Five observations from the Redskins’ win over the Eagles

Mike Shanahan and the Redskins improved to 4-6 after thumping Andy Reid and the Eagles Sunday. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

 

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The Washington Redskins ended their three-game losing streak in a big way, thumping the Philadelphia Eagles, 31-6, for the most lopsided victory of Mike Shanahan’s tenure in the District.

With the win, the Redskins improved to 4-6, moved out of the basement of the NFC East, and avoided virtual playoff elimination for at least another week.

Up next: the 5-5 Dallas Cowboys, who host the Redskins on Thanksgiving.

But first, here are five observations from Sunday’s game:

1. Griffin delivers – Just before departing for the bye, Robert Griffin III vowed to return as a better quarterback and leader, and he maintained that goal when he returned to Redskins Park last week. On Sunday, Griffin was at his best, completing 14 of 15 passes for 200 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions while boasting a perfect 158.3 passer rating. He also carried the ball 12 times for a team-high 84 yards.

“He said all week he wanted to dominate, and he did that today,” said receiver Aldrick Robinson, who was on the receiving end of one of those touchdown passes. “He said he was going to dominate, and he dominated.”

The Eagles said coming into the game that their goal was to keep Griffin in the pocket so he would be forced to make decisions and make plays with his arm. They thought that was the recipe for lessening the impact Griffin would have. But Griffin read the coverages just fine, and didn’t play with a bit of hesitation. “I didn’t second-guess what my instincts were telling me as far as when to throw and when not to throw, or when to run and when not to run,” Griffin said.

Another impressive thing about Griffin is the way he spreads the ball around rather than locking in on or force-feeding the ball to a particular receiver. Nine different players caught passes from him Sunday. And, despite the Eagles’ Wide-9 front, which was intended to take away the edges and prompt Griffin to shy away from running, the quarterback had a field day on the ground and picked up some crucial first downs on third down scrambles to extend drives. He now trails Cam Newton’s rookie quarterback rushing record by 93 yards.

Once again, Griffin proved that no moment is too big for him. His team desperately needed a win, and he turned in the best outing of his career. Yes, the Eagles are atrocious, and that helps, but Griffin still did what he had to do, and more.

2. Aggressive defense – Jim Haslett dialed up one exotic blitz after another and flustered the Eagles and rookie quarterback Nick Foles, and the defense had its best performance of the season. On only one other occasion this year have the Redskins recorded four sacks in one game (Minnesota was the first).

Outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Rob Jackson, inside linebacker Perry Riley and cornerback Josh Wilson all recorded sacks for a unit that previously had struggled to get any pressure on quarterbacks. We saw more corner blitzes than we have all year. We saw Haslett take advantage of Riley’s experience as an outside linebacker (where he played for two years at LSU and was a finalist for the Butkus Award in 2008) and moved Riley all around, sending him on stunts from the edge to get to Foles.

The Redskins also sent a fair amount of pressure up the middle, targeting right guard Jake Scott, who only signed with Philadelphia this week and hadn’t played a game since last season. By keeping the pressure dialed up, the Redskins prevented Foles from having time to look downfield to usual threats DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Jackson – normally a Redskins killer – had only two catches for five yards, and Maclin had no catches.

3. Meriweather’s impact – It was only four snaps more than one half of football, but strong safety Brandon Meriweather displayed his play-making ability in a definitive way, recording an interception, seven tackles (many of them hard-hitting) and two pass breakups in his Redskins debut.

Obviously, the Redskins would like to get a full game out of him, and hope that the sprained right knee (he had been plagued by a bad left knee all season) doesn’t wind up developing into an on-going injury that sidelines him further. Meriweather said that he didn’t expect it to do so, and believed coaches held him out of the remainder of the second half out of precaution since the Redskins had a lead and play in Dallas Thursday. We’ll see.

But, if Meriweather can indeed heal up quickly and play at a similar level the rest of the way, then Washington’s defense could see significant improvement. London Fletcher described Meriweather as “a tone-setter.” It appeared that the versatility Meriweather offered in pass coverage enabled Haslett to take more chances, like sending cornerbacks on blitzes. The question centers on his health.

4. Garcon’s struggle – No one can question wide receiver Pierre Garcon’s desire. It was quickly evident that he was playing despite being far less than 100 percent. Garcon caught all three balls that came his way, but gained only five yards combined.

The Redskins kept Garcon on a short leash in an attempt to prevent him from overdoing it. But you have to wonder how much longer he can proceed in this manner. Can he really play on a short turnaround this week in Dallas? It might be wise to sit him on Thanksgiving and target the Dec. 3 Monday Night Football game. Doing so would give the receiver and his bad toe 15 days of rest.

It’s clear that Garcon doesn’t have the ability to run with any speed, and that is one of his biggest strengths when healthy. He does offer quality downfield blocking, but the Redskins must decide whether or not to continue to try to squeeze spot duty performances out of him in the final month of the season and risk further damage, or if they should shut him down and get him healthy for next year.

5. Still no margin for error – The Redskins got a much-needed win, but couldn’t really savor it. For one, they have another game in just three days. Second, the players are well aware that with one slip-up – especially with four more NFC East games remaining on the schedule – their slim hopes of playoff contention evaporate. Asked if putting together such a complete effort against Philadelphia gave the team a sense of accomplishment, captain London Fletcher said, “I don’t know about sense of accomplishment. … But, hey, we’ve got to go out and play against another good offense, another tough team on Thursday.”

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