Rewind: The 2014 game plan ideal for 2015

The Redskins didn't win much in 2014. Peter Hailey examines one of those victories - Week 16 over Philadelphia - and explains why Washington may have found a plan ideal for the 2015 squad.

It would seem that after going 4-12 in 2014, the Washington Redskins would be best suited to forget about a season in which their special teams unit was bad, their defense was worse, and – even by their standards – a head spinning quarterback controversy engulfed much of focus on the franchise. And, for the most part, that thought process is correct: they should completely erase 2014’s memories.

However, if there is one thing worth looking back on, it would be their performance at home in Week 16 against the Eagles, a win that laid out a nice blueprint for victory that the 2015 Redskins would be wise to follow this upcoming season. Washington came into the contest having lost six games in a row, but surprisingly defeated a much stronger Eagles team fighting for a playoff spot.

So, how did the lowly Redskins pull off the upset, and what parts of the game should the 2015 Burgundy and Gold try to replicate on Sundays beginning in September? Let’s look back and see.

Robert Griffin III wasn’t exceptional but he played capably, and gave his team a chance to win.

No one knows whether Griffin will ever revert to his sterling 2012 form. But perhaps the team doesn’t need him to be the star he once was.

Maybe they just need an RGIII who hits on a couple of big throws, completes passes at a high percentage, and doesn’t take a lot of sacks. On this day, that was enough, and while Griffin and his fans probably want #10 to get back to his days of captivating the league each week, being a sound signal caller and simply keeping the Redskins in games would certainly benefit the team, too.

Griffin’s numbers weren’t terrific; he finished the game 16-of-23 for 220 yards and with one interception. With that being said, he only took two sacks, and for a man who was taken down at a “historic rate” in 2014, that was a big improvement. In addition, he connected with DeSean Jackson on two beautiful deep balls that led to Washington rushing touchdowns. And finally, he ended with a completion percentage just under 70%, which is well above his career average.

Sure, there’s no doubt Griffin has the talent to be one of the NFL’s best QB’s, so asking him to quietly manage games and avoid major mistakes is a bit disheartening (especially considering how good he once was). But sometimes the Redskins just need a guy who doesn’t screw things up, so at the very least, having this Week 16 version of RGIII will help them moving forward.

The defense forced two crucial turnovers, and the offense capitalized on them, too.

Every coach in the NFL wants his team to force more turnovers, so it’s no surprise that head coach Jay Gruden and new defensive coordinator Joe Barry want the Skins’ D to do so next year. But just in case people forgot how important turnovers can be, look no further than the influence they had on the Redskins-Eagles Week 16 matchup.

Ryan Kerrigan notched a strip-sack of Eagles quarterback and turnover aficionado Mark Sanchez in the first quarter, and the team converted the fumble recovery into a Kai Forbath field goal. Then, with a minute and a half left in the fourth quarter and the score knotted up at 24, Bashaud Breeland picked off a Mark Sanchez pass, and the offense again got Forbath into position, where he knocked through the game-winning kick with 5 seconds left.

Of course, taking the ball away from the opponent and making them pay with a touchdown is in every team’s best interests. But for the Redskins, a group who seems to follow up interceptions or fumble recoveries with momentum-killing three and outs (or worse, by giving the ball right back), this game was a prime example of the power of turnovers. Coming up with timely ones and then making them count against their 2015 schedule, like they did against the Eagles, should lead to an improved record.

They stayed committed to the running game

It’s hard for coaches to keep calling for run plays when the backs aren’t gaining chunks of yards, but against Philly, Gruden remained committed.

The Redskins finished the game with 29 carries for 100 yards, which adds up to a lackluster 3.4 yards per carry. The 29 rushes, though, were five more than the team’s season average, and it kept the offense balanced. And Alfred Morris, the team’s starter, got 21 of those carries for 83 yards and a touchdown.

It felt like a lot of the time last year, Gruden would talk during the week about how he’d like to stay with the running game no matter the results, but on Sundays, he’d quickly abandon it if it struggled. Versus the Eagles, however, he stayed true to his word, and his offense reaped the benefits. It’s an approach that helps the offense as a whole (increased time of possession, play-action throws work more often) and hopefully he’ll rely on it more in 2015.

For this post, we could have looked back on the Redskins’ 41-10 destruction of the Jaguars, their tight 19-17 triumph over the Titans, or the satisfying 20-17 win against the Cowboys.

However, Washington’s win against Philadelphia was the one most worth recapping because the three things that led to them coming out on top:

* Griffin playing intelligently and capitalizing on a few big throws

* The defense forcing game-changing turnovers and then having those turnovers turn into points

* The offense sticking with the running game through all four quarters despite less than eye popping results

These are all things under the Skins’ control. They are aspects the team can replicate in 2015.

Looking ahead, there won’t be many times the Burgundy and Gold are favored next year. But if Griffin, at the very least, plays like he did against the Eagles, the improved defense starts getting their hands on more big plays, and Alfred Morris and the rest of the team’s running backs wear out opponents and help out the offense, Washington’s record is bound to be better.

So yes, while it would be smart to get rid of almost everything related to last season, keeping Week 16’s game tape and trying to play the same way next year would be an excellent move. This post may not be as good as Jay Z’s album, but it could be the Redskins blueprint for victory in 2015.

Follow Peter Hailey on Twitter: @p_hail2189

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