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Lawlor: Eagles Can Change Conversation

Posted Dec 10, 2016

Remember the Miracle of the Meadowlands? How about the Miracle at the New Meadowlands? Fourth-and-26 is a priceless piece of Eagles history. How about the 2006 Eagles, who started 5-6 before winning the final five regular season games. They were division champs, believe it or not. The 2008 Eagles went 4-1 down the stretch and still needed a ton of help to make the playoffs. Things broke perfectly on the final day of the season and the team that barely got into the postseason almost went to the Super Bowl.

Eagles history is filled with magical moments, crazy games and improbable finishes. That's part of the thrill of being an Eagles fan. No matter how bad things are there is always that little voice in your head that tells you this team can do something wild. Some fans are acting as if the 2016 season is over. History has shown that isn't the case. The Eagles are one of those teams you don't count out until the statisticians tell you they are mathematically eliminated. There are four games left in 2016. The Eagles still have a chance. They need to win and have plenty of luck, but the Eagles are still alive. Rather than going through all of what would need to happen, let's focus on what the Eagles control. They need to beat Washington on Sunday.

Neither team comes into this game hot. The Eagles have lost three in a row and the Redskins have dropped their last two. I'm really curious to see how the Eagles respond after last Sunday’s loss and what has been a strange week. They trailed the Bengals 29-0 in the third quarter. The Eagles then outscored them 14-3. It was too little, too late, but it was good to see the team finally woke up in that game. Being down 29-0 had to be embarrassing for a team that had been in every other game this season. The Eagles have to hope that trailing by 29 points was rock bottom for them and hitting that will now bring out the best in them.

This is the first rematch of the year and you can bet the offense will be fired up. In the first meeting, Washington dominated the Eagles’ offense, holding them to 239 yards and just six points. The offensive line gave up five sacks and played its worst game of the year. If it wasn't for a kickoff return touchdown and an interception return touchdown, the game would not have been close.

The good news is that the offensive line should play much better. In the first meeting, Halapoulivaati Vaitai was making his NFL debut. He struggled against Ryan Kerrigan. This time around, it will be Allen Barbre going against Kerrigan. Going against a good player like Kerrigan is never easy, but he won't be able to overwhelm Barbre the same way he did Vaitai. The offense should have Ryan Mathews and Jordan Matthews back in the lineup. They are critical pieces. Mathews is the team’s best runner. He's also the biggest and most physical back the Eagles have. He helps the team move the chains. Matthews is similar in that he can help move the chains. Neither guy is a gamebreaker who will deliver explosive plays on a regular basis, but they produce first downs.

Moving the chains will be important on Sunday. Washington has a dynamic offense, No. 2 in the league in yards. You have to keep the ball away from them to help out the defense. That means long, methodical drives should be part of the game plan. Doug Pederson should focus on running the ball and throwing short passes. It won't be highlight material, but it will help out his defense and can be a good way to move the ball for a team that struggles to come up with big plays.

Carson Wentz only completed 11 passes in the first meeting. He will likely need more completions than that at halftime if the Eagles want to win this game. Dorial Green-Beckham has been playing well recently, but he hasn’t practice all week with an abdomen injury. I think Trey Burton can line up outside more and run some of the routes that Green-Beckham normally would if needed. Burton has played well recently. He and Wentz seem to have good chemistry. Paul Turner is coming off a breakout game. It will be interesting to see if the coaches try to make him more of the game plan. Washington is 20th in points allowed. The Eagles should be able to score some points if they can control the line of scrimmage.

The Eagles’ defense is ranked 10th in points allowed, but that figure has risen in recent weeks. As Jim Schwartz put it, the defense is in a slump. Washington brings an explosive offense to town and that could mean big trouble. It also could be the kind of challenge that might snap the defense out of its slump. The Eagles shut down the Steelers and Falcons at home. They can do the same thing to the Redskins. It is possible.

That will only happen if the defense makes some plays. The Eagles have just one sack during this three-game losing streak. They did come up with some takeaways late last week, which was encouraging. Those were hustle plays in a game that was a blowout at the time. The defense needs to play with urgency and energy. They need to fly to the ball and tackle well. Rushers need to get to the quarterback, not just close to him. Defensive backs need to play the ball, not just stand next to the receiver when he catches it. Being close means nothing in the NFL. You either make plays or you don't.

Washington's offensive line played great in the first game. It is banged up right now, with the center being out and the right guard possibly being out. Left tackle Trent Williams is back from a suspension. He could be rusty. The Eagles’ defensive line must win some battles against these guys. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are too good not to make plays.

As good as Washington’s passing attack is, the first order of business is shutting down the run game. The Redskins ran for 230 yards back in October. Bennie Logan got hurt in that game and most of those yards came after his departure, but that is still unacceptable run defense. You can bet Schwartz is challenging his players to get back to the level of defense they played earlier in the year. He knows the talent is there. They just have to break out of their slump.

This is a rivalry game. The Eagles are at home and coming off another tough loss. I will be disappointed if this doesn't bring out the best in the team. The players have egos. They don't like hearing questions about effort. They don't like being down 29-0. The players can do something about that by playing well this week. Give everyone something good to talk about. Go make plays and beat the Redskins. Keep the season alive for another week.

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


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