Despite owning a 3-6 record, Redskins players believe that they still have the talent and strategic plans needed to turn their season around and become one of only four teams since 1990 to make the playoffs after opening the year with such a record.
But players and coaches stress that they can’t get caught looking too far ahead.
“We can’t play seven games this weekend,” inside linebacker London Fletcher said. “We’ve got to play one game.”
And so, the Redskins face off with the Eagles, who also own a 3-6 record and have lost five straight.
Washington enters the game as a four-point favorite, but has won only one of four home games so far this season. Philadelphia, meanwhile, is 1-3 on the road.
Here are five story lines to follow Sunday:
1.) Garcon’s availability and impact – All signs point to No. 1 receiver Pierre Garcon returning to the field after missing the last four games, and six of his team’s nine games with a torn ligament in the second toe of his right foot. Washington’s top free agent signing still isn’t 100 percent, but offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan believes Garcon can still make an impact and give the team a much-needed big-play threat. However, Garcon has been limited in practice every day this week, so it remains to be seen how much the Redskins use him on Sunday, and how effective he will be.
2.) Meriweather’s debut – The Redskins’ defense has been without its top free agent addition of the offseason all year long. Strong safety Brandon Meriweather has been sidelined since the preseason with a bad left knee that he has twice re-injured just before attempting to make his season debut. The former two-time Pro Bowl pick has had a good week of practice, and the Redskins expect to have him on the field. The hope is that he can help boost a long-suffering secondary that ranks among the worst in the league statistically.
3.) Post-bye Griffin – The Redskins’ star rookie, Robert Griffin III, vowed to come back from the bye as an improved quarterback and leader. He said this week that he got away, cleared his head and is now refreshed and hungrier than ever to get this team turned around. Griffin hasn’t been as electrifying in the last two games thanks largely to struggles by his supporting cast, but he believes that he can elevate his game and reignite the offense. The Eagles aim to take away Griffin’s running opportunities and keep him in the pocket so he will have to make plays with his arm. But that’s fine with Griffin, who sees himself as a passer first and runner second, and is the eighth-most accurate quarterback in the league right now.
4.) The other rookie QB – Michael Vick will almost certainly sit out with a concussion, and so the Eagles turn to rookie Nick Foles, whom they drafted in the third round out of Arizona. At 6 feet 6, 243 pounds, Foles has great size and boasts playmaking ability. Last week, he completed 22 of 32 passes for 219 yards, a touchdown and interception. Redskins defensive back Jim Haslett says Foles has the ability to execute at a high level, and doesn’t expect the Eagles to have to water down their offense for the rookie. Foles has at his disposal a talented bunch of receivers and a reliable running back. The Redskins have had terrible luck against rookie quarterbacks, having gone 0-8 against them since December 2005. That’s the longest losing streak to rookie quarterbacks in league history, according to STATS. Redskins defenders say they can’t fall prey to complacency and expect Foles to make rookie mistakes, and must attack him with the urgency that they would a Hall of Famer. Can they pressure Foles, match up with his receivers, eliminate big plays and finally end the streak?
5.) Rushing attack – Washington’s offense is at its best when the Redskins are able to sport a balanced attack. Rookie running back Alfred Morris and Griffin getting a steady dose of carries sets up the play-action passing game and keeps foes off balance. When Washington falls behind and has to abandon the run, the offense loses its effectiveness. The Eagles present a stiff challenge with their “wide nine” front that takes away the edges, and they do a good job of pursuing and eliminating cutbacks as well. Philadelphia hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. Griffin is tough to stop when he gets to the edge, cuts the corner and runs to daylight, but the Eagles will try to string him out and prevent that from happening. Morris runs with great vision and hits his cutbacks hard, so there could be opportunities for him to pick up yards in the middle of the field. He’s aware that no one has had much success against the Eagles, but believes he can. The key, Morris says, will be running with patience – selling the stretch runs and setting up his blocks, and then hitting those cutback lanes.