Eagles-Redskins Preview: D-Jack is Back
When the Washington Redskins (yes, I will type that name every chance I get) visit the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, it will be a matchup of the NFL's top defense against the NFL's top offense. Wait....what?
(Checking, checking, checking)
Holy crap, it's true. The Redskins are somehow the top rated defense in the entire NFL. How can that......? Oh wait. Apparently Washington faced the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars in their first two games this season. Those two teams are quarterbacked by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chad Henne, respectively, and are ranked 22nd and dead last in the NFL in offense. OK. That makes more sense.
Anyway, let's take a look at this NFC East matchup.
Eagles Offense vs. Redskins Defense
It's actually a bit of a surprise that the Eagles have the No. 1 offense in yardage and scoring in the NFL considering how downright mediocre quarterback Nick Foles has looked in the first two games. So much for the theory that they'll miss DeSean Jackson. Yes, Foles has gotten the majority of his yardage on throws to his running backs and tight ends, but those yards count just the same as they would if they went to a speedy wide receiver. Their 2nd ranked passing offense is averaging 303 yards per game, but the Redskins defense is also ranked 2nd against the pass, allowing only 161 yards per game. Of course, Foles is a far superior QB to Fitzpatrick and Henne, even at his worst. Expect the Eagles to continue to target their RBs and TEs in this game since the Redskins LBs and safeties are not good in coverage. Yes, Brandon Meriweather is a massive upgrade at safety over the recently released Bacarri Rambo, but they still have trouble in coverage.
Plus, the Eagles will want to do anything they can to neutralize a Redskins pass rush that recorded 10 sacks last week against the Jags. OLB Ryan Kerrigan had four of those sacks last week and he and OLB Brian Orakpo form the best pass-rushing tandem in the NFL. When you add in DE Jason Hatcher, the Eagles offensive line is going to have its hands full. LT Jason Peters will be expected to handle Orakpo by himself, but the Eagles are going to have to give consistent help to RT Andrew Gardner, who is making only his second career start. Utilizing the screen game with their athletic linemen, like center Jason Kelce, is the perfect plan. It also doesn't hurt to have guys like Darren Sproles and LeSean McCoy in the backfield to catch those screens. McCoy led the NFL in yards from scrimmage last season and Sproles just had a career-high 152 yards receiving against the Colts last week.
When Foles looks down field he'll need to do a better job of locating his receivers and those receivers will have to do a better job of catching the ball. Riley Cooper has been the Invisible Man so far this year and dropped a perfectly thrown fade in the endzone last week. Jeremy Maclin has 8 catches for 142 and 2 TDs, but 68 of those yards were on one TD reception on a blown coverage. Washington CBs DeAngelo Hall and David Amerson are prone to giving up long receptions, as they've given up TDs of 76 and 63 yards already this season. Zach Ertz is a matchup nightmare for any defense with his 7 receptions for 163 yards this season. That's a 23.3 yards per catch average and his 6 catches of 20-plus yards ties him for the most in the league with Julio Jones.
Another way for the Eagles to slow down the Redskins pass rush is by running the ball. Luckily, Chip Kelly loves to run the football. Even though the Eagles fell behind in both of their games already this season, Kelly never stopped calling running plays. McCoy led the NFL in rushing last season, but he hasn't had a breakout game just yet. Something tells me this is the week it happens. Last year against the Redskins, he ran for 184 yards and a TD in Week 1 and added another 74 yards rushing and 73 yards receiving and 2 TDs in Week 11. And although Sproles has never been known as a traditional runner, he certainly looked good on the 19-yard TD run he had last week where he broke at least 2 tackles. The Redskins are 4th against the run, but they got a big lead on the Jags last week and Toby Gerhart only gained 8 yards on 7 carries. The Eagles are likely to run more than that in each quarter, since they're averaging 30 runs a game.
Eagles Avg. Yards (Rank)
Redskins Avg. Yards (Rank)
Redskins Offense vs. Eagles Deefense
The big story in Washington is, of course, the injury to Robert Griffin III. RG3 dislocated his ankle early last week, but backup Kirk Cousins stepped in and played very well (22-for-33, 250 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs). Cousins doesn't have the mobility of RG3, but he seems to be a far superior pocket passer and that's exactly what new head coach Jay Gruden likes from his quarterback. And it was even more impressive when you consider that he was without Jackson, who injured his shoulder early in the game and TE Jordan Reed, who missed the game with a hamstring injury. It should also be pointed out that RG3 is yet another QB taken in the 2012 draft that isn't as good as Foles.
While Reed hasn't practiced this week and isn't expected to play, Jackson is vowing to play against his former team. It's not worth rehashing why Kelly released his leading receiver from last season, especially since the Eagles don't seem to be missing him at all. As a matter of fact, Jackson only has 9 catches for 81 yards and no TDs. So to recap: That's 1 injury already and no TDs. On the other side is the dangerous Pierre Garcon, who led the NFL with 113 receptions last season and Andre Roberts will man the slot. The Redskins have the 10th ranked passing offense and the Eagles have the 10th ranked pass defense, so this looks like an even matchup. Of course, the Eagles CBs, Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, have been known to get burned themselves. With the speed of the Redskins receivers, expect at least one long TD for Washington. And expect Williams to get flagged at least once for taking a late shot at Jackson.
The biggest problem for the Eagles defense is the complete lack of any passrush. They have a whopping three sacks on the season and that pass-rusher they drafted in the first round didn't get on the field in Week 1 and didn't even dress in Week 2. When a reserve LB (Brandon Graham) is your best pass rusher, you know you're in trouble. Of course, besides LT Trent Williams, the Redskins' O-line is nothing special. And with Cousins under center, instead of RG3, the Eagles should be able to register a few sacks.
The Redskins also like to run the football and Alfred Morris is 3rd in the NFL with 176 yards rushing, for an impressive 4.9 yards per carry. Morris had 22 carries for 85 yards and 2 TDs last week against the Jags. The Eagles are 19th against the run after the Colts surprisingly had 169 yards rushing against them. That was 65 more yards than opponents averaged against them last season, when they were 4th in the league in yards allowed per carry. You would think that Colts game was just a mirage, but with ILB Mychal Kendricks doubtful, the Eagles will have to use either Emmanuel Acho or Casey Matthews in his place. Neither one should be on an NFL roster and the Redskins are sure to attack them all game.
Will DeSean Jackson Get the Last Laugh in Philly?
The Eagles special teams had their problems in coverage and returns last week, with three penalties. Nolan Carrol is nothing special returning kicks and Sproles didn't do anything returning punts after a pair of 22-yard returns in Week 1. But punter Donnie Jones continued his stellar work (44.5 avg.) and rookie Cody Parkey has been even better. Not only did Parkey hit the game winning field goal as time expired last week, he had to do it twice, as Colts' coach Bruce Arians called a time out right before the ball was snapped. He's also drilled 9 of his 13 kickoffs for touchbacks. The Redskins have good kickers, but their coverage units aren't so special. Punter Tress Way has the 4th-best gross average (49.4), but only the 18th best net average (38.8). Kai Forbath has hit 16 consecutive field goal tries, dating back to last season, but he had the 3rd-worst touchback percentage in the league last year. Andre Roberts returns both punts and kicks, but he's not a threat.
Chip Kelly is 2-0 on the strength of his halftime speeches and adjustments. The Eagles lead the NFL in scoring, but they have only scored 6 points in the first half of their first two games. I don't know what's going on at halftime, but maybe Chip and defensive coordinator Billy Davis should try it a little earlier in games from now on. Of course, maybe they're better in the second half because their face-paced offense is wearing down opposing defenses. On the other sideline, Jay Gruden is a rookie head coach, but his real claim to fame is being the younger brother of John Gruden. Gruden did well as the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati and some people think he'll do better with Cousins at QB instead of RG3. Cousins is similar to Andy Dalton, who Gruden coached in Cincinnati.
The Eagles are 9-1 in the regular season, dating back to Nov. 3, while averaging NFL bests of 33 points and 437.7 yards per game. The Eagles are also 5-0 at home during that span, while the Redskins have now dropped 7 straight games on the road. The Eagles offense is the NFL's best and it hasn't even hit its stride yet, while the Redskins defense is No. 1 due to a complete lack of good competition. That should all change this week.
Eagles 30 - Redskins 20