Redskins vs. Eagles: Five story lines to follow in Monday night’s game

September 8, 2013

Robert Griffin III will play in his first game since last season’s playoff loss on Jan. 6. (Nick Wass / AP)

Washington Redskins season is almost here. On Monday night they at last open against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Kickoff is set for 7:10 p.m. at FedEx Field.

The Redskins enter the game as 3.5-point favorites and look to begin their quest to defend their 2012 NFC East title in victorious fashion. Meanwhile, the Eagles aim to rebound from a 4-12 campaign as the Chip Kelly era gets underway.

Mike Shanahan enters the game with a 15-4 all-time record in Week 1 games and a 3-0 record as coach of the Redskins. With a win Monday night, Shanahan will tie Tom Landry for the most Week 1 victories since the 1970 league merger.

Here are five story lines to follow Monday night:

1) Robert Griffin III’s return – In the story line that dwarfs all others, Robert Griffin III will play in his first game since his knee gave out on him in the fourth quarter of Washington’s playoff loss to Seattle on Jan. 6. The quarterback insists he’s now 100 percent, and his coaches and trainers believe it. Griffin has taken every first-team snap since the end of training camp, and wasn’t listed on Washington’s injury report even as “probable.” But don’t call it a comeback, Griffin says. In his mind, since he never missed a game, he never left, and his motto for the season are words from his father: “Play like you were never gone.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Kyle Shanahan eases his quarterback into action. Don’t be surprised to see a number of quick-hitters – bubble screens, slant routes and the like – to get the ball out of Griffin’s hands quickly and help him settle into a rhythm. Then, the quarterback could begin taking shots downfield. And what about the keepers? We shall see. Griffin and his coaches say that there’s nothing that he isn’t capable of doing on the field, and if the situation calls for it, he will tuck the ball and run. How will he respond to that first hit? Will he slide to avoid defenders, or will old instincts take over, and will he put his speed and elusiveness to use? So many questions. The answers will soon come.

2.) Alfred Morris’s role – It could be a big night for second-year running Alfred Morris. Because they don’t want to put too much on Griffin as he settles back into a rhythm, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Redskins coaches feed Morris the ball early and often. Morris is poised for another big year as Washington’s workhorse back. A steady dose of Morris will accomplish a number of things. Not only will it ensure that Griffin doesn’t feel too much pressure too early, but it will also lead to balance on offense and help the Redskins control the clock and keep the Eagles’ potentially potent offense off the field. Morris’s load could be a bit lighter than what he was accustomed to last season, because Roy Helu Jr. is back and healthy and expected to chip in as a change-of-pace back.

3.) Chip Kelly’s playbook – Monday will mark the official unveiling of the NFL-ized version of the former University of Oregon coach’s offense. Its high-tempo, spread-formation, zone-read elements are all expected to be featured, but the influences of long-time NFL veteran assistants — offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, wide receivers coach Bobby Bicknell, tight ends coach Ted Williams and running backs coach Duce Staley — also likely will be evident. The Redskins believe that they will be able to handle the pace of the Eagles’ attack. Look for Jim Haslett to break out a wide range of tricks in an attempt to thwart Philadelphia’s efforts. An improved pass rush – led by Brian Orakpo, who makes his official return to action – and Ryan Kerrigan will go a long way toward disrupting the Eagles’ rhythm.

4.) Brandon Meriweather’s status – The Redskins still are waiting to find out if they will have strong safety Brandon Meriweather back in action after a groin injury limited him all week. His surgically repaired knee responded favorably after a half of football in the preseason finale, and his presence could help make a difference against the Eagles’ passing game. The thing the Redskins like about Meriweather is his ability not only to make plays in the box, but to also drop back into coverage whether it’s zone or man-to-man, deliver downfield hits and force turnovers. But, he has to be healthy. If Meriweather can’t play, look for Reed Doughty to get the start. Jordan Pugh also could see some time at strong safety.

5.) Rookie debuts – After encouraging preseason showings, second-round draft pick David Amerson will start at right cornerback, and sixth-round pick Bacarri Rambo will start at free safety. Any NFL offense poses significant challenges for first-year players, but with all the speed that the Eagles boast, Amerson and Rambo know that they have their work cut out for them. Their main objective: “Don’t get beat deep,” Amerson said. Both have natural ball-hawking skills, but they have to guard against over-aggression.

Meanwhile, fifth-round linebacker Brandon Jenkins likely will see time in the team’s fast nickel packages, where he joins Kerrigan and Orakpo on the field and tries to get after the quarterback on third-and-long situations. And on special teams, it appears that fifth-rounder Chris Thompson will get the first crack at punt return duties. He showed during the preseason that he can be dangerous in this capacity. He just needs to develop consistency.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesday.

What’s ahead:

● The Redskins’ season kicks off tomorrow at 7:10 p.m. ESPN goes on air at 6:55.

More about the Redskins and NFL:

CB Amerson poised to start | Rambo explains number choice

Shanahan’s challenge: Operation unity

Redskins preview section | Live NFL scores

Dr. Gridlock: Getting to FedEx Field on Monday night

The Early Lead: Jets’ Sanchez will see Dr. Andrews | More NFL

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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Mike Jones · September 8, 2013

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