Redskins seek an outside chance

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Sports,NFL,Redskins,John Keim

Running game must counter the Eagles' penetration

ASHBURN -- The Redskins accept a simple reality Sunday: The Eagles will have defenders on their side of the ball quite often. They will get upfield fast and alter the Redskins' outside run game and perhaps disrupt their ability to use the zone read option.

The Redskins don't accept that this will cripple their run game, however. To snap their three-game losing streak -- and extend Philadelphia's losing streak to six games -- the Redskins will need to do more than just run the ball. But if they don't run well, it certainly will make the Redskins' chances of winning that much tougher.

It's not as if the Eagles have been dominant against the run. They rank 15th in rushing yards allowed per game and 18th in yards per carry. Still, the last 100-yard rusher they allowed was Washington's Evan Royster in the 2011 season finale. They have recorded only 14 sacks, too.

"They crash the O-line every play whether it's a run or pass," Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "It's hard to get outside on it. It can be a tough defense to run on. It can be a real tough defense to drop back and throw on."

The Eagles' defensive ends line up one to two yards outside the offensive tackles. Other teams have used this alignment vs. Washington -- St. Louis, for example. But the Rams played it differently. Their ends read the play, then reacted. The Eagles' ends align in a four-point stance with one goal in mind: get to the quarterback.

"Everything changes when you play a team that uses this technique," Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen said. "You can't take your normal footwork. You have to block for where they end up."

The Redskins like to run outside the tackles in their zone stretch scheme. But in two games against the Eagles last season -- when they first started using this defensive line technique -- they ran outside only seven times combined (for 14 yards) compared with 28 times between the tackles. In the second game they ran between the tackles on inside zones 19 times for 118 yards. With better vision and subsequent cuts, the Redskins could have gained more yards.

There were times last season when the Eagles had five defenders on the Redskins' side of the ball after the snap. But Washington still was able to gain positive yards. The Redskins ran a couple draws but often solved the issue with a fullback/tight end in the backfield blocking to the other side of the play. Or the tackles or tight ends would head to the outside linebacker, with the fullback cutting the end.

"Penetration scares a back. It can disrupt things," Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris said. "But as a runner you have to adjust and adapt on the fly. A lot of games we get penetration, and a lot of times I make a cut and just keep running. It's not like I get shocked and freeze up in the backfield."

The tricky part could be running the zone read option. Philadelphia has yet to play Carolina, which also uses the zone read, to know how it might be impacted by this tactic.

"We'll run it a couple times and find out Sunday," Shanahan said. "It'll be interesting to see."

For the backs, pressing the hole -- getting close to the heels of the linemen before cutting back -- is paramount. Dodging bodies in traffic and breaking tackles are as well -- both things Morris does well.

"It gets muddied sometimes," Paulsen said. "But if you have a guy like we have, it can make you look good."

jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

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