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Behind Enemy Lines: Can Kirk Cousins Overcome Loss Of Two 1,000-Yard Receivers?


The Eagles and Redskins will face off this Sunday for the season opener. Take a look at some of the key players to watch.

The Eagles open their season Sunday on the road against the Washington Redskins. For a preview of what's going on in Washington, senior writer and content coordinator Stephen Czarda answered these four questions for us.

1. What will be the tougher loss for Kirk Cousins to overcome – that of offensive coordinator Sean McVay or his receiver tandem of Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson?

Czarda: "Even with Kirk Cousins and the starting offensive line returning, the Redskins experienced significant changes on the offensive side of the ball this offseason. First, McVay left to become the youngest head coach in NFL history with the Los Angeles Rams, and then Garçon and Jackson departed on the first day of free agency. Head coach Jay Gruden has taken play-calling duties back. He called plays in his first season in Washington in 2014, so there's some familiarity there between Gruden and Cousins. But Cousins is still trying to find his groove with free agent addition Terrelle Pryor Sr. and 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson, who played in just two games as a rookie. The offense struggled some in the preseason and while there's optimism they'll start clicking in the regular season, losing two 1,000-yard receivers is a tough obstacle to overcome."

2. How different will the defense look with a new coordinator in Greg Manusky?

Czarda: "Washington's defense wants to be more of an attack mode this season under Manusky. Last year, the defensive unit finished 28th overall, allowing more than 375 yards per contest. Where the Redskins struggled the most was on third downs, as they allowed opponents to convert on 47 percent of their snaps on that down. The hope this season is that a more aggressive defense on first and second downs can put more pressure on opponents on third downs. Additionally, the Redskins added longtime NFL coach Jim Tomsula to oversee a rebuilt defensive line. Among the additions to the group this offseason was first-round pick Jonathan