Thompson does his part to help Redskins prep for Sproles, McCoy
One of the challenges of preparing for the Philadelphia Eagles involves finding a way to duplicate the speed and elusiveness of running backs LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles.
Coaches this week used speedy practice squad running back Chris Thompson to play the role of both Sproles and McCoy for the scout team offense. Thompson said he thinks his defensive teammates will be “well prepared” for the Eagles’ tandem.
Thompson has a build and speed that’s similar to that of Sproles. Thompson stands 5-foot-7 and weights 192 pounds. Sproles is 5-6, 187. Thompson ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash coming out of college, and Sproles clocked a 4.47. (Redskins coaches have said they’d actually like Thompson to develop his game to the point where it resembles Sproles’ elusiveness and pass-catching ability.)
Thompson is smaller than the 5-11, 204-pound McCoy, but they clocked identical 40 times. Thompson said he tried to mimic McCoy’s moves and tactics for eluding tacklers. He also said he had fun executing run plays out of a spread-formation offense, and that the Eagles’ schemes took him back to his college days.
“It’s pretty different from our offense — just being in the I-formation and under center, and being in gun with outside zones — but I ran this kind of stuff in college,” Thompson said. “It’s also fun for me to mimic these guys week in and week out and give them different looks.
“It was fun. I enjoyed playing that whole Sproles role a whole lot.”
Thompson said he felt good about his performances. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall agreed, but added that there’s nothing quite like the real thing.
“We told him to dance around a little bit more than he probably normally would,” Hall said. “[Thompson did] pretty good, but you can’t simulate the kind of action you’re going to get from both of those that you’re going to get in the game. But you do your best and know it’s going to be elevated that much more.”
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Redskins injury report: DeSean Jackson ‘questionable’ for Sunday
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson took part in some individual drills during Friday’s practice and will be listed as questionable for the Washington Redskins’ game on Sunday at Philadelphia.
A sprained left shoulder had forced Jackson out of the first two practices of the week. On Thursday, he wore a sun visor and jogged through a few pass routes and caught some passes, but didn’t do enough for the team to even be able to list him as “limited.”
On Friday, Jackson wore a helmet and joined his fellow wide receivers during the entire position drills segment.
“He did good today. We’ll see, though,” Coach Jay Gruden said Friday afternoon. “He was very limited, as you well know, as you could see out there. But I think it was a step in the positive direction.”
Gruden said Jackson would receive some more work on Saturday and then would be evaluated during pregame warmups Sunday morning at Lincoln Financial Field, and then a decision would be made on his availability.
Jackson didn’t speak to reporters on Friday, but he said on Wednesday that he planned to play against his former team.
Place kicker Kai Forbath (groin) and center Kory Lichtensteiger (groin) also are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Gruden said that Forbath kicked during Friday’s practice and felt “pretty good.” The coach said that punter Tress Way could again be used to handle kickoff duties, with Forbath handling field goals and extra point attempts, just as they did last week.
Tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring) has been ruled out, as have linebacker Akeem Jordan (knee) and cornerback Tracy Porter (hamstring). Defensive end Kedric Golston (groin) is doubtful to play.
Redskins injuries Full participation Friday: S Ryan Clark, PK Kai Forbath, OLB Brian Orakpo, G Shawn Lauvao, RB Roy Helu Jr., FB Darrel Young. Limited: WR DeSean Jackson, C Kory Lichtensteiger. Did not practice: DL Kedric Golston, ILB Akeem Jordan, CB Tracy Porter, TE Jordan Reed. Out: QB Robert Griffin III.
Eagles injuries Full participation Thursday: CB Nolan Carroll, DE Fletcher Cox, TE Zach Ertz, G Todd Herremans, WR Josh Huff, S Malcolm Jenkins, WR Brad Smith, T Matt Tobin, CB Jaylen Watkins, CB Cary Williams. Did not practice: LB Mychal Kendricks, S Earl Wolff.
