WASHINGTON - Now it's the Washington Redskins who must face the unknown.
A year ago this week, the Redskins delivered a jolt to the NFL, introducing Robert Griffin III and the zone-read offence. They put up 40 points on the unsuspecting New Orleans Saints, the first salvo on the way to an NFC East title.
On Monday night, the league's next new, big thing makes its regular-season debut. Coach Chip Kelly, who piled up points at the University of Oregon with a pedal-to-the-metal attack, will try to do the same in the pros with the Philadelphia Eagles, starting with a visit to the Redskins.
"New Orleans wasn't really sure what we were going to do," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "I think we had a competitive advantage there. There were rumours, there was speculation, but they couldn't see anything on film, so I think the element of surprise is an advantage."
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick agreed — "It's our first time showing anything other than what we showed in the preseason, so it gives us an advantage" — but there is a difference: Kelly's creativity has been on display for all to see for several years.
"I can only go on what I've seen," Washington defensive co-ordinator Jim Haslett said. "I've watched 23, 24 Oregon films, and what they did in preseason. If they can do anything else, God bless 'em."
With that in mind, here are five things to grab your attention when the Redskins host the Eagles:
RG3 AND THE KNEE: The game takes place eight months to the day since Griffin's reconstructive surgery on his right knee, a remarkably quick and smooth — and extremely high-profile — rehab by an athlete determined not to lose a step after winning the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. There's the natural question of how the knee will hold up the first time it gets hit, which is surely inevitable even though Griffin has promised to be more cautious when he's running the ball. Griffin will also have to shake off the rust after sitting out the preseason. "I'm pretty sure that switch is going to turn on, and he's going to be Robert," Redskins receiver Santana Moss said. "I don't know how soon or how late, but he's going to be Robert eventually."
CHIP HITS FAST-FORWARD: The Eagles ran 74.25 plays from scrimmage per game during the preseason, more than any other team. The trick, of course, is turning plays into points. The Redskins have been emphasizing conditioning to make sure their defensive players are in shape to handle such a load. "The best thing to do is get three-and-out," Haslett said, "and then you won't have to worry about those types of things."
STILL QUICK VICK: Kelly's offence seems well-suited for Vick, who beat out Nick Foles for the starting job in the preseason. "I'm able to put myself in a position to spread the field and keep the defence off-balance," Vick said. But it only works if the quarterback makes sound decisions. In the preseason game after he was declared the starter, Vick threw a poor interception under pressure and nearly had another pass picked off under similar circumstances. Incidentally, Vick had the best game of his career on a Monday night at Washington in 2010: four touchdowns passing, two touchdowns rushing and a 150.7 rating. "I wish I could do it week in and week out," Vick said. "I'm appreciative of it, but that was so long ago. I've got to make that kind of magic happen again this year at some point."
SECONDARY CONCERN, PART I: The Redskins ranked 30th against the pass last year and couldn't afford any big-name free agents to beef up their secondary. They used the draft instead, selecting two safeties and a cornerback. One of those rookies, sixth-rounder Bacarri Rambo, will start at free safety Monday night. They hope the strong safety will be Brandon Meriweather, who has been working his way back from major knee surgery and also hurt his groin last week.
SECONDARY CONCERN, PART II: The Eagles have the same weakest link as the Redskins, with three new starters on the back line. Gone are cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, replaced by free agent signees Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. Another free agent, Patrick Chung, will start at safety next to holdover Nate Allen, who was pushed by rookie fifth-round pick Earl Wolff for a starting job. Complicating matters for the entire defence is the switch up from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 up front. "There's some difficulty from a personnel standpoint," Kelly said, "because this team has been built as a 4-3 team."
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