We all marked Sunday's game against the Eagles on our calenders as the big matchup of the Redskins 2010 season. A win against the Eagles in Donovan McNabb's return to Philadelphia would surely be the cause of triumph throughout the Washington DC area.
And yet even after a 17-12 victory, the Redskins should not be satisfied.
Washington played one half of good football, and then shut it down for the day. Fortunately for them, the Eagles played almost four full quarters of bad football. The result was an ugly performance from both teams as the Redskins escaped after Jason Avant dropped Kevin Kolb's final heave downfield on the last play of the game.
The Redskins improve to 2-2 and 2-0 in the NFC East, leaving them atop the division after wins against the Eagles and Cowboys. However, the Redskins have yet to show the ability to finish games in a convincing fashion.
Obviously Mike Shanahan will accept the wins anyway they come, but the Redskins are one dropped pass and one holding penalty away from being 0-4 on the season. At the quarter mark of the regular season this much is certain; Washington must start winning games on their own terms if they want to be taken seriously by the rest of the league.
Washington has held leads in all four of their games thus far. They maintained them to beat Dallas and Philly, but blew a 27-10 advantage to Houston and a 16-14 lead to St. Louis. Their strongest game came against Houston, but ironically they lost the game in overtime.
The other three contests were uneven efforts, and displayed some concerning flaws the Redskins must overcome if they want to compete over the next month. The 'Skins host the Packers and Colts in the next two weeks before heading out to the midwest to take on the Bears and Lions. That's a tough stretch including the Lions who have been playing good football despite an 0-4 start.
But I'll save the road ahead for another column since I still need to name the players of the game for Washington.
Offensively, there were no eye-popping numbers so it was a chore picking a player. Clinton Portis played well as did Ryan Torain, but neither dominated. Chris Cooley had another nice game blocking and caught a touchdown pass. I'll need to watch the game again, but I believe Jammal Brown had a solid game at right tackle.
Ultimately, I'll go with both running backs. Portis finally began to initiate contact himself and also battled through several visits to the trainers table. The Torain-Portis combination seems to be fairly effective through two weeks and the Redskins wisely ensured they received more touches as the game went on.
This was the first game the 'Skins have put their noses to the grindstone and actually remained committed to the ground game. It worked to the tune of 169 rushing yards and 4.8 YPC. The Shanahans saw the Eagles had been struggling to stop the run (they were ranked 23rd coming into the game) and they attacked that weakness.
Portis had 11 carries for 55 yards and a pair of catches for 26 yards. On an aside, Portis had a beautiful catch and run on a McNabb dump-off where he avoided several defenders at the line of scrimmage and managed to turn the play into a 14-yard gain. Torain had 18 carries for 70 yards and a touchdown. Portis is still the best back on the roster, but Torain did have several impressive runs including his touchdown where he trucked over Eagles safety Quintin Mikell en route to six points.
Torain tries to do too much when the play break downs in front of him. He tends to move laterally to avoid penetration and got caught deep in the backfield too many times today. However, he made up for the mistakes with his determined running style. When he goes straight ahead it's tough to bring him down.
With Portis nursing a groin injury after the game Sunday, Torain might get even more touches next week against Green Bay.
My defensive player of the game is Lorenzo Alexander who started for Andre Carter at outside linebacker. Alexander only had two tackles but also provided a monster hit on Eagles' returner Jorrick Calvin during the Redskins first kick-off. The hit set the tone for a physical defensive performance. Alexander also knocked away Kolb's two-point conversion pass to Avant, forcing the Eagles to drive for a touchdown rather than a field goal on their final drive.
Alexander is without question a better fit at OLB and it seems Jim Haslett might be ready to use Carter as a situational pass rusher from the defensive end position. Carter registered a sack from DE and played there throughout the game.
The Redskins once again failed to tackle consistently, but they did force four fumbles including one caused by an ear-splitting Carlos Rogers hit on Mike Bell. They jammed receivers and made life miserable for the Eagles offensive line (four holding penalties against the Eagles O-line). By the end of the game, it was no surprise seeing DeSean Jackson duck for cover when he saw LaRon Landry bearing down on him over the top.
Kolb threw downfield to Jackson along the sideline, but the pint-sized receiver wanted none of the pass once Landry entered his peripherals. It was a pleasant flashback to the days when Sean Taylor scared the daylights out of little Todd Pinkston.
The physical aspect of the Redskins game helped them overcome other deficiencies against Philadelphia. If they can bring that mentality every week and improve upon the glaring issues presently plaguing them, then they will be a formidable opponent for any team.