Eagles-Redskins Preview: Who Wants to Win the NFC Least?
It will be a playoff atmosphere when the Washington Redskins travel to Philly to face the Eagles on Saturday night. If the Redskins (7-7) win, they win the pathetic NFC East. If the Eagles (6-8) win, they can win the division with a win in Week 17 against the Giants, because they will own the divisional tiebreakers.
Back in Week 4, the Redskins beat the Eagles 23-20 on a late 90-yard TD drive that culminated with a 4-yard TD pass from QB Kirk Cousins to Pierre Garcon with only 26 seconds left in the game. It was a tough loss for the Eagles, but the Redskins are an impressive 6-1 at home this season. Fortunately for the Eagles, the rematch is in Philly and Washington is only 1-6 on the road. The teams are actually pretty similar statistically on offense and defense. It's just that the Redskins appear to be ascending while the Eagles appear to be trending in the other direction. Let's take a look at the matchups this time around.
Eagles Offense Versus Redskins Defense
Eagles QB Sam Bradford had one of his best games of the season against Washington, with 270 yards passing and 3 TDs. It was his only good game of the season's first half. Bradford threw 9 TDs and 10 INTs through the first seven games, but has turned it around in the last five games, with 7 TDs and 3 INTs. He's also completed 66.5 % of his passes for 1,259 yards in those last five games. His QB rating jumped from 76.4 in the first seven games to 96.1 in the last five. The Eagles will need that positive trend to continue if they have any hope of beating the Redskins. Luckily for them, it appears that Bradford has more confidence in his twice surgically repaired knee and is stepping into his throws better in recent weeks.
The problem for Bradford and the Eagles 16th ranked passing offense (244.2 ypg), is that his receiving options stink. Jordan Matthews leads the team with 72 catches for 839 yards and 5 TDs. Not bad, but not nearly good enough for the guy the Eagles expected to be their No. 1 WR. Expect the Redskins to lock their best CB, Brashaud Breeland onto Matthews all game. The only other receiving option on the roster is TE Zach Ertz, who is playing his best football of the season in the last few games. He also set the franchise record for receptions (15) in last season's Week 16 game against the Redskins. Watch for Washington safety DeAngelo Hall to cover Ertz. Yes, Hall has moved from CB to safety to help the back end of the Washington secondary that is ranked 14th against the pass (240.2 ypg). That has helped a Redskins defense that hasn't allowed a QB to throw for over 300 yards all season.
When the Eagles try to run the football against the NFL's 28th ranked run defense (129.8 ypg), it certainly won't be with big-money free agent signing/bust DeMarco Murray. Murray has only rushed for 606 yards and 4 TDs, which puts him on a pace to finish with only a third of the rushing yards he has last season. His 3.4 yards per carry average is the worst of any RB in the top 20 in carries this season. That means more of Ryan Matthews (5.3 ypc) and Darren Sproles running the football and catching passes out of the backfield, which is a good thing for the Eagles' 13th ranked rushing offense (112.7 ypg).
The Eagles offensive line has been horrible all season, but that's to be expected when both starting guards are career backups. LT Jason Peters made his 8th Pro Bowl on reputation alone. He is a shell of his former self and he'll be getting beaten by LB Ryan Kerrigan all game. Well, that is, if he even manages to play the whole game this time. The Redskins only have 29 sacks on the season, which is in the bottom third of the NFL, but the Eagles line isn't exactly giving Bradford a clean pocket to throw from either.
NFC East Standings
New York Giants
Redskins Offense Versus Eagles Defense
Washington QB Kirk Cousins has finally started to look like a guy the Redskins can win with. He threw for 290 yards against the Eagles in Week 4 and has thrown for 3,625 yards on the season, with 22 TDs and 11 INTs. His 97.2 QB rating is 8th best in the NFL and he has topped 300 yards passing in 3 of Washington's last 4 games. The Redskins are 5-1 when Cousins throws for over 300 yards and the Eagles pass defense is ranked 24th (259.1 ypg). Plus the Eagles have the worst red zone defense in the entire NFL, allowing opponents to covert 71.4% of their trips inside the 20 into TDs. Washington's offense is only ranked 25th overall (370 ypg) and 14th in passing (240.2 ypg), but they have been getting better throughout the season. Cousins has thrown 16 TDs and only 3 INTs in the last 8 games, leading Washington to a 5-3 record over that time.
