Redskins were defenseless against Chip Kelly and the Eagles in 33-27 season-opening loss

The Washington Post’s Mike Jones breaks down the Redskins’ loss against the Philadelphia Eagles in their first game of the season. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
Jason Reid
Columnist September 9, 2013

The Washington Redskins had the entire offseason to prepare for the up-tempo offense that Philadelphia Eagles Coach Chip Kelly believes will work in the NFL. It’s doubtful any amount of prep time would have helped on Monday night.

Redskins fans arrived at FedEx Field excited about the return of quarterback Robert Griffin III, but they left dejected after Kelly’s offense stole the show early in the Eagles’ 33-27 victory. The Eagles took control before halftime and led by 26 points in third quarter.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

Although Griffin was rusty in his first game since he tore knee ligaments during a playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks in January, even a top-notch performance from last season’s NFL offensive rookie of the year wouldn’t have enabled the Redskins to overcome their complete collapse on defense. Poor tackling, poor pass coverage, insufficient pass rush — the Redskins whiffed in too many key areas to slow the Eagles.

During a stretch in the first half, the Redskins succeeded in applying some pressure on Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

For the most part, however, Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett had no answers for Kelly, who spreads out opposing defenses and likes to keep the pace quick.

The setback on defense was even more disturbing than the Redskins’ ineptitude on offense in the first half. Despite wearing a knee brace after reconstructive surgery, Griffin impressed teammates in practice with his passing accuracy and mobility. Clearly, though, Griffin, who sat out the preseason games for precautionary reasons, will need time to revert to his superstar form.

How bad were things? Dependable place kicker Kai Forbath missed a field goal that was well within his range. Forbath’s miss was the capper on a bad night for Redskins fans, some of whom bolted for the exits in the third quarter.

For the defending NFC East champion, the awful performance against Philadelphia definitely wasn’t what it expected. The defense set a bad tone — let’s start there.

No resistance

Under Kelly, the University of Oregon had a video-game-like offense. The Ducks racked up yards and points at a record pace while essentially running a fast break in football. Kelly’s motto? The more plays the better. In his first year with the Eagles, Kelly is off to great start.

From analyzing video of Kelly’s Oregon teams, Redskins coaches figured Kelly would call plays designed to put Eagles receivers, running backs and Vick in individual matchups against Redskins linebackers and defensive backs. Factor in that Kelly would prefer to run a play per second if possible, and the Redskins realized that fatigue could be a major problem — especially along the defensive line — because they couldn’t substitute as often as they usually would against an opponent with a more traditional pro-style approach.

If the Redskins had succeeded in executing Haslett’s game plan, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (184 yards rushing, one touchdown) wouldn’t have gained so many additional yards after would-be tacklers were in position to stop him, wide receiver DeSean Jackson (104 yards receiving, one touchdown) wouldn’t have run free throughout the secondary on so many plays and Vick (203 yards passing, two passing touchdowns and one rushing) wouldn’t have dictated the pace with such ease.

Even after all these years, Vick is among the NFL’s fastest quarterbacks. Also, the Redskins were short-handed in the secondary without injured starting safety Brandon Meriweather. Still, the Redskins gave Eagles receivers too much cushion in coverage and didn’t wrap up effectively.

Late in the second quarter, rookie safety Bacarri Rambo, who had tackling issues in the preseason, failed to bring down Eagles tight end Brent Celek on a 28-yard touchdown reception. McCoy’s 34-yard touchdown run early in the third helped the Eagles take a 33-7 lead. On the play, E.J. Biggers, a backup cornerback playing for Meriweather, missed a potential open-field tackle and Rambo was too late to help.

Then there was the pass rush. The Redskins are counting on the return of Brian Orakpo and the additions of rookie Brandon Jenkins and veteran Darryl Tapp to improve their edge rushing. It didn’t happen enough in Week 1.

Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan was a big-play force again. He had a sack and batted down a lateral pass that resulted in the Redskins’ first touchdown. Problem was, the Redskins weren’t able to generate a consistent pass rush without blitzing, which took linebackers away from coverage.

A slow start

Although Griffin wound up passing for 329 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, don’t let the numbers fool you. At the start of the game, Griffin lacked his signature touch on short and deep balls. After making so many right choices in the passing game as a rookie, Griffin made several wrong turns against the Eagles.

He forced balls into coverage, missed open receivers and was intercepted while trying to connect with Santana Moss, who was bracketed by three Eagles defensive backs. Offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan continued to utilize elements of the college option-style offense that worked so well last season.

Griffin mostly handed off to running back Alfred Morris, who lost a fumble on the Redskins’ first play from scrimmage, which made sense. It would have been downright reckless for Shanahan to call many designed runs for Grififn in his first game back.

Unfortunately for the Redskins, the Eagles must have figured Griffin wouldn’t run a lot. Their safeties, unlike last season, didn’t commit to coming in to pursue Griffin, which enabled the Eagles to play receivers tighter in the secondary.

The takeaway

The Redskins had two turnovers and a safety in their first six plays. Their defense was overmatched against Kelly’s offense. For Washington, it was about as bad as it gets for an opener — but it was only one game. There are 15 remaining.

For more from Jason Reid, go to washingtonpost.com/reid

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