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Redskins-Eagles: Five story lines to monitor in Week 3
The Washington Redskins go back on the road Sunday to face the Philadelphia Eagles, looking to build on last week’s 41-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars and string together back-to-back victories for the first time since the final two weeks of the 2012 regular season. The Eagles, meantime, enter this game with a 2-0 record and the oddsmakers favor them by 6 1/2 points.
This game represents a meeting between two of the league’s top units. Washington’s defense ranks first in the NFL after limiting teams to 234.5 yards per game while Philadelphia’s offense leads the league, generating 439 yards per contest.
Here are five story lines to follow in this game
1. Cousins at the helm: He got an opportunity last season, but it wasn’t great: The season was lost, the team in turmoil, and his head coach was trying to get himself fired. Now, Kirk Cousins has a golden opportunity to show whether or not he’s capable of being a starting quarterback in the NFL. The season is young; the motivation high. He has a Pro Bowl running back, top-flight receivers, and an improved defense to support him. Unlike that three-week showcase late last season, Cousins will get eight weeks, if not more, to prove himself. Jay Gruden has simple instructions for the third-year quarterback: manage the offense, complete third-down passes for first downs, and take care of the ball. On Sunday he will try to do just that while also aiming to lead Washington to its first NFC East victory since Week 17 of the 2012 campaign.
2. Robinson, Riley & Co. vs. McCoy and Sproles: The defense has a nightmare matchup this week as they try to contain the versatile backfield tandem of LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. McCoy appears to have picked up where he left off last season, when he led the league in rushing. Sproles already has proven to be a phenomenal get in the off-season for Philadelphia. The Eagles love to use the two in the screen game, sucking in the defense then dumping the ball off to either speedy back. Inside linebackers Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley will draw the task of having to cover these two backs. Both have above average speed and athleticism for inside linebackers. But accounting for McCoy and Sproles will not be easy. The Redskins must have good pursuit and must rely on gang tackling to contain these two, because as elusive as they are, it will be hard to corral either 1-on-1. The Redskins also must be mindful of second-year tight end Zach Ertz, who also has proven effective in the mid-range passing game.
3. Jackson’s homecoming: DeSean Jackson wants nothing more than to have a big performance against his former team. But he’s questionable because of a sprained shoulder. Cousins needs all the help he can get as he takes over the reins of the offense, and an explosive threat such as Jackson will make a big difference. Jackson didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday, and Gruden planned to give him a light workload Friday, and then re-evaluate him prior to kickoff. Jackson says, “I don’t plan on missing this game.” But if he can’t play, others will have to step up. Look for Pierre Garcon to be more involved this week than he was last week, when he had only one catch. Also expect tight end Niles Paul, rookie receiver Ryan Grant, as well as slot receiver Andre Roberts to receive their fair share of targets as well.
4. Defensive stamina: The Eagles run an up-tempo, no-huddle offense that prides itself on utilizing a high number of plays. The goal is to wear down defenses, and it works. And each of the last two weeks, the Eagles have orchestrated second-half comebacks. They have done much of their damage in the fourth quarters, when their opponents are battling fatigue. The Redskins have tried to prepare for this, but that is easier said than done. Their depth will be tested, as will their mental fortitude. The offense can actually help out in this category. If Cousins & Co. can produce some sustained drives, that will keep the Eagles’ offense off the field, and it will give Washington’s defensive players chances to catch their breath.
5. Meriweather’s return: After sitting out the first two games because of suspension, starting strong safety Brandon Meriweather makes his debut Sunday. The Redskins have missed his big-play ability and versatility on the back end. Meriweather should help out both against the run, and in pass coverage. But we’ll see if he is able to stay out of trouble and avoid illegal hits that have cost him greatly thus far. Another key question: Can he play at a high level and with aggression, while altering his tackling approach? Or, will the fear of another harsh punishment cause him to become tentative and ineffective?
Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.
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The Test: Why Washington needs to pressure Nick Foles, and how it can
The Test asks two Post specialists to take unique looks at a Redskins issue leading up to each game. Neil Greenberg of our Fancy Stats blog runs the numbers; Separately, Mark Bullock gives it the eye test. Together, they provide a double dose of insight.
