There are no secrets here, not against an NFC East team the Eagles are seeing for the second time in less than two weeks. Sunday's game against Washington comes down to the basics – winning the individual matchups, executing the game plan, and making coaching adjustments along the way.
To the victor go the spoils of a huge Week 17 game, and with that, the Eagles prepare for Washington's outstanding defensive front and an offense keyed by quarterback Taylor Heinicke and wide receiver Terry McLaurin, and shrouded by the mystery of more COVID-19 reserve list pieces Washington may or may not have. So with that, what will it take for the Eagles to win? Here are some things to watch ...
1. Win the running game
The last time these teams met, the Eagles outgained Washington on the ground by a 238-63 margin. And the Eagles won the game after a rough start. Washington has largely been strong against the run this season – ranking eighth in the NFL allowing an average of 104.2 yards per game, but in the last three games, that number has ballooned to 156 yards per game. Losing players along the defensive front to injury and COVID has been a problem, but the fact is that teams have had success running against Washington.
Running the ball has been the linchpin of the Eagles' 6-2 run as Philadelphia leads the NFL in rushing offense. Expect the Eagles to try to establish the line of scrimmage. There are some questions with Washington up front so it wouldn't be a surprise to see the offense test the edges and get the ground game going early.
Washington's best running back Antonio Gibson is on the Reserve-COVID list and out for Sunday's game. It's a significant loss for Washington, leaving the bulk of the running duties to rookie Jaret Patterson, who has 50 carries for 188 yards.
2. Take away Terry
Cornerback Darius Slay has the greatest respect for wide receiver Terry McLaurin, one of the game's best. He's a great route runner who catches everything. Philadelphia did a nice job in the first meeting as McLaurin caught just 2 passes for 51 yards. This time, though, the Football Team has Heinicke at the helm, and he's going to look for McLaurin all afternoon. Will Slay follow McLaurin throughout the game? Will the Eagles double-team McLaurin? Certainly, the Eagles are going to pay a lot of attention to one of the game's top pass catchers. The Eagles have been great nullifying big plays in the passing game. They need another stingy performance on Sunday.
3. Go big with Dallas
That's Dallas, as in Goedert. And when the Eagles played Washington way back on December 21, Goedert was targeted 9 times and had 7 receptions for 135 yards. He is a tough matchup for any defense that wants to put a linebacker on him because Goedert is too fast for most linebackers. And safeties are too small to match up against Goedert. Maybe Washington doubles him or tries to take him away, but it's really a tough assignment. And if Washington rolls toward Goedert, another receiver is going to have a favorable assignment.
Washington is without a starting cornerback, William Jackson III, who is out with a calf injury. Key backup cornerback Darryl Roberts is on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
4. Giveaways, takeaways – stay away from the former, get a few of the latter
The Eagles opened the December 21 game with an interception and a fumble and found themselves in a quick 10-0 hole. They climbed out and perhaps the postponement of the game contributed to the slow start, but it's not the way to start a game. Don't give Washington's offense a short field. Stay on the field with an offense that can carve up defenses in a lot of ways. Quarterback Jalen Hurts must be patient and take what the defense is giving him, and in that 27-17 win he passed for an impressive 296 yards and completed 20 of 26 passes.
The defense turned Sunday's win over New York around with a pair of second-half takeaways – Rodney McLeod's interception led to a touchdown and Alex Singleton had an interception return for a score – and those were 14 huge points. Washington's offensive line is hurting with two starters – right tackle Sam Cosmi and left guard Ereck Flowers Sr. on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Washington is thin along the offensive line even with those two in the starting lineup.
5. Special teams and the hidden yardage battle
Win here and win it big! Washington punter Tress Way was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday and that's no small thing. Way averages a whopping 49.2 yards per punt and 43.6 yards net. He changes the field, and if Way can't go, the Washington punting game takes a significant hit.
Jalen Reagor had a huge 39-yard punt return to help turn the Giants game around. If the Eagles can spring Reagor, look out! He's so explosive when he gets a seam. In the coverage game, the Eagles have to contend with DeAndre Carter, who had a 39-yard kickoff return in the December 21 game. Arryn Siposs had only two punts in that game, one inside the 20-yard line. He wasn't needed to change the field, but he's capable of doing just that.
6. Coaching and winning inside the game
It kind of always comes down to this, doesn't it? These are two coaching staffs that have the familiarity of playing each other just two weeks ago. They have a feel for what the other side wants to do. The Eagles made some excellent in-game moves to stuff the Washington offense in the first game and the Philadelphia offense overcame a slow start to score on five of six drives during one stretch. Adjustments mean something. The Eagles won the first time around. Round 2 is Sunday.