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Eagles - Redskins Preview: Circling the Wentzwagon Against the Redskins
Is this NFC East matchup a game of two teams going in different directions?
After starting out the season a surprising 3-0, the Philadelphia Eagles lost their first game of the season last week. Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins started the season 0-2, but have since won three in a row. Both teams are chasing the 4-1 Dallas Cowboys in the division, so this game takes on even more importance.
The Eagles travel to the nation's capital to face a Redskins team that has beaten them three times in a row. The last time these two teams meet in Week 16 of the 2015, Washington clinched the NFC East and eliminated the Eagles from the playoffs. That was the bad news. The good news is that the loss caused owner Jeffrey Lurie to fire Chip Kelly, so maybe it was actually worth it.
Anyway, let's take a look at Sunday's game.
Eagles Offense Versus Redskins Defense
The last time Eagles QB Carson Wentz touched a football he threw his first interception of his NFL career, as the Eagles lost to the Detroit Lions. Luckily for the rookie, he gets to face a Washington defense that is ranked 21st against the pass (262 yards per game) and a lowly 27th overall (392 ypg). Wentz has completed 91 of 135 passes for 1,007 yards, 7TDs and 1 INT and he has been especially good on third downs. His 9.0 yards per attempt on third down are second only to Ben Roethlisberger in the entire NFL. That is important to note because the Redskins have allowed opponents to convert 48.4 percent of their third down opportunities, which ranks dead last in the NFL.
The other facet of Wentz's game that defenses now have to worry about is his running ability. Last week, the Eagles called two running plays for Wentz on fake hand-offs. They will certainly limit the amount of times they have their franchise QB run, but it adds another element to a rushing attack that already ranks 10th in the NFL (118.5 ypg). With leading rusher Ryan Mathews missing practice on Friday with an illness, we may see more designed runs for Wentz. We'll also see more of backup RBs Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner. Darren Sproles has already carved out a sizeable chunk in this offense, but he's better as a receiving option. Of course, the Redskins rank 30th in the NFL against the run (130 ypg), so expect the Eagles to stick with the running game throughout the entire game on Sunday. The one thing in Washington's favor here is that Mathews fumbled the last time he touched a football and the Redskins are tied for the most forced fumbles in the league. Two hands, Ryan.
The Redskins aren't much better against the pass than they are against the run, ranking 21st (262 ypg) against the pass, but they do have a shut-down CB in Josh Norman. Considering that the Eagles outside WRs are terrible and CB Bashaud Breeland is returning from injury, I wouldn't expect much action on the outside. That means that the Eagles would be wise to attack the middle of the Washington defense through the air. Look for TE Zach Ertz, and slot WR Jordan Matthews to get plenty of work against Washington's suspect ILBs, Will Compton and Mason Foster and slot CB Dashaun Phillips. Also look for Sproles to continue his fine play in the receiving game out of the backfield. He is a matchup nightmare for defenses. The Redskins will also be without safety DeAngelo Hall, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
The problem for the Eagles offense is going to be rookie RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai making his first NFL start in place of the suspended Lane Johnson. Heck, Vaiai has never even dressed for an NFL regular season game, so getting matched up against OLB Ryan Kerrigan is a huge mismatch that favors Washington. Look for the Eagles to help Vaitai out with a TE or RB on most obvious passing plays. On the other side, LT Jason Peters is facing OLB Preston Smith, who beat him for a pair of sacks the last time they faced each other. Throw in the fact that Washington brings in pass-rushing OLB Trent Murphy, who leads the Redskins with 4.5 sacks and it could be a long day for the Eagles pass blockers. And we have already established that center Jason Kelce does not fare well with a NT over him every snap and the Redskins run a 3-4 defense.
NFC East Standings
New York Giants
Redskins Offense Versus Eagles Defense
In the last three games that Washington QB Kurt Cousins has started against the Eagles, he has thrown for 1,082 yards, 8 TDs and 1 INT. He has also won his last two games against the Eagles, after he got out-dueled by some guy named Foles back in 2014. Cousins had a rough start to this season, but he has been much better of late. He has completed 129 of 162 passes for 1,432 yards, 7 TDs and 5 INTs for the Redskins 6th ranked passing offense (279.6 ypg). The Eagles second overall ranked defense (266.8 ypg) is also ranked 6th against the pass (193.5 ypg), so this is going to be an interesting chess match against Cousins. The problem for the Redskins is that they are only 16th in scoring (23 ppg), due to the fact that they are dead last in the NFL in red-zone offense.
The Redskins are a pass-first team, mainly because their RBs aren't very good. Matt Jones is a three-yards-in-a-cloud-of-dust runner. He's only gained 293 yards on 73 carries (4.1 ypc). Yes, I know that he's averaging 4 yards per carry, but you get the idea. Washington is only ranked 25th in rushing (86.4) and the Eagles are ranked 3 against the run (73.2). This does not seem like a good matchup for the Redskins. Of course, Washington likes to run play-action passes, so in order to sell that, they do have to at least try to run the football. Only Andy Reid was dumb enough to start every game with a play-action pass when everyone in the world knew he wasn't going to run the ball, but I digress. Expect to see lots of RB Chris Thompson for Washington. He's a bit like Detroit's Theo Riddick and he had a nice game against the Eagles last week running the ball and catching passes out of the backfield.
Speaking of passing, the Redskins will be without their best receiver on Sunday, as TE Jordan Reed is out with a concussion. Reed has caught 33 passes for 316 yards and 2 TDs to pace the Skins receivers. Vernon Davis starts in Reed's place, but he's a shell of his former self. Washington's outside WRs are Pierre Garcon and ex-Eagles DeSean Jackson. Garcon is a decent WR, but Jackson is nothing but a one-trick pony. Unfortunately, that one trick is getting deep, which he has done often when playing the Eagles. Luckily CB Leodis McKelvin should play on Sunday and the Eagles have possibly the best duo of safeties in the NFL, in Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLead, to help keep Jackson in check. I would expect Cousins to look for slot WR Jamison Crowder often, so CB Ron Brooks should have his hands full. I would also expect the Eagles to not use LB Mychal Kendricks in nickel situations ever again. He simply can't cover anyone anymore now that his wallet is weighing him down with his fat new contract.
Washington's offensive line is very good. The Eagles defensive line is very good. Something has to give. LT Trent Williams is still one of the best in the NFL, so DE Brandon Graham might be in for a long day. The weak link in the Washington offensive line is LG Shawn Lauvao. That is good news for DT Fletcher Cox. Expect Lauvao to need help with Cox all game, which may free up others to get after Cousins. The Eagles are currently 5th in sacks, with 14 on the season. Since the Redskins can't run the ball effectively, expect the Eagles pass rush to harass Cousins frequently.
Maybe it will be Sproles' turn this week
Normally I would say that the Eagles have an advantage on specials teams, but not so much this week. The Eagles have the second best kickoff coverage team in the NFL and only 2 of punter Donnie Jones' 17 punts have been returned. The problem is that one of those returns was a TD and Redskins punt returner Jamison Crowder returned a punt 85 yards for a TD last week against the Ravens. Meanwhile, Darren Sproles is still the best returner currently in the NFL. Both kickers are good. Eagles kicker Caleb Sturgis is 10 for 11 this season, including 2 from 50+ yards. Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins is 13 for 14 this year, but missed a 56 yarder and an extra point last week.
Who is the best team in the NFC East?
Doug Pederson lost his first game as a head coach last week, but I think a lot of the blame for that loss goes to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz for his decision to put Kendricks on the field to let up TDs in the nickel defense. Yes, Schwartz's defense made halftime adjustments after giving up 3 first half TDs (the first passing TDs the defense has given up this season), but they still dug too deep of a hole for the team last week. They will need to play better this week. Washington has the "other" Gruden brother as their head coach. Jay Gruden led the Redskins to the division title last year, so he's got that going for him. He's also got his team on a 3-game winning streak after stumbling out to an 0-2 start.
The Eagles have lost 3 of their last 4 games at FedEx Field in Washington, but this is a completely different team than the one Chip Kelly ran the last 3 seasons. This Eagles team has an attacking defense and a QB who already looks like a seasoned vet after only 4 games in the NFL. Last week's loss shouldn't linger, even against a Washington team that has won 3 in a row. The loss of TE Jordan Reed is a killer blow to the Redskins pass offense and that will enable the Eagles defense to get after Cousins and force him into mistakes. Meanwhile, Wentz will be able to move the ball against a bad Redskins defense and score enough to get out of Washington with a win.
Eagles 27 - Redskins 20