While the Redskins have had much greater success on special teams this season, they have their biggest task to date this season on Saturday: stopping Darren Sproles.
While DeSean Jackson, Kirk Cousins and the Redskins offense will get plenty of attention Saturday evening when Washington takes on the Philadelphia Eagles, the quiet matchup that could make the difference is on special teams.
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In the return game, the Redskins must find a way to keep Darren Sproles – who was one of two return specialists selected this week for the 2016 NFL Pro Bowl – at bay.
Sproles, an 11-year veteran out of Kansas State, currently leads the NFL in punt return yards (446) and is the only player to score twice on punt returns.
The 5-foot-6, 190 pounder scored an 89-yard punt return touchdown in an Eagles victory over the New York Jets in September, then scored once again from 83 yards out in Philadelphia's upset win over the New England Patriots earlier this month.
"Darren Sproles does a really good job," said fullback Darrel Young, who is tied for second on the Redskins in special teams tackles with seven. "There's a reason he made the Pro Bowl being a returner. He's definitely one of those guys you have to account for. They've been winning a lot of games on special teams. Not saying the rest of the team isn't playing good, but they're playing good and they've got some key guys over there."
Recently signed Redskins running back Pierre Thomas, who played with Sproles for three seasons with the New Orleans Saints from 2011-2013, said Sproles is a special talent due to the work he puts in day in and day out.
"He works hard day in, day out," Thomas said. "I see him even through walkthrough, it's called walkthrough for a reason [as] you're trying to pace yourself, this dude is taking off. He's not walking. He's full-go from the beginning of practice until the end of practice. He's a hard work and he shows that. He works on all the little details of certain things, and I know if he drops the ball he's always working to catch extra after the practice. He's a pro, he's a vet. He understands the nature of this game and what it takes to be a great player. As he's shown to the world, he's one of the elite players in this league."
As the Redskins have an opportunity to seize their second NFC East title in four seasons, they'll need contributions from all active players tomorrow evening.
For some, it's been the culmination of years of hard work with the team, for others, they've only been in Washington for a short time period.
Regardless, the special teams haven't missed a beat with the constant roster changes this season.
"That's the goal and that's basically what you've got to do to be in a good position in this league," Young said of younger players and newcomers contributing on offense. "You've got to start somewhere. Everyone has played special teams in this league unless, you were a first-round pick, everyone's covered a kick and done something to help special teams-wise. Just having some of our roles, like myself and some other guys, that's what we're here to do."