Different Redskins Come to Town
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - In recent seasons when the Eagles have struggled against the Washington Redskins, it was generally about Kirk Cousins pushing the football down the field.
With Cousins now cashing big checks in Minnesota the current version of the 'Skins has shifted toward more of a defensive mindset even before veteran quarterback Alex Smith went down with a gruesome leg injury.
Now with backup Colt McCoy leading the offense, things are scaled back even further for Jay Gruden, who now relies on a run-first platform built around the 33-year-old Adrian Peterson.
Peterson, one of the great pure runners of all-time, isn't what he once was but has found the fountain of youth with 758 yards and six touchdowns so far.
The Redskins passing game, though, is not nearly as explosive as it was in the Cousins era and Washington will arrive at Lincoln Financial Field Monday with the 27th-ranked offense in the NFL, largely because of a passing attack which has generated just 213.7 yards per game.
The top receiving threat on the Redskins is tight end Jordan Reed and the No. 1 outside option, Josh Doctson, has just 32 receptions for 334 yards.
"Obviously they rely on their run game," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "Adrian, I think has really given them a spark this year in the run game. They should get [RB Chris] Thompson back I think. It looks like he'll be ready to go. I think everything starts kind of with that, and then Colt I think is a quarterback that knows the offense extremely well. You see it in his play. You see it in his decision-making, and things haven't changed a whole lot."
In other words, Jay Gruden's passing concepts remain the same but the strengths of Cousins, Smith and McCoy vary, as do their default settings.
"The ball might go to maybe some different guys," Pederson explained. "It's no different than when [QB] Nick [Foles] played versus [QB] Carson [Wentz]. The ball sometimes goes to different guys. That's just a different lens and what people are seeing."
However, much like Dallas, which leads the NFC East with a 7-5 record, the Redskins have quickly shifted from an offensive identity to a defensive one with playmakers at all three levels.
Usual Eagles killer Ryan Kerrigan remains the top pass rusher with eight sacks off the edge but he's now got help up front with former Alabama stars Jonathan Allen and Da'Ron Payne, as well as Temple product Matt Ioannidis while Mike linebacker Mason Foster handles the traffic in the middle.
"Their front seven is outstanding, as good a front three or four – the D-line they have is excellent," Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "They're strong at the point of attack. They got excellent lateral quickness. They can get on the edge and push the pocket in the middle. Both those guys on the perimeter, Kerrigan and [Preston] Smith, can collapse the pocket outside. They have an elaborate blitz package and they've been in this defense for a number of years now and these guys play well together."
On the back end, D.J. Swearinger has been in the conversation for best safety in football this season while the trade deadline pickup of Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix further bolstered things on the last line. The cornerbacks haven't been quite as good but Josh Norman can still turn it on at times.
"They've got really good players at all levels. They really do," Groh said. "I think Mason is the second-leading tackler in the NFL, and Swearinger, who is running all over the field and is a very disruptive player down in the box and is making plays on the ball.
"Of course Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, I've known him for a long time going back to [the University of] Alabama. He's a solid addition to their secondary and they’ve got very good corners. They're a formidable defense and we're excited about the challenge. We know who they are as a division opponent, and our guys will be ready."
973espn.com Prediction: Eagles 24 Redskins 17
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen