Boswell: Redskins stunned and confused by Eagles’ offensive attack

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)
Thomas Boswell
Columnist September 9, 2013

The Redskins looked like ducks in the headlights on Monday evening at FedEx Field. A lightning-strike Philadelphia attack, often using fewer than a dozen seconds between plays, stunned a confused and panicked Washington team, grabbing a 33-7 lead, then holding on for a 33-27 upset win.

Actually, the D.C. defense looked like 11 confused and isolated victims of the Ducks, as in the University of Oregon where Eagles rookie coach Chip Kelly devised and polished the fastest-paced offense in the land. Who knew that the University of Virginia’s 59-10 slaughter at the hands of Oregon on Saturday in Charlottesville, just a couple of hours to the south, was a preview of Washington’s early miseries on national TV?

Tom Boswell is a Washington Post sports columnist. View Archive

The Redskins’ defense, including two often-lost rookies in the secondary, might as well have been 11 men stranded on 11 separate islands, unable to communicate or function as a unit as the Eagles often ran off plays so quickly that the scoreboard could barely keep up with the correct yard line. Option runs helped LeSean McCoy to 184 yards on 31 carries while Michael Vick completed 15 of 25 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns.

“We didn’t do a great job of tackling. Go back to the drawing board and do better. A couple of missed assignments by young guys hurt us,” Coach Mike Shanahan said. Something else hurt, too. For much of the first half, the Redskins defense was so clueless that Eagles receivers were running free everywhere you looked. Minor mistakes didn’t account for the Eagles’ early domination. It’s going to take a big blackboard to get the answers.

By the time the Redskins increased their blitz pressure, took more chances and gave quarterback Robert Griffin III a chance to rally his previously disorganized offense, Washington was in too deep a hole to escape. In evaluating this game, remember that comeback attempts, especially on your home field, are often overly flattering to the loser.

The final score was a testament to the tenacity of RGIII, who led three second-half scoring drives, including a 24-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson with 1:14 remaining for Washington’s final score. But there was illusion as well as gumption in those save-our-dignity scores.

Griffin showed that his right knee had healed from surgery and that he could scramble, move well in the pocket and, after early inaccuracy, find his passing touch. But every NFL season is filled with games when the trailing team piles up stats like RGIII’s 30-for-49 for 329 yards with two scores and two interceptions. But the loser never has a clean shot at a late victory.

As the Eagles built their lead, Griffin threw two interceptions, one into triple coverage, and tossed a poor pitchout to Alfred Morris that led to a fumble in the Washington end zone and an easy safety for the Eagles.

The Redskins closed what had once been a 21-3 deficit in first downs. But if the Redskins had not gotten a somewhat lucky score early in the game — on a deflected attempt at an Eagles pass into the flat that resulted in an uncontested 75-yard fumble return by DeAngelo Hall for a Washington touchdown — the Eagles might have built a 29-0 or even 33-0 lead.

Maybe, in a few weeks, after other teams get a chance to study the film, the Eagles’ attack will not look so scary. Maybe their spread formations will offer gaps through which to bring pressure, rather than simply scatter defenders from sideline to sideline, often opening up simple cutback runs. Maybe part of the fiasco on Monday was due to a Redskins pass defense that’s as bad or worse than in 2012. But for now the first impression is that there may be another sea change in the NFC East. Last year, the Redskins and their run-first RGIII-fueled pistol attack put Washington atop the division. Now it’s the Eagles, who were 4-12 last year, who have the offense that everybody else must solve.

This game illustrated one problem the Eagles may face that the Oregon Ducks seldom did. When you try to run a million plays and lengthen the game at the college level, you increase the chances that the better team will win. More plays, bigger data sample, less outlier results. The Eagles, with their talent issues, may not always want the better team to win. The Redskins’ late comeback just illustrated the double-edged nature of the Kelly offense.

In this first game of the season, Washington was so stunned by the pace and efficiency of the Eagles’ attack, outgained 322 to 46 at one point in the first half and behind 33-7 early in the third quarter, that the entire team, including the offense under the rusty erratic hand of Griffin, came unglued.

“I didn’t play well in the first half. I have to be accountable for how I play,” Griffin said when asked if he might have played better in the first half if he’d played in exhibition games. “That’s no excuse . . . There’s no finger-pointing in our locker room. We know we have to get better.”

For months, the NFL wondered about the health of Griffin’s knee and the ability of Kelly to translate his no-huddle, rush-to-the-line-before-they-can-substitute-or-call-a-defense offense from Oregon to the NFL.

Both questions were answered, but only one mattered on this night. Griffin’s knee seems okay, but his game isn’t yet.

“This is the first round of a 16-round fight. We came back and made a game of it. . . . It wasn’t the quarterback’s fault. It was a combination of a lot of little things,” Shanahan said of the Redskins committing three turnovers on their first six offensive plays.

The bitter aspect of this defeat for the Redskins was the rally they staged in the final 20 minutes. But when you show up on opening night in your own stadium as defending NFC East champion and fall behind 33-7, when your defense looks totally lost for two-thirds of the game, the message is clear. There’s a ton of work to do, especially on defense, before heading to Green Bay for a game in just six days.

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