What: Eagles (3-6) vs. Redskins (3-6)
Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Fox WTTG-5
Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live: Comcast SportsNet noon and 4.
Mike Shanahan called the Redskins’ last game a ‘must-win.’
In reality, though, this week’s contest against the Eagles is far more important to his team’s faint playoff hopes.
At 3-6, the Redskins still have a puncher’s chance of rallying down the stretch and making the postseason for the first time since 2007. But such a scenario likely would require "winning out," as nose tackle Barry Cofield put it. Or, at the very least, winning six of the season’s final seven games.
Either way, that run must begin at home against a Eagles’ team that hasn’t won a game since September and will have a rookie backup quarterback, Nick Foles, making his first career start in the place of Michael Vick (concussion).
Historically, the Redskins have failed to beat rookie signal callers. In fact, they’ve lost eight straight games, a drought stretching back Vince Young in 2006. (Their last win against a rookie was over Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Rams in 2005, according to STATS Inc.)
From an Xs and Os standpoint, the key to preventing ninth consecutive letdown figures to be effectively disguising alignments and confusing the 23-year-old. But Cofield chose to keep it simple when asked about the challenges of facing a young quarterback for the first time.
“Complacency is probably the No. 1 issue,” the recently-elected defensive captain said. “You go against a guy who you think is going to be at a lower level. Then you go out and not play your best ball, and they look like a Pro Bowler.”
Foles “can make all the throws,” according to defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, and he’ll be facing the NFL’s third worst pass defense. He'll also have plenty of weapons at his disposal, including standout wide receivers DeSean Jackson (16.3 yards per catch) and Jeremy Maclin (team-high four touchdowns) as well as tight end Brent Celek (8 receptions of 20 or more yards). And don't forget running back LeSean McCoy, who ranks 11th in the league with 705 yards and has the third most runs over 20 yards (7). Given the Redskins’ susceptibility to big plays, keeping McCoy from breaking off large chunks of yardage will be critical.
It’s probably too much to ask the Redskins’ reeling defense to shut down both the run and pass. But if they can contain one, they should have a chance.
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris must get the Redskins’ previously potent offense going again. The team averaged more than 26 points per game through the season’s first seven games, but has tallied a meager 12 and 13, respectively, in the past two.
Whether it’s a lack of complementary playmakers, opposing defenses catching up to Shanahan’s innovative offense, penalties and other mental miscues, or some combination of the three, they’re going to need more than a single touchdown to beat the Eagles and breathe life back into their staggering season.
“The rest of the NFL definitely helped us out by having teams in our division lose,” Griffin said. “I don’t think [the playoffs are] an unrealistic goal. But for us, the biggest thing is you don’t look into the future because you have to take care of what’s in front of you.”
Here are three other areas the team at csnwashington.com will be monitoring:
1-Will wide receiver Pierre Garçon play? He’s missed four straight games with a plantar plate tear in his right foot, but he’s practiced this week like a player who wants to suit up.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan also hinted that the team is okay with their No. 1 wide receiver playing at less than 100-percent, saying, “We would definitely rather have him out there than not have him at all. We think he can help regardless of what [percent] he is.”
2-How about safety Brandon Meriweather? He reported soreness in his twice-sprained left knee earlier this week and has been limited in practice. But the veteran has been working with the first team and, barring a setback, is expected to make his season debut.
“He can do a lot of different things,” Haslett said. “He’s an ex-corner, so he can cover. He’s got good rush ability. There’s a lot things you can take advantage of – if he’s healthy.”
3-The Redskins’ margin for error on any give Sunday is slim enough without self-inflicted wounds. Against the Steelers, receivers dropped 10 passes. Against the Panthers, they were whistled for a season-high 13 penalties. Entering the Philadelphia game, the Redskins are tied with the Cowboys for most penalties per game (8.3), according to www.teamrankings.com.
Will having last week off result in a physically fresher, mentally sharper Redskins’ team? Is this is a bad time to mention they’re 0-4 coming off the bye since 2007?