The Redskins had success in limiting Eagles running back Darren Sproles last season, but know it takes awareness and execution to continue that trend.
Eagles running back Darren Sproles may be 33 years old playing in the 12th season of his NFL career, but he remains a multi-faceted threat out of the backfield.
The Redskins had success against Sproles last season, limiting him to just 56 receiving yards and 26 rushing yards while, as a special teams unit, they held Sproles to three returns for a combined 46 yards in two games.
But last year's success won't have much bearing on Sunday's game. Linebacker Mason Foster, who will be mostly responsible for trailing Sproles' movements -- out of the backfield into the flat and underneath the coverage -- knows containing him will be a team effort.
"He's always been a good player," Foster said. "Last year we did a good job of swarming, everybody coming around the ball. He's a dangerous player, he's going to make big plays. The best way to go about that is to close the space, keep guys running, because he's a home run hitter. If you give him too much space he might take you the distance."
This season, Sproles is averaging 4.0 yards per carry and 13.1 yards per reception, with 165 of his 183 receiving yards coming after a catch. What makes him challenging is his elusiveness and his ability to stop on a dime, something his size (5-foot-8, 181 yards) helps with in open space.
The strategy, then, for defenders is in their leverage and knowing where the help is. If there's help inside from a safety or another linebacker, Foster's job will be to crunch Sproles that way by taking away the outside as an option. Easier said than done, of course.
"If I know I have inside help with safety or linebacker or something, if you're the curl, flat player, he gets the ball, you have to make sure you get the ball back into all of the players," Foster said. "And they've got to be hunting and running the same kind of way. As soon as you get beat outside and you're the last defender, that's when he has big plays."
Check out these photos of the Redskins' defense and special teams preparing for their Week 6 game against the Philadelphia Eagles Friday, Oct. 14, 2016, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
The Redskins' special teams unit has been playing some of its best football in a few years, which should help their confidence as they prepare to face Sproles on punt coverage. In four games, he's acquired 81 yards on seven punt returns with a long of 40, and is always capable of returning one for a touchdown, which he's done twice in each of the last two years.
"One guys' not going to defend him," safety Deshazor Everett said. "I might get down there first, I'm not sure I'll be the guy to make the tackle. My job is to slow him up, make him go one way so I count on the other guys to be there if I do miss that tackle. He's definitely one of the most talented returners in the NFL and he has been for many years. It's definitely going to be a challenge for us as a group."
"He's one of the most versatile players in the league," linebacker Houston Bates said. "Still playing at a really high level, but we approach everybody the same, every week. We've got to get the job done regardless. The bigger challenge is, the more we step up. Last week was a big challenge and we stepped up and I think this week's an even bigger challenge."
Against the Ravens and returner Devis Hester, the Redskins only allowed him just one return for zero yards out of six total punts, two of which were downed inside the 20-yard line, an indication of how important field position is in determining the success of an opponent.
"That's the biggest thing," punter Tress Way said. "Obviously we're in the business of it, but you really learn more and more the longer you play just how much field position is everything."