Sunday is not a big game for the Eagles because they can end a home losing streak and secure first place in the NFC East. Chip Kelly will tell you it is a big game because every game is a big game. Kelly doesn't want his players picking and choosing when to go all out to succeed. He is trying to teach them to be excellent on a consistent basis.
This mindset kept Oregon from getting upset by lesser teams during his tenure. They lost to some good teams, but never had an embarrassing loss. Kelly had his players take each opponent very seriously. That can be tough to do in college, but is critical to success in the NFL. With only 16 games, one win or loss can be the difference between a Wild Card berth and a division title. It can mean the difference between playing in the postseason or staying home to watch the playoffs on television.
Kelly has done a good job of getting his players to buy into his message so far, but the last six games of the year will be a test. The Eagles are in playoff contention, which hasn't happened since 2010 and many of the players weren't around for that. It will be hard for the young players not to get a bit excited by the circumstances that come with fighting for a playoff spot. Games have a different vibe. September football is fun. November games are a bit more intense.
The Eagles faced a similar situation when they played Dallas last month. That didn't go so well.
The Eagles can have another big game on offense. Washington is not a good defensive team. They are next to last in points allowed this year. You can move the ball on them. You can score points on them. While the Eagles had 443 yards and 33 points in the first meeting with Washington, you don't want to focus too much on that game. A lot has changed since then.
Washington watched Oregon games to prepare for the season opener. They now have 10 games of NFL film to study to help them stop Chip Kelly's offense. They should have a much better feel for what the Eagles are going to do. The trick is to take that knowledge and apply it during a game. Both the Packers and Raiders had plenty of tape to study and couldn't slow the Eagles down.
Washington's defense has some talent in the front seven. Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo are one of the best outside linebacker duos in the NFL. Orakpo will likely be facing backup left tackle
Watch Washington play and you will see receivers running open in the secondary. That defense lacks discipline. Foles should have open receivers. It will be interesting to see how
I am interested to see what Kelly does from a strategic standpoint. In the season opener, he used a lot of three-receiver sets. Kelly knew that Washington's secondary was weak so he wanted them on the field. Kelly then attacked them with both the passing game and the run. In recent weeks, Kelly has played more two-tight end sets. Will Kelly go with the tight ends or the wide receivers?
I think the Eagles will move the ball and score. The bigger concern in this game will be stopping Washington. They have one of the most productive offenses in the NFL. Robert Griffin III is a much different player than he was in September. He was very rusty in that game since he sat out the preseason. Griffin III is now moving well and playing with more confidence. He isn't having a great year. Griffin has thrown nine interceptions. He threw five all of last season.
The key to dealing with Griffin III is to try and make him a passing quarterback. In wins, he averages fewer than 31 passing attempts per game. In losses, he averages 41 attempts. Last year, Griffin threw 393 passes. He's already thrown 337 this year. If you can get a lead on Washington and force them to go away from the run game and play-action passes, that offense becomes highly erratic. Griffin III has not developed as a passer. I'm sure his focus in the offseason was on rehabbing his knee and that kept him from making the progress he wanted to with his passing skills. Griffin III still has a great arm and wows you with some of his throws, but he's struggling in some other areas. His footwork isn't good. That affects his accuracy. He isn't a consistently good decision-maker. He's also slow with making reads.
Washington is running the ball really well. They have more than 190 yards rushing in four of the last five games. Griffin III is still a major threat with his legs. He is second on the team in rushing. The workhorse is Alfred Morris. He's been red hot in recent games after a bit of a slow start. Morris is a terrific downhill runner. The Eagles are lucky that they just faced Eddie Lacy, a similar back. Both guys run hard and break tackles. You must tackle well. You must gang-tackle.
Last week, defensive coordinator Bill Davis sold out to stop the run. Run defense will be crucial again this week. The difference is Griffin III. You must game plan for him and the different things he does. The Vikings attacked him last week and got some really big hits on him. I was shocked at how much they punished him. It was legal, not dirty. They just sold out to get hits on him at every possible chance. Davis could try something like that. He did blitz Washington quite a bit in the opener. You want to get Griffin III out of his comfort zone.
Washington has a couple of interesting receiving weapons. Jordan Reed is an undersized, but highly athletic tight end. He has already caught 44 passes and is having a great rookie year. Reed will be a tough matchup for the secondary. Pierre Garcon is the top wide receiver. His game is built on run-after-catch ability. Garcon can go deep, but many of his big plays are short throws that he turns into long gains. Garcon isn't your typical receiver. He can run by or around defenders, but he also breaks tackles with strength.
I am not impressed by Washington's offensive line. I think
The Eagles defense was a mess back in September. They are playing much better these days. No one has scored more than 21 points since the Denver game. Holding Washington to 21 points or fewer would be a major accomplishment.
Special teams will be key this week. Washington has the worst special teams unit in the NFL. They don't kick well. They don't cover well. It will be interesting to see if
The Eagles are the better team in this game, but that won't mean a thing if the Eagles don't play well on Sunday. The two-game win streak doesn't mean a thing. The 10-game home losing streak doesn't mean a thing. Set all that stuff aside. Play well in this game. Do that and the Eagles will be victorious.