ASHBURN, Va. -- The play fooled the Indianapolis Colts and left one of the Philadelphia Eagles' most dangerous players with a lot of room. No defender was within 25 yards of running back Darren Sproles when he caught the ball. Fifty one yards later he was finally tackled. That's not a good sight -- and it's one the Washington Redskins hope to avoid Sunday.
While there's a lot of talk about Philadelphia's explosive offense, the fireworks largely have come on throws to the running backs and tight ends. And a lot of that damage has occurred in the screen game. The Redskins learned last season how dangerous Eagles coach Chip Kelly's screens could be when they allowed a 42-yarder to tight end Brent Celek.
The screens are even more dangerous this season thanks to Sproles.
"This year they do more screens than they ever did, more trick-you plays," Redskins defensive end Jason Hatcher said. "Each year Chip Kelly does a great job creating different styles in that offense. It's like a new offense every year.”
Sproles was involved in two screens that did major damage against the Colts. The 51-yarder was set up with action that flowed to the left side, where they stationed two receivers. They dragged the tight end from the right to the left, occupying the left outside linebacker. A patient Nick Foles dropped back, looked left and, after 2.5 seconds in the pocket -- and with a receiver to the right about 30 yards downfield -- threw a screen to Sproles. By the time any defenders arrived, he had blockers and lanes to cut through.
Later in the game, Sproles went in motion from the left to the same side on the right in a stacked formation, similar to what DeSean Jackson used to do in the past. Running back LeSean McCoy was in the backfield, to the left of Foles. McCoy ran to the left at the snap and the Colts' eyes went with him. The ball went to Sproles on the right en route to 17 yards.
The Eagles' test a defense's eyes and they also test their stamina, particularly the line, by making them run and chase on all these screens. It leads to bigger gaps and missed tackles late in the game.
"They just wear you down,"Hatcher said. "The defensive linemen run down the screen and late in the game you don't have no game. So you have to focus.”
The Redskins spent more time working on defending screens in offseason workouts and in training camp, from recognition to pursuit. They've done a solid job the first two games in this area, but Sunday will provide a different challenge. Sproles leads the NFL with 173 yards after the catch, averaging 15.71 yards after each reception; McCoy averages 7.60 yards after the catch with 76 total. By comparison, no Eagles receiver averages more than 3.57 yards after the catch.
The Redskins have played faster from the time camp opened through the first two games, a function of more speed and more players comfortable in the system. Linebacker Keenan Robinson is better in coverage than predecessor London Fletcher, for example.
But the Eagles test disciplines. And if you sit too hard on a screen, they will, for example, fake a bubble screen and if the defenders freeze -- as has happened the first two games -- receivers break free downfield.
"A lot of times it's the same screen but from a different alignment," linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "That's what makes it so challenging is they run it out of a three tight end set or a three-receiver set. When they screen the bubble and go, that's a tough one to defend. That really takes good eye discipline. That's why they've been successful.”
Orakpo said the key is playing a little tighter coverage.
"If you have these guys in coverage you have to make sure we stick to them and not give them any space to make moves,"he said. "We're gonna be in situations that give us better leverage to the ball. We'll see how it goes."
But defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said there's a simple reason the Eagles' screens work.
"It's who gets the ball," Haslett said. "It's really the guys that get them that make them go. ... One of our offseason goals was to handle screens better. We were awful last year in that area. We've had screens up to this point, but we'll be challenged this week.”