In his first career start, Eagles rookie quarterback Nick Foles seemed even more uncomfortable in the pocket than shaky Redskins safety Madieu Williams does in coverage. The only thing Philadelphia’s offensive line was effective at throughout Washington’s 31-6 blowout victory was holding.
The Redskins’ next opponent figures to provide a better yardstick for measuring whether Coach Mike Shanahan’s team is actually capable of salvaging its season.
In Dallas on Thursday, the Redskins will try to corral veteran Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. They’ll face a much more confident offense (Dallas is tied for 11th in the league in total yardage) than the dispirited Eagles bunch that couldn’t produce a touchdown. Second place in the NFC East is at stake.
For Washington to make a realistic playoff push in perhaps the NFL’s weakest division, the defense has to prove its impressive showing was about more than just catching the Eagles at their worst. As spectacular as Robert Griffin III was again, becoming only the second rookie in league history to produce a perfect passer rating, the Redskins won’t reach the postseason on his performance alone. And although the defense fattened up on a weak opponent in the last game, there’s also reason to believe at least a little more in that group.
As is usually the case in football, the good news for the Redskins starts up front. Nose tackle Barry Cofield and defensive end Stephen Bowen weren’t good only because the Eagles’ ragtag offensive line was awful. Their performance was legit.
Pittsburgh Steelers back Jonathan Dwyer is the only player to rush for 100 yards against the Redskins this season. The Redskins’ defensive linemen and linebackers acknowledge they’re the keys to turning around the season (“I still believe we are the strength of this team,” Bowen said).
The Redskins’ strength could match well with one of the Cowboys’ weak spots. Top Dallas running back DeMarco Murray, who has missed the past five games because of a foot injury, is not expected to play against the Redskins. Felix Jones, who started the past four games for Dallas, is not in Murray’s class.
Shutting down the Cowboys’ running game, and thereby increasing Romo’s workload, would be a good way for the Redskins’ defensive front seven to back up their words with actions. Pounding Romo always helps, too. In leading the Cowboys to consecutive victories, the 10-year veteran completed more than 70 percent of his passes and had three touchdowns with no interceptions.
This past Sunday against Cleveland, Romo made just enough plays (he passed for 313 yards) to lead Dallas to a 23-20 overtime victory, but he was sacked seven times. The lesson for the Redskins, which I’m certain defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has learned from past frustrating experiences against Romo, is that you have to keep Romo guessing with different blitzes. And rushing the passer had better result in quarterback hits and sacks.