Neil Greenberg’s take: Nick Foles was due to come back down to earth after throwing for 2,891 yards and 27 touchdowns but just two interceptions in thirteen games played in 2013. So far this season, he has completed 58.5 percent of his passes for 653 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. But if Washington is to make him ineffective, they have to keep the pressure on.
Last season, Foles completed 47.5 percent of his passes when under pressure. Over the first two weeks of this season, he is even lower at 33.3 percent. His passer ratings under pressure in those years are 83.1 and 59.0, respectively.
Here is a throw from Week 1 against Jacksonville. Jordan Matthews (red arrow) is wide open, but Foles throws it too high and wide (orange line) as a defender is about to break into the pocket.
Here is Foles later in the game. This time, a hand in his face causes him to overthrow a wide open Darren Sproles.
In Week 2 against the Colts, pressure was not only able to flush Foles out of the pocket, but it panicked him into making a poor decision: a throw across field (orange line) to a covered LeSean McCoy (red arrow).
The key will be to unleash Jason Hatcher (four sacks and one quarterback hit), plus use Brian Orakpo less in coverage. Per Pro Football Focus, through the first two weeks of the season, only three outside linebackers playing in a 3-4 scheme have been used significantly more in coverage than Orakpo (16 snaps), but he has been able to get to the quarterback once out of every ten passing plays the opposition runs (one half-sack and four hurries).
Mark Bullock’s take: The Eagles are known for their up-tempo, no-huddle offense that is built around LeSean McCoy and the run game. While stopping the run will obviously be a priority for the Redskins, they can’t allow themselves to forget about the Eagles’ passing attack. Philadelphia is perfectly capable of going deep and getting big plays through the air.
Foles has yet to find his rhythm with his deep ball, missing numerous opportunities to take advantage of defensive errors. The nature of the Eagles offense tires out defenses quickly, slowing down the pass rush and giving Foles a clean pocket with which to work from.
Last week against the Colts, Foles missed a couple of deep shots to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. This first one was a double move.
As Maclin comes out of his fake, Foles has a perfect pocket to step up into and make his throw.
Maclin gets past his defender, but Foles overshoots him in the end zone.
Later on, they went back to Maclin.
This time, the Eagles call for a simple go route from Maclin.
Once again, Foles had a clean pocket to work from and takes another shot downfield.
Maclin again gets a step on his defender, but Foles doesn’t put enough on his throw and the cornerback makes a fantastic interception.
It wasn’t just against the Colts last week either. The Eagles took plenty of shots against the Jaguars in Week 1.
Rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews lines up in the slot and runs deep across the middle as part of a four-verticals concept.
Again, Foles has all day to pick where to pass, and makes the throw to Matthews for a 30-yard completion.
The Redskins cannot afford to allow Foles to sit in the pocket and pick them apart all game. While Foles has struggled to get going so far, the Redskins can’t give him many opportunities, because eventually he’ll start taking them. Luckily, the Eagles offensive line has been hit by injuries and suspension. Starting left guard Evan Mathis is out, while the fourth overall pick of the 2013 draft, right tackle Lane Johnson, is suspended. Philadelphia has had to shuffle around the backups to try and get their most effective line. That leaves the Redskins with good matchups.
On this play, backup tackle Andrew Gardner is in at left guard.
Jaguars defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, who has eight career sacks in six seasons, gets his hands inside, on the chest of Gardner.
That allows Marks to control the block. He uses a swim move to get past Gardner.
Marks finishes the play by sacking Foles, who was unable to run away from the interior pressure.
This is a positive sign for the Redskins defense. I’d expect to see Hatcher matched up against whoever the Eagles elect to play at left guard, while Ryan Kerrigan should have a favorable matchup against a backup right tackle. (In this post, Sheil Kapadia suggests Gardner and Dennis Kelly). Getting pressure up front will be essential for the Redskins to stop Foles from taking his deep shots. That, in turn, will allow the Redskins to play more single-high safety and bring an extra defender down into the box to help against the strong rushing attack led by McCoy.
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Redskins-Eagles Q&A: Kirk Cousins, Nick Foles and non-DeSean reasons for intrigue
Back in July, Sheil Kapadia joined us for a Q&A revolving around the division rivals and the big offseason story line. DeSean Jackson went from Philadelphia to Washington, and at the time, it seemed like the week leading up to this game could be all about his return. And while that’s still of interest, the lack of Robert Griffin III, the emergence of Darren Sproles, the play of Washington’s defense and the good half/bad half Eagles seem just as intriguing.
Sheil, whose Birds 24/7 blog is indispensable among Eagles fans, joins us again to help us look at the game from the opposite perspective, and throw a few questions this way.
Let’s start here: There’ll be two members of the 2012 quarterback draft class starting Sunday, but it’ll be third-rounder Nick Foles and fourth-rounder Kirk Cousins. Foles has looked spotty in the Eagles’ wins, but the offense has turned it on when needed, and scored in the 30s each time. I’m not sure how much to make out of either QB lighting up Jacksonville, but Foles played well when it counted in Indianapolis. Any concern about him out of Philadelphia?
Sheil: I would term it slight concern. With Foles, there have been a few issues early on: inaccuracy, failing to pull the trigger to open receivers and movement in the pocket.
The way I see it, accuracy is not a major problem. Every quarterback misses throws, and Foles showed last year that he can consistently put the ball on the money. His pocket presence was better against the Colts, but there are still times when he slides into pressure instead of stepping up and keeping his eyes downfield. He’s also not seeing the field as well as he did last year. The Eagles have missed several opportunities for big plays.
Having said all that, it’s important to remember that the Eagles are playing with backups at left guard and right tackle. And the wide receivers had several drops on Monday night. It’s important that Foles reacts better to pressure, but I think he’ll be okay. The offense still leads the NFL in points through two games.
Since you mentioned Cousins, do you get the sense that a significant portion of the Washington fan base is excited to see him get a chance to play? The numbers last year were unimpressive, but did he perform better than the stats indicated?
Keith: The stats are an accurate reflection of how he played last year, but the situation was much different. Cousins took over a team that was 3-10, when the coach had one foot out the door, and the players had somewhat checked out.
This time around, they still have high hopes for a playoff-caliber season, they are more talented, and coming off a big win. There’s most certainly a portion of the fan base (59% of 1,638 voters in this poll) that is not only excited to see Cousins play, but thinks he might be the better option right now, because he’s more polished and more comfortable in a Gruden offense than Griffin. If Cousins avoids turnovers, and gets the ball to Washington’s playmakers, the offense could function pretty well with him in the lead, not unlike when Foles took over for Michael Vick. But there were growing pains then, and I think people would be kidding themselves if they thought there weren’t going to be any with Cousins.
You mentioned the two missing offensive linemen for Philadelphia. Washington made a big deal this offseason about how it was going to cut its pass rushers loose, and they had 10 sacks against Jacksonville. I’m sure that performance won’t be matched, but do you think there’s a chance that Washington gets a good amount of pressure on Foles?
Sheil: Absolutely. I think that will be one of the keys to the game. There are two key spots to monitor: right tackle and left guard. Lane Johnson was suspended for the first four games. His backup, Allen Barbre, suffered an ankle injury. The next backup, Matt Tobin, has also been out with an ankle injury. So in many ways, right tackle Andrew Gardner is the Eagles’ fourth option.
Gardner struggled, especially early on, Monday night against the Colts. Now he’ll be going up against Ryan Kerrigan and a much better pass rush overall. That’s gotta be a concern for Chip Kelly and company this week.
At right tackle, the Eagles are without Pro Bowler Evan Mathis. Dennis Kelly was okay in spots last week, but is still a serious dropoff.
Having said all that, the Eagles did not allow a sack last week, even with the backups in. Look for them to utilize a lot of screens to slow down Washington’s pass rush. Speaking of which, how has Brian Orakpo looked in his return from injury? And what about Jason Hatcher? He has given the Eagles problems in the past.
Keith: Orakpo hasn’t had the splash plays — the sacks at big moments or the hits that cause turnovers — and that’s an issue for him in a contract year. But beyond the 0.5 sacks, he’s still getting pressure rushing from the right side and taking on the opposing team’s left tackle. Kerrigan’s got the better knack for timely plays, but Orakpo is a big reason he gets more favorable matchups.
Hatcher is still a problem. When he had a knee injury flare up in training camp, Washington thought it might be the one with the problem, but so far he’s been the key to making everything go in Haslett’s attacking 3-4. When he’s penetrating, he’s causing havoc in the opposing offense’s backfield, and surprisingly, it’s been against the run as well as on pass plays.
Although we should keep in mind that they’ve faced QBs Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chad Henne so far, the defense’s only weakness has been at strong safety. Washington gets Brandon Meriweather back from suspension for this game, and they cut their starter (Bacarri Rambo) from the first two games. There should be four solid veterans in the secondary for once, and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has had two doses of Kelly’s offense. (Last week against Indy, a pre-game story line on the Monday Night Football broadcast was how Colts defenders would deal with the Eagles’ pace, not having seen it before).
Philly’s wide receivers — whether they are referred to as DeSean replacements or not — don’t seem to be off to a great start, but the offense has compensated well with tight end Zach Ertz and Sproles. How do you see Philly’s skill-position players matching up with Washington’s secondary?
Sheil: You said it. For the Eagles, it’s been all about Ertz and Sproles in the passing game. Ertz has proven to be a serious matchup problem. He’s had six catches of 20+ yards (tied for first in the league) and is averaging 22.3 yards per catch (tops in the NFL). The Colts tried matching up with him using both safeties and linebackers. Neither worked. Ertz is fantastic at high-pointing the ball, can make catches in traffic and is a weapon in the red zone. He’s likely going to be a problem for Washington.
Sproles set a career high last week with 152 yards receiving. Look out for him on those screens I mentioned above. He’ll probably play fewer than 40 percent of the snaps, but he’s someone who has to be accounted for.
As for the wide receivers, Maclin has had a chance for some big plays, but he and Foles have not been on the same page. Cooper’s biggest strength is tracking the ball downfield. But he’s been a complete non-factor so far. If I’m Haslett, I’m more concerned with the tight ends and running backs than the receivers.
I guess we have to talk about DeSean, right? I know it’s a small sample size, but any hints early on about how Gruden will use him? And are there pass catchers who are more factors now that Cousins is at QB?
Keith: We can’t read too much into DeSean’s early work under Gruden, because it was mostly underneath stuff based on the way Houston was defending in Week 1, and his Week 2 was cut short. But they did try him on a long ball against the Jaguars, and a reverse against the Texans, so they want to mix it up and get him touches in the open field.
Cousins has worked mostly with the second team while in Washington, and tight end Niles Paul — a converted wide receiver and the team’s leading receiver right now — had a big game last week. Paul is mostly a special teamer behind pass catcher Jordan Reed and blocking tight end Logan Paulsen, and gets a lot of work with Cousins’s unit in practice. He had a career-high eight receptions for 99 yards against Jacksonville, and a 48-yard catch in the opener. If Reed is out again, keep an eye on Paul.
Another second-teamer who’s developing a reputation here similar to what Jason Avant had in Philly (slow, but runs good routes and catches everything thrown his way) is rookie Ryan Grant. He could get some action if DeSean Jackson is inactive, and so could Santana Moss, who has been inactive the first two weeks. But the weapon that Eagles fans might not know who could change the game is Andre Roberts, who came over from Arizona in the offseason. He’s averaging almost 16 yards a reception, and is the primary punt and kick returner. He’s a 5-foot-11, 187-pound spark plug.
As division rivals, Washington and Philadelphia play twice a year, and the NFL got it right in 2014. After the teams face off Sunday, in Week 3, they don’t meet again until Dec. 20, a Saturday game in Week 16. So whichever team wins — they have alternated sweeps for three years now — gets bragging rights for a while.
For past Q&As with out-of-town reporters, click here.
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