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Lawlor: A Chance To Seize Control Of The NFC East

Posted Oct 22, 2017

The Eagles beat the Redskins in the season opener, 30-17. That game seems like forever ago. Ronald Darby was the team's top corner. Isaac Seumalo was the starting left guard. Darren Sproles was a key player on offense and special teams. Caleb Sturgis was the outstanding young kicker. Obviously, a lot has changed since then.

Beyond personnel changes, there is a huge difference in the Eagles' offense. The Eagles really struggled to run the ball in the first meeting. Running backs had 20 carries for just 52 yards. The long run went for only 7 yards. The Eagles now have the fourth-best run game in the league and have run for at least 101 yards in every game since then. Stefen Wisniewski has taken over at left guard and has helped the offensive line develop its chemistry and play at a high level. He and Jason Peters can be dominant when they double-team defensive linemen. That opens up room for the running backs and provides an easy answer when it comes to deciding where to run.

LeGarrette Blount has been red hot in recent weeks. He ran for 46 yards in the first meeting and averaged just over 3 yards per carry. Blount has averaged 86 yards per outing over the last four games and almost 6 yards per carry for the season. He is running as hard as ever and is playing at a high level.

Carson Wentz had to carry the Eagles' offense in the first game, but that hasn't been the case over the last month. The Eagles have had a balanced offense and that has made life very tough for opposing defenses. Do you load the box to take away Blount? The Eagles are fine with that because Wentz will go deep to his speedy receivers. If you play soft to keep things in front of you, the Eagles will pound the rock with their backs and big linemen. Defenses also have to figure out how to slow down Zach Ertz, who is playing like the best tight end in the league right now.

Balance can be a beautiful thing.

The Redskins have some tough choices to make because their defense is very banged up defense right now. Rookie lineman Jonathan Allen just went to Injured Reserve. All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman is out. Corners Bashaud Breeland is questionable and if he does play won't be 100 percent. Safety D.J. Swearinger wasn't fully practicing this week.

The Redskins know this is a critical game for them. A win for the Eagles would give them a 2.5-game lead over Washington in the division. A win for Washington would put them just a half-game back. This is a huge opportunity for the Redskins.

Eagles coaches know the injury situation and could decide to attack those defensive backs early and often. Don't be shocked if the Eagles come out throwing the ball to test the banged-up secondary. The flip side is that the coaches know the run game struggled in the opener and they may want to establish that early to show the Redskins this is going to be a different game. When you run the ball on a team, it can affect them psychologically. It is discouraging when a team can line up and manhandle you up front and move the ball on the ground.

As good as the Eagles are at moving the ball on the ground, the Eagles' defense is even better at stuffing the run. They have the best run defense in the league, allowing just 65.7 yards on the ground per game. To put that in perspective, the great Gang Green defense of 1991 allowed 71 rushing yards per game.

Wow.

The Eagles held Washington running backs to 13 carries for 34 yards in the opener. Quarterback Kirk Cousins did run for 30 yards on his own, but the lack of an overall running game put the onus on him to carry the offense. The Eagles made Washington one-dimensional and the Redskins' offense struggled all game long. They only scored 10 points on offense and turned the ball over four times.

The formula isn't complicated. Jim Schwartz wants to shut down the run so that teams find themselves facing second-and-long or third-and-long situations. The Eagles can then turn the front four loose and have the guys on the back end play the sticks, as the saying goes. That means the linebackers and defensive backs play loose to keep everything in front of them and then attack the ball as soon it is thrown.

This strategy has worked really well, with the Eagles ranked third in the NFL in third-down defense. The Eagles' defense does a great job of getting off the field and getting the ball back for Wentz and the offense. That has helped the Eagles lead the league in time of possession, keeping the ball for an average of 34:23.

Jay Gruden and the Redskins' coaching staff know what worked and what didn't in the first meeting. They will try to make some schematic adjustments so they can have more success against the Eagles' defense. Schwartz doesn't need to make a bunch of changes. He just needs his players to go execute as well as they did in the opener.

One thing Schwartz would like to change is giving up running yards to quarterbacks. Some of this is on scrambles, but some the gains have come on designed run plays. Cousins ran for a touchdown last week on a zone-read play so Schwartz knows he must have his players ready to handle that part of Cousins game. People tend to think of him as just a pocket passer, but Cousins can be a good runner.

I'm excited to see what the Eagles do on Monday night. This is their first rematch of the season. Can they sweep the Redskins? In recent years, Washington dominated this rivalry, but this is clearly a different Eagles team. A much better Eagles team. They have a chance to really take control of the NFC East if they can beat the Redskins.

The Eagles are going to be rested, but will the layoff get them out of the rhythm they've been in so far this year? The team was never the same after the bye week last year. I think the situation will be very different this year and the Eagles will be ready on Monday night.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the editor of IgglesBlitz.com.

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