The last time these two teams met, ex-Eagle DeSean Jackson missed the game with an injury. Jackson missed 6 games in all, but has been hot since his return. He has 26 receptions for 488 yards this season and has 4 TDs in his last 5 games. Last week he torched the Bills for 6 catches and 153 yards. Expect similar numbers against the Eagles defense that will now be without either of their starting CBs. The Eagles No. 1 CB is now rookie Eric Rowe. The good news is that Rowe gives a 10-yard cushion to every receiver he faces, so maybe Jackson won't get behind him too often. Of course, if deep sub, EJ Biggers is on Jackson, all bets are off. The Redskins also have one of the best TEs in the game. Jordan Reed is finally healthy this season and has 74 receptions for 778 yards. I suspect either Walter Thurmond or Malcolm Jenkins will have to cover him, since the Eagles LBs are atrocious this season. Whichever safety isn't on Reed will have to play deep for Jackson.
And that will surely open up the running game for Washington, even though they are ranked a lowly 20th (96.6 ypg). Of course, it's not like it takes much to gash the Eagles for big yardage on the ground these days. The Eagles 30th ranked run defense (134.1 ypg) was actually ranked 2nd as recently as Week 6. That's what happens when everybody on defense either forgets how to tackle or simply doesn't have the will to do so. The Eagles' problem will be magnified as NT Bennie Logan will miss this game. Alfred Morris leads the Washington RBs with 606 yards, but he only has 1 TD. The Redskins' average of 3.7 yards per carry is also one of the lowest in the NFL. The only positive here for Washington is that Morris is similar to Arizona rookie RB David Johnson who just rushed for 187 yards and 3 TDs against the Eagles and the Redskins run the same stretch zone runs as the Cardinals. So what happens when a bad rushing offense meets a rush defense that can't tackle anybody? We'll find out on Saturday night.
The Washington offensive line doesn't open up many holes for their running game, but they do a good job of protecting the QB. They have only allowed 24 sacks of Cousins, which is the 8th fewest in the NFL. The Eagles are hit and miss with their pass rush, but with so many injuries to the CBs, I don't expect them to blitz very often and leave those young CBs on an island trying to cover Jackson and Garcon. First time Pro Bowl DE Fletcher Cox will have to continue his dominating season to create havoc in the Washington backfield. Redskins LT Trent Williams is good, but he can't handle Cox alone.
Do you even want the Eagles to win the division?
The Eagles specials teams have been "special" once again this season. The coverage teams are among the very best in the NFL and punt returner Darren Sproles is second to none and has 2 return TDs. DeSean Jackson isn't returning punts for Washington, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him back there if the Redskins need a spark. If that happens, expect punter Donnie Jones to kick it away from him. Jones is exceptional at directional punting and pinning the opposition inside the 20. The only negative on special teams for the Eagles is kicker Caleb Sturgis hasn't been consistent and missed a FG and extra point in that 23-20 Week 4 loss. Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins, who was signed during the season, has hit 22 of his 25 FG attempts.
The "other" Gruden brother finally has the Redskins playing well and it's no coincidence that he got his QB situation straightened out. RGIII (Remember him?) has his butt firmly planted on the bench after owner Daniel Snyder finally admitted that he stinks. After being on the hot seat after only one season, Gruden might actually last in Washington if he can win the division this season. Chip Kelly isn't going anywhere in Philly, but that's due to the fact that the owner is a complete idiot. The NFL has completely figured out Kelly's gimmicky college offense that is built around simplistic plays and timing. Now that defenses aren't thrown off by the pace of Kelly's offense, it is easy to stop. It doesn't help that Chip Kelly the GM has totally decimated the roster with one ridiculous move after another, riding the roster of most of the weapons they had. The one guy coaching in the game who is sure to be looking for work in the offseason is Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis. Davis has done a terrible job for the third straight season and will be made the scapegoat by Kelly.
These teams are fairly even, statistically speaking, but the Redskins are the hotter team coming into the game. Their QB is found his groove and their big-play receiver always tortures his former team. The only caveat there is that the Redskins are a bad team on the road (1-6). With the Eagles, you literally have no idea what team will show up from week to week. Heck, I almost expect the Eagles to win this game and then lose to the Giants next week after getting the hopes of the fans up about winning the division. It's what they do and it's what makes being an Eagles fan so frustrating.
Fortunately for the mental health of Eagles fans, I don't see the home team stopping the Redskins from clinching the NFC East on Saturday night.
Redskins 24 - Eagles 20