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NFL Preview - Philadelphia (0-0) at Washington (0-0)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Just over eight months after leaving FedEx Field on his shield, Robert Griffin III will be back under center as the Washington Redskins open the 2013 NFL season by hosting NFC East-rival Philadelphia on "Monday Night Football."
The reigning NFL Rookie of the Year, of course, spearheaded Washington's 2012 revival, but was knocked out of a wild card game versus the Seattle Seahawks with tears to both the lateral collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee.
RG3 targeted training camp to get back to work but was held back a bit for his own good, creating some friction with his head coach Mike Shanahan.
"I just want everybody to know that if there's any questions about a rift between me and coach, or if there's a conflict, there is no conflict. Coaches coach, I'm a player," Griffin said. "Coach has a plan and I'm abiding by that plan. I'm doing everything that they ask me to do. I trust those guys. They want me to have a long career and that's what this part of this plan is about."
RG3 dubbed Shanahan's plan "Operation Patience," and was eventually cleared to compete in Week 1, something Shanahan confirmed with one caveat: "unless there's some crazy setback that we don't anticipate."
With RG3 under center in his freshman NFL season, the Redskins' offense sizzled. The 'Skins were first in rushing yards (169.3), fourth in scoring (27.2 ppg) and fifth in both total yards (383.2) and touchdowns (52), including the second-best rushing total at 22.
Besides Griffin, fellow rookie Alfred Morris shined to the tune of 13 rushing touchdowns. Running backs tend to achieve a lot of success in a Shanahan-led scheme and Morris took off although Shanahan would like to see Morris more involved outside of the backfield, too.
"A lot of people come out of college and they just don't spend the time on catching the ball. He has spent a lot of time in the offseason catching the football, running routes and you can see that hard work has paid off because he's a lot more natural," Shanahan said. "It gives you another dimension."
The Redskins are one of the favorites to win the NFC East and have the offense to accomplish the feat. However, the defense could be an issue although it didn't seem to hinder Washington last season, as the team recorded a 5-1 mark in division play despite finishing 30th in pass defense (281.9).
The Redskins should be bolstered by the return of star linebacker Brian Orakpo, who suffered a pectoral tear in the second game of the season in 2012.
"He can do it all," Shanahan said of Orakpo. "He's everything you look at in a Pro Bowl linebacker."
Things are far different in South Philadelphia these days as Chip Kelly has not only changed the stale culture around the Eagles, he has strapped a defibrillater on it and shocked it into a new era.
Andy Reid's 14-year tenure in the City of Brotherly Love ended after a 4-12 finish last season and a second straight year not making the playoffs.
Kelly and his innovative, up-tempo offense touched down this offseason and many believe his presence will resuscitate the languishing effect left by Reid.
The first order of business was choosing a starting quarterback and after a very lengthy process which went deep in the summer, the first year coach stood pat, handing the keys to veteran Michael Vick, who won the job over second- year QB Nick Foles and rookie Matt Barkley.
Vick has some toys to work with in running backs LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown, wide receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end Brent Celek. He lost a weapon in wideout Jeremy Maclin, who is done for the season with a torn ACL suffered during the first weekend of training camp, however.
Philadelphia's offensive line, arguably the strongest unit on the team, is back at full strength. Like all offenses, a strong line can lead to greener pastures and the Eagles are hoping in time it will occur for them.
Philadelphia's biggest area of concern is the defense. The unit has moved to a 3-4 base scheme under new coordinator Bill Davis, whose track record isn't all that pristine.
Davis has some older players working in new positions, most notably former Pro Bowl defensive end Trent Cole moving to outside linebacker.
Washington leads the all-time series which started back in 1934 by an 81-71-6 margin. The 'Skins are also above water at home versus the Eagles (41-35-3) but Philadelphia is 10-6 at FedEx Field.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
So much of the fanfare surrounding Kelly's inaugural voyage at the helm of the Eagles has centered on his quarterback situation but Davis is trying to revamp an entire unit, pivoting away from the old regime's 4-3, wide-9 mindset and morphing into a hybrid front, whose default setting will be an attacking 3-4 look but the real goal is disguising the fourth pass-rusher on any given snap.
"I think it gives us a lot more versatility, and I think it causes a lot of problems defensively because you don't know exactly where that fourth rusher is coming from," Kelly said when discussing the defense in the preseason. "I think there is a versatility in the 3-4 defense that you like."
The change is a hat tip to modern day pro football, which has become a passing-oriented affair with rules heavily-slanted toward the offense. In fact NFL defensive football has become a game of kill or be killed, especially when facing off against elite signal-callers like RG3. So, the prime directive for Davis is get to the quarterback or at least force him to speed up his delivery and get rid of the football quicker than he would like.
The second option is fooling the opposition and that's where the varied fronts and zone-blitz concepts that are en vogue around the league come in.
Davis, who comes to Philadelphia after spending the previous two seasons as the linebackers coach in Cleveland, has experience as a coordinator in both Arizona and San Francisco. He faces a mountain of a task with the Eagles and few proven commodities to work with.
Up front, Cole has two Pro Bowls on his resume but is coming off a down year and is now being asked to take on new responsibilities on the wrong side of 30. A prototypical weakside defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, the University of Cincinnati product will now be asked to prove he can play in space as a 3-4 rush linebacker.
"We're conscious of that," Kelly explained when queried about asking players to do things they are unfamiliar with. "We understand. I don't think it's something that they're going to pick up if they've never been asked to do it. It's like anything. For everybody, no matter who it is, offensively, defensively, it's a whole new offensive system, it's a whole new defensive system, it's a whole new special teams. We're aware of that."
The Philadelphia secondary, meanwhile, will feature three new starters alongside pedestrian fourth-year safety Nate Allen. Gone are big-name disappointments Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback, replaced by former Ravens Super Bowl starter Cary Williams and oft-injured ex- Ram Bradley Fletcher.
At safety Allen and free agent pickup Patrick Chung are penciled in with rookie fifth-found pick Earl Wolff rotating in.
"I think, if you're a good teacher, you don't get frustrated early," Kelly said. "It's a hard transition. We believe it's the best thing for us."
The unit doesn't look well-equipped to handle Washington's powerful running game which tends to set up three of four chances to hit big down the field to receivers like Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan.
Offensively Kelly will unleash his up-tempo style, targeted to run 70 or so plays a week in order to prey on the conditioning of the opposition. There are concerns Vick will not be able to handle the quick decision-making needed when the read-option or pistol are in play.
Kelly really is an innovative guy who will succeed at the NFL level sooner rather than later but sooner doesn't start in Week 1.
The Eagles defense will be a work in progress throughout the 2013 season and RG3 -- even at 80 or 90 percent -- should be able to get enough done to give the Redskins a leg up in the NFC East race.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Redskins 23, Eagles 13
09/09 08:42:09 ET