The Philadelphia Eagles should probably begin thinking hard about the 2013 season, but they obviously can't throw in the towel yet either.
A win in Washington Sunday would put the struggling but talented Eagles only two games back of the division-leading New York Giants, and you'd have to think that there's at least a chance they'll finally start playing well in desperation mode.
So with that in mind, I've drawn up a game plan for the Eagles' last-ditch effort to save their season against the reeling Redskins. Some tips...
Play Brandon Graham on Every Snap
Whether it means less Jason Babin, who's been average at best this season, or more three-aces-type looks with Babin, Graham and Trent Cole on the field at the same time, the Eagles can no longer afford to keep their hottest defensive player off the field for large chunks of games.
The third-year defensive end has finally found a groove this season. Despite the fact his playing time has been capped, Pro Football Focus rates Graham as the best defensive player on the team—and by a wide margin. PFF also has concluded that he's the league's most productive pass-rusher among defensive players who have taken at least 50 snaps in pass defense.
What's more, Graham has more defensive stops (10) than Babin does (eight) despite the fact Babin's been on the field for nearly twice as many run plays as his young disciple.
Considering how superb the 'Skins have been on the ground this season with rookies Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III, playing Graham makes more sense from the run defense's standpoint too.
What have you got to lose at this point? Word was Todd Bowles was going to make this defense more aggressive when taking over for Juan Castillo a month ago, but the Eagles have only blitzed the opposing quarterback 6.3 times per game under Bowles after doing so 7.5 times per outing under Castillo (per PFF).
Maybe Bowles is subconsciously trying to keep the secondary he was responsible for to start the season from becoming vulnerable by sacrificing safety help in order to assist a pass rush that never required much help when it put up 50 sacks last year, but it's obvious something has to be done to mix things up right now.
More blitzes might be the only option.
I mentioned above that Graham needs more snaps, which would help. But from a schematic standpoint, the Eagles simply have to try to take advantage of a so-so Redskins offensive line and a rookie quarterback by suddenly sending the kitchen sink on at least a few occasions.
Two of Philly's three sacks last week against Dallas came on blitzes, and the Eagles actually have a sack rate of 20 percent when blitzing the last two weeks.
This is a defense that has been dominated by quarterbacks since Bowles took over, allowing its opponents to convert nearly 50 percent of their third downs and complete 75 percent of their passes. The Eagles also have yet to record a single pick since firing Castillo (stats via the Philadelphia Inquirer).
For that to change, they'll have to get more aggressive in Washington.
Let Nick Foles Continue to be Captain Checkdown
It's almost set in stone (per USA Today) that Foles will start in place of Michael Vick, and this is a great matchup for him. The Redskins' pass rush has disappeared and their secondary is terrible. But Foles is still making his first career start, so the Eagles would be better off playing it safe before they can get comfortable with what the rookie third-round pick can bring to the table.
Despite the Redskins' problems on defense, they've actually registered 16 takeaways, which ranks tied for ninth in the league. They have the ability to make Foles pay, just as the Cowboys did in Week 10.
DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Jonathan Dwyer have been very successful against this front seven the last couple weeks, so there's no reason why LeSean McCoy can't have a big day as the centerpiece of the Eagles offense on Sunday.
The key will be for the Eagles to keep some heat off of Foles and McCoy by running a slew of short, safe passes against a depleted linebacking corps.
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