When the Washington Redskins hired Scot McCloughan to become their general manager last year, he envisioned a team that could run the football, play good defense by stopping the run and grind out victories. It’s an old-school formula that has historically proved it can work in the NFL, even in this pass-happy era.
It took six games, but this was the closest the Redskins have looked to McCloughan’s blueprint this season. Against an upstart Philadelphia Eagles squad, Washington relied on a balanced offense and a stifling defense to reel off its fourth straight victory, 27-20, at FedEx Field on Sunday.
“[McCloughan] wants to know if we can run the ball and if we can stop the run,” said defensive end Ricky Jean Francois, who was drafted by McCloughan in 2009 during his tenure with the San Francisco 49ers. “Any team he has ever put together, that was his philosophy. We’ve got to be able to run the ball and stop the run. When he was in San Fran, he did it. Seattle, he did it. And now he’s going to build the same organization [here] and do the same thing.”
It all started and ended in the trenches. Washington rushed for a season-high 230 yards against the Eagles, who entered the game with the NFL’s second-best run defense, allowing 73.3 yards per game. The Redskins had 126 rushing yards at halftime using all three running backs — Matt Jones, Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley — to establish a ground game to complement quarterback Kirk Cousins.
The Redskins gained 68 rushing yards on their fourth possession alone, with Kelley, an undrafted rookie, ripping off the longest run of his brief career for 45 yards. That set up tight end Vernon Davis’s 13-yard touchdown catch five plays later to give them a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.
“You have to be able to run the ball, and you have to be able to pass the ball,” said Davis, who signed with the Redskins during the offseason because of his ties to McCloughan, going back to the 49ers. “When you combine the two of those, and you can do it whenever you wanna do it, when you look at that team, you look at a strong team. I say strong because you can do it here, or you can do it there. No one can dictate what we do, and that’s imperative.”
Meanwhile, the Eagles couldn’t establish their 10th-ranked run offense. They were held to 94 rushing yards, marking the first time this season the Redskins have held an opponent under 100 rushing yards. Philadelphia entered the game averaging 118.5 rushing yards per game.
That made the Eagles’ offense one-dimensional. It had to rely on rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, who made some impressive throws but couldn’t carry the team. He went 11 of 22 for 179 yards and a 77.7 quarterback rating.
Wentz didn’t benefit from the clean pocket he had received in his first four games because the line was missing right tackle Lane Johnson, who served the first of his 10-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Washington’s front seven rattled an opposing quarterback for the second consecutive game as a result, recording five sacks and 11 quarterback hits. The Eagles had allowed just seven sacks prior to the game.
The pressure allowed the Redskins to get off the field on third downs, as they did last week against the Baltimore Ravens. The Eagles went 4 of 12 on third downs. After being ranked last on third-down defense heading into Week 5, the Redskins have held their past two opponents to just 7 of 27 on third downs.
Philadelphia’s offense produced just two field goals as a result. It was the fourth straight game Washington’s defense hasn’t allowed a second-half touchdown.
“We had to stop telling ourselves that we’re the best and actually display it,” Jean Francois said. “Go out on the field and display it. Don’t just say it [to the media] or keep telling ourselves, ‘Oh yeah, we the best.’ You can be the best, but if you ain’t displaying what needs to be shown, we can scream that all day and people will still keep putting numbers up on us each and every day.”
All these factors helped produce the Redskins’ most impressive victory of the season, despite the noticeable lapses that kept the game closer than it should’ve been after their most dominant half of the season. An excessive celebration penalty after Davis’s score led to an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Wendell Smallwood. Cousins was picked off on the ensuing possession by safety Malcolm Jenkins, who returned it 64 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 14 in the second quarter.
But McCloughan’s blueprint continued to work. The Redskins regained the lead on a one-yard touchdown run from Jones, who had a career-high 135 yards on 16 carries, with six seconds left before halftime. With the game on the line inside two minutes, outside linebackers Trent Murphy and Preston Smith sacked Wentz on third and 15 to force a punt and Jones broke off a career-long 57-yard run on third and seven to pick up the first down and seal the victory.
“I’ve made the point many times before — our games are going to be a grind,” Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said. “They’re going to be coming down to the wire, the majority of them that we play. Our guys have to stay resilient through the good times and the bad times, and they’ve done that so far the past four weeks.”
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