The Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) and Washington Redskins (3-10) are set to play at FedEx Field on Sunday. In order to preview this Week 15 matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Hogs Haven. The affable Andrew York kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming contest. Let’s take a look at the answers. (Also don’t forget to check out my Q&A exchange over at HH.)
1 - What’s changed for Washington since the last time these two teams met in Week 1?
A LOT has changed. Two of the major changes have been at quarterback and head coach and I’ll go into more detail on what that has meant in answering the next two questions. Other big changes have been:
Veteran injuries - The Redskins seem to have lots of injuries every year and this year is no different. However, one difference is that this year, more injuries seem to be to veterans. QB Case Keenum’s performance visibly declined after he received numerous injuries early in the season, we are without our starting 2 TEs Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis (both due to concussion), Ryan Kerrigan broke his ironman streak due to a concussion and is now unlikely to play due to a calf, WR Paul Richardson has been unavailable most of the season and his status this Sunday is unclear. Although not necessarily due to injury, CB Josh Norman has also been benched.
Young/developing players stepping up - Numerous young players on both sides of the ball have been stepping up to replace injured or under-performing veterans. This includes rookie WR Terry McLaurin, who has looked like a draft day steal in the 3rd round. Rookie WR Kelvin Harmon, who has looked like a great blocker and physical possession WR in the mold of Pierre Garcon. Rookie UDFA WR Steve Sims Jr, who has looked like an explosive slot WR and kick/punt returner. Rookie ILB Cole Holcomb stepping up to replace veteran Mason Foster and looking like an upgrade, especially against the run. CB Fabian Moreau replacing Josh Norman on the outside and looking like an upgrade, as well as rookie 7th round pick CB Jimmie Moreland starting in the slot and looking reasonably good there. Overall, more young players have been stepping up (especially on defense) to replace veterans as the season has gone on, and the team has looked better for it. There are still lots of mistakes with so many young players, but enough flashes of ability to keep fans encouraged.
2 - How’s Dwayne Haskins looked thus far? To what extent is there confidence in him as the team’s long-term answer at quarterback?
It has been a mixed bag. On the one hand, he does not yet look like an NFL starter and is still raw in a lot of areas. On the other hand, he has shown enough improvement in many areas that most fans would still like to give him another season as starter to see what he can do.
Haskins is still slow to go through progressions and read coverages, though he has noticeably improved in this area since the beginning of the year. He still makes mistakes reading defenses and setting protections at the line, though this has also been an area of visible improvement. He no longer seems to make mistakes calling plays at the line and has improved his hard count. He still needs to learn to take the easy checkdown rather than focusing on plays downfield and he takes too many sacks, but he is getting a bit better in this regard. He is proving more mobile and elusive in the pocket (prior to his ankle sprain last week) than fans expected considering he was made out to have the legs of a paralyzed sloth during the Combine. His biggest sticking point seems to be his throwing mechanics and particularly his footwork, which results in the occasional inaccurate passes in the short and intermediate areas of the field. This is not unexpected given his single year starting at Ohio State and I think his poor footwork is partly due to having a big arm and being able to make all the throws in college with his arm alone. Lamar Jackson had a similar problem with footwork his rookie year and was able to fix it with an offseason of focus, and I expect the same from Dwayne.
In terms of intangibles, there have been moments of immaturity (eg, selfie-gate and some reports that he wasn’t putting in enough time early in the season), but also a lot of poise and grit (showing no fear of contact when making throws, and playing through a sprained ankle that very visibly limited him last week). Most importantly, the rest of the team has seemed to play a bit harder since he was named the starter, including the defense. Something I noticed with Alex Smith last year was that although he was terrible statistically, the rest of the team seemed to play better when he was starting, and there were numerous reports from players about his leadership. It’s early, but I think something similar may be happening with Dwayne. We’ll see how that turns out though, because it is still very early.
3 - How would you evaluate Bill Callahan as the interim head coach? Who should Washington hire this offseason?
Callahan is a contrast to Jay. Where Jay ran soft practices and was a “players’ coach”, Callahan is an old-school disciplinarian who forces the players to run wind sprints at the end of practice and has increased the number of padded practices. Where Jay was a creative signal caller who favored the passing game, Callahan prefers a simpler run heavy, smash mouth approach. One positive change implemented under Callahan is an increase in the amount of self-scouting. He’s asked the Redskins pro scouts to sit in on practices and games and give the coaching staff evaluations of our players as an independent check of their abilities and whether or not they’re being used correctly. He’s also brought college referees into our practices to call penalties when they see them in an attempt to reduce the number of penalties in games. He doesn’t seem to be as good of a gameplanner as Jay and we seem to be down more often than not in the first half of games. However, he seems to be better at in-game adjustments than Jay, and we often do a bit better in the second half than the first. Callahan has also struggled with in-game decision making, like when to use timeouts or challenge a call. Overall, I think he’s done fine as an interim head coach, but I don’t think he deserves the job full time.
