Redskins vs. Eagles: Defense enjoys a banner day

November 18, 2012

Tormented by rookie quarterbacks for the last six years, and susceptible to the big play all season long, the Washington Redskins’ secondary finally reversed two of their most perplexing trends and paved the way for a 31-6 victory Sunday at FedEx Field.

After losing to the last eight rookie quarterbacks that they had faced dating back to 2006, the Redskins had little difficulty hassling Nick Foles, who started for the Philadelphia Eagles in place of the concussed Michael Vick.

Washington sacked Foles four times – tying a season high – and forced the third-round pick out of Arizona into throwing two interceptions. The Redskins also forced and recovered a fumble.

Additionally, the Redskins didn’t surrender a touchdown, marking the first time since Week 16 of the 2008 season (also against Philadelphia) that they had kept an opponent out of the end zone while earning a victory. (Washington last season held Dallas without a touchdown in Week 3, but did surrender six field goals and lost, 18-16.)

The Redskins’ much-maligned secondary had its best outing of the season, keeping speedsters DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin in check all game long. Jackson, who has torched the Redskins frequently in the past and entered Sunday averaging 16.3 yards per catch, managed only two catches for five yards. And Maclin, who leads the team with four touchdown catches, didn’t record a single reception.

The Eagles’ leading pass-catcher was running back LeSean McCoy, who recorded six catches for 67 yards.

“I think we did everything pretty well,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said of his defense. “[Philadelphia] did well on a couple screens early and moved the ball, but we kept them out of the end zone. Any time you get those three turnovers at the right time, it’s always a difference in being able to take a little pressure off the offense, and obviously make some plays there in the second half.”

Sieve-like in their play through the bulk of the first nine games of the season, the Redskins have allowed eight plays of 40 yards or more this season, and 17 of 25 yards or longer. Washington’s defensive coaches and players entered last week’s bye searching for solutions for the struggles that caused them to go from 13th best defense in 2011 to one of the league’s worst this season.

This week, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett cooked up a strategy that saw his unit mix up its coverage and pass-rushing schemes, and the Eagles never managed to settle into a rhythm.

“Haz did a great job of calling the game, mixing it up and really getting after them,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “We really put a lot of pressure on Foles, and didn’t give him a lot of time to go to [Jackson] or Maclin. . . . For a team that’s built to generate big plays to not have any, that’s a big step up for us, because we’ve at least been giving up one a game.”

It didn’t take long for the defense to make its presence felt on Sunday.

On the third play of the game, Foles unleashed a pass intended for tight end Brent Celek, but Celek — blanketed by inside linebacker London Fletcher — couldn’t make the catch. The ball bounced off his hands, and cornerback DeAngelo Hall plucked it out of the air and returned it 22 yards to the Philadelphia 9-yard line to set up a Robert Griffin III touchdown pass to fullback Darrel Young two plays later.

On the very next Eagles possession, Washington’s defense came up with its second interception of the game. Facing third and 21 from the Washington 42, Foles went downfield to DeSean Jackson, but was picked off by strong safety Brandon Meriweather, who made his Redskins debut after missing the first nine games with strained ligaments in his left knee. Meriweather returned the ball 25 yards to the Philadelphia 44.

Then, in the closing seconds of the second quarter, Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield forced McCoy to fumble, and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan recovered at the Philadelphia 14 with 27 seconds left on the clock.

Washington didn’t reach the end zone, but used a 30-yard field goal from Kai Forbath to extend its lead to 17-3 at halftime.

“We just came out with a lot of energy,” Hall said after the victory. “We came out, knew our backs were against the wall, like I said. Probably not the best situation to be in, but we knew we had a chance. . . . These guys fought, came off a bye week feeling pretty good, came out here and gave it our all.”

The fact that the Redskins faced Foles, who struggled with accuracy even when not under pressure and posted a lowly quarterback rating of 40.5, mattered not to Washington’s players.

“I just felt like for the first time, we played a full game,” Hall said. “I don’t think it would’ve mattered if [Michael Vick] would’ve been out there. He would’ve probably scrambled a little bit more. But with the way this group of guys were focusing in this locker room, going out to that game, and at halftime, before the game, the whole week of preparation, it wouldn’t have mattered who you had out there. It just felt like it was one of those days.”

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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