beat the crap out of him. (And if he pretends to block and then slips out for a pass, we give up a big play and just hope it's not near the end zone.) That's this alignment, which we saw often in the preseason:
.Ga . .s
Go C B . P .K
. O O O X O O
Then it's on Spikes to have a big game if they're attacking that strong-side 'B' gap. I'll take those odds.
Now, this article notwithstanding, I actually don't expect to see Gocong spending too much time covering Cooley. He will try to jam him at the line, but the Eagles have all kinds of plans on the shelves for handling great tight ends. Most of them involve Brian Dawkins. But with Lito hurt and a need for some size, there's a chance Quintin Mikell could be called into service on obvious passing downs to try to stay with the Cooley. At any rate, on third-and-eight, don't expect Gocong to be the one trying to keep up with him.
On defense, the Redskins are a puzzle. They looked pretty good against Miami last week, but at this point I'm not sure we can definitively say which one is Trent Green and which one is Kurt Warner.
Jim Johnson likes to say he has three starting cornerbacks -- on those occasions when Lito is healthy -- but the Redskins actually do, as this strange story attests:
What might be a difficult decision for some teams -- having to choose only two of three well-compensated cornerbacks to start each week -- offers the Washington Redskins the opportunity to confuse opponents before the game even begins.
Last week, against a meek Miami offense, Gregg Williams, the Redskins' assistant head coach-defense, started two corners who were less heralded, Fred Smoot and Carlos Rogers, and used his most accomplished corner, Shawn Springs, sparingly. None of the corners -- or the Dolphins -- knew until game day who would be in the starting lineup and they suspect that will be the case all season, with the lineup a closely guarded secret each week.
Huh? They're going to keep their starters secret? And one of those starters might not include their best cover corner? Wow, that's confusing.
On the defensive line, which already isn't a strength for this team, the 'skins might have serious depth problems, with starting left defensive end Phillip Daniels "unlikely" to play Monday night. As that story notes, that would leave Washington with only seven healthy defensive linemen on the roster.
I know what you're thinking. "Awesome, let's turn the big guys up front loose and wear the crap out of them with Westbrook, Buckhalter and Hunt!" The only problem is, Andy Reid's thinking: "Awesome, an injured starting defensive end, let's pass the ball as much as possible since they won't be able to pressure Donovan as much!"
And, sadly, only one of you actually coaches this team.
The Redskins are playing a lot of cover-three looks this year to focus on taking away the big plays. LJ's ability to split those seams will be missed, so Donovan will need to be sharp to hit those intermediate crossing routes that should be there all night. Kevin Curtis in particular should love working against those sagging cornerbacks all night. No one runs a 14-yard dig route like a former St. Louis Ram can.
From a big-picture perspective (and don't worry, I'm about to bring my most rambling game preview ever to a close), I think the key is going to be making sure the Redskins don't ever start to feel like they can win this game. The Eagles have owned these guys for awhile now, if they come out sharp in the first quarter and take care of business right away, that might stay that way. Otherwise, could be an interesting night.
I'm feeling much better about this week, though, so:
Eagles -- 27
Redskins -- 10
Oh, and Paul Posluszny once again led his team in tackles, with five solos and seven assists. Just saying.
And if you want to read an interesting story about one member of the Redskins, here's one.