In terms of who the Redskins should hire, I would want to focus on choosing the right Team President/GM to replace Bruce Allen and letting him make that decision. Ultimately, the head coach needs to be someone the GM wants to work with and trusts. If I were making the decision, I’d seriously consider Gary Kubiak, Greg Roman, Eric Bieniemy, Matt Eberflus, Robert Saleh, and David Toub, to name a few. Kubiak is a former Super Bowl winning HC who stepped down for medical reasons, but has since got back into coaching and has revitalized the Vikings offense with a run-heavy, play action passing approach; maybe he could do the same here with our run-first roster. Likewise for Greg Roman and the Ravens (and Bills and 49ers before them). The vertical passing attack Eric Bieniemy has installed at Kansas City might be a good fit for the big-armed Haskins (not to mention the general success of Andy Reid disciples). Matt Eberflus has done a lot maximizing the defensive roster of the Colts the last few years and a DC might be a better fit for the personnel strengths of the team, not to mention he is familiar with the NFC East having coached in Dallas (and reportedly called the defense) for several years. Robert Saleh commands what may be the best defense in the NFL right now (49ers), but there are questions about how well it performed in previous years. And David Toub is a special teams coordinator whom numerous people have described as a slam dunk head coaching candidate, but seems to have not been given a chance because he is a special teams coordinator. I’d cast a wide net with candidates like these and make the final decisions based on how they interview, their vision for the team, and their detailed plan to get there.
4 - If you were trying to beat Washington, how would you attack them on both offense and defense?
Attacking the offense, I’d use lots of disguised coverages to take advantage of the rookie QB’s inexperience. The Jets had a lot of success with this, showing blitz, then dropping back and only rushing four. Although Haskins has proven surprisingly elusive in the pocket, his recent ankle injuries (combined with our poor OT talent) might make blitzes worth trying early and often. I’d also stack the box, as the Redskins offense clearly goes through the running game. And I’d double team rookie WR Terry McLaurin, who has 4.3 speed, is a polished route runner, and is looking like one of the steals of the draft. He’s our biggest passing game threat by far, as well as our only real deep threat.
5 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what kind of changes are you expecting to be made this offseason?
Vegas has Philadelphia as 4.5 point favorites in a 40 point game and they’re pretty good at projections, so I’d go off their totals and predict something like 21 - 17 in favor of Philadelphia. I think the game will be a bit more defensive than people are expecting, as the Redskins defense has rallied since week 5, only allowing 2 teams to score more than 21 points (Bills and Jets, go figure), while holding the 49ers, Vikings, and Packers to 20 or fewer. I also think that despite the terrible state of the Philadelphia secondary, the Redskins might not be able to take advantage due to our run-heavy approach and the inconsistency of Haskins. We’ll see.
The changes will all start with the positions of Team President and GM. Bruce Allen has been a festering sore as Team President for years, but (as I write this on Wednesday night) reports are finally converging on this being his final season. If so, we will appoint a new Team President and go from there. It’s pretty difficult to speculate beyond that point, as there are a wide range of outcomes that could result. If we promote an internal candidate to Team President, like VP of Player Personnel Doug Williams (a former SB-winning QB, leader, and good talent evaluator) or VP of Football Operations Eric Schaffer (our cap guy, contract negotiator, and also an important part of talent evaluations), we would expect things to remain somewhat stable (including our recent success in the later rounds of the draft), but hopefully with a clearer vision for what the team should be going forward and better coordination between the FO and the new coaching staff. If the new Team President is an outside hire, then the whole FO could get replaced and it’s hard to speculate past that. Also, hopefully the new Team President fills the GM position, which has remained vacant for 2 years. Whether the power to control personnel lies with the Team President or GM is another open question, but hopefully one of them will be clearly given both final say and accountability.
Either way, I expect changes in the front office (hopefully starting with Bruce Allen), a new coaching staff, and several expensive veteran players to be cut (Josh Norman, Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis) or traded (Trent Williams, maybe Ryan Kerrigan?). I expect Dwayne Haskins to get another year to prove himself, a few young pending free agents to get re-signed (notably Brandon Scherff and Ereck Flowers, the latter of whom has been a happy surprise at LG), and a focus in the draft on building talent around the QB (most notably at OT and TE, either of which we could spend multiple draft picks on).