Paul Domowitch: Rout of Redskins takes heat off Eagles' run defense

Eagles' Dimitri Patterson celebrates after scoring on a 40-yard interception return in the third quarter.
Eagles' Dimitri Patterson celebrates after scoring on a 40-yard interception return in the third quarter.
Posted: November 16, 2010

LANDOVER, Md. - Thanks to Michael Vick and the Eagles' high-flying offense, Sean McDermott's defense never really got an opportunity to show the Redskins how much their run defense has improved in the 5 weeks since Washington's 17-12 Week 4 win at the Linc.

You may recall that the Redskins rushed for 169 yards in that game. Ran the ball on nine of their first 11 offensive plays and scored two quick touchdowns, including an impressive 12-yard scoring run by Ryan Torain, who played the role of an 18-wheeler to Quintin Mikell's Volkswagen Beetle.

Used the run to play keepaway in the fourth quarter when the Eagles desperately were trying to get the ball back.

Since that game, McDermott's unit has been one of the stingiest run defenses in the league. And that was expected to be a key for them in last night's rematch at FedEx Field.

But Vick and Co. did to the Redskins what the Redskins did to the Eagles a month-and-half ago. Except they did it in spades. Scored touchdowns on their first five possessions. Had a 35-0 lead before the game was 15 1/2 minutes old. That pretty much took the ground game out of play for the Redskins.

Although it might not have mattered. Neither of the Redskins' top two runnings backs - Clinton Portis and Torain - suited up last night. Portis missed his fifth straight game with a groin injury. Torain is nursing a hamstring injury.

That left rookie Keiland Williams. After Vick and DeSean Jackson teamed up on an 88-yard touchdown pass on the Eagles' first play from scrimmage, Williams ran the ball three straight times. But he gained just 8 yards, the Redskins had to punt the ball away and Vick and the Eagles were off to the races.

Vick played the game of his life, throwing for four touchdowns and running for two more. Notched his fourth 100-plus passer rating of the season. Ran his streak of consecutive passes without an interception to 170.

The Redskins ran the ball just 12 times in the first three quarters, gaining only 34 yards. Williams broke loose for a 32-yard scoring romp early in the fourth quarter with the Eagles ahead, 59-21. But it's hard to put a lot of relevance in that considering the lopsided score at the time.

In the Eagles' four games after their Week 4 loss to the Redskins, and before last night's rematch, they had held opponents to 69 rushing yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry. This was after giving up 138.7 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry in their first four games.

They've been better against the run in almost every way, shape and form since Week 4. Their first-quarter yards-allowed-per-carry average shrunk from 6.1 in the first four games to 2.8 in the next four.

In their first four games, including the loss to the Redskins, they gave up 22 runs of 10 yards or more and 33 rushing first downs. In their next four, they gave up six runs of 10 yards or more and just 16 rushing first downs.

They held the 49ers' dangerous Frank Gore to 2.9 yards per carry. They held the Falcons' Michael Turner to 3.0 yards per carry. They held the Titans' Chris Johnson to 2.7 yards per carry.

"We've gone up against some of the better backs in the league and done a good job against them," said strongside linebacker Moise Fokou, who has been one of the keys to the run-defense turnaround.

"We needed to be more physical than we were early on," defensive tackle Mike Patterson said. "As a group, we were worried about too many other things rather than what we needed to do assignment-wise."

Patterson said a big part of the Eagles' run success the last five games has simply been a matter of playing together.

"We're getting more and more comfortable playing with each other, and able to feed off each other and know how to play off each other," he said.

McDermott has been regularly rotating eight different players up front, which has allowed Patterson and the rest of the team's defensive linemen to stay fresh.

After the Week 4 loss to the Redskins, McDermott also made a key lineup change, benching strongside linebacker Akeem Jordan and replacing him with the more physical Fokou.

Fokou started four games at SAM late last season as a seventh-round rookie after McDermott benched Chris Gocong. He was penciled in as the starter heading into training camp in July, but was demoted in favor of Jordan before he even had a chance to break his first two-a-day sweat.

But after the Redskins rushed for 169 yards against them, McDermott went back to Fokou. While he is not all that much bigger than Jordan - Fokou is listed as 6-1 and 236 pounds, Jordan 6-1 and 230 - he plays with more physicality.

"I came in and just tried to establish a physical presence in the run game, and that's what I'm going to continue to keep doing," Fokou said.

"I don't think this game is all about size. You've got to have a mindset and a physicality. You've got to be kind of like an angry dog out there and just take that to the field every day."

The emergence of defensive tackle Antonio Dixon also has been a big factor in the improvement of the run defense. He replaced starter Brodrick Bunkley against the 49ers in Week 5 after Bunkley injured his arm, and has given the Eagles the kind of immovable inside presence they've lacked since Hollis Thomas' heyday.

Dixon's ability to get penetration and occupy blockers has helped free up Fokou and the rest of the Eagles' linebackers to make plays.

"Antonio is a physical guy," Patterson said. "It's hard to stop him when he gets going. He works hard every time he's out there. He just needed the opportunity to play, and now that he's got that, everything's working well for him."

Bunkley returned last week against the Colts, but Dixon has remained the starter alongside Patterson. The three of them are part of a four-man defensive tackle rotation that also includes Trevor Laws. McDermott also uses defensive end Darryl Tapp at tackle in nickel packages.

"The coaches have done a much better job of putting the players in the best position where they can help the team the last several weeks," said Fokou, borrowing a popular line from Andy Reid. "Dixon's been unbelievable. He's just a powerful, powerful guy. Downhill. In those gaps. He and Mike P. allow us [the linebackers] to use our speed and get to the ball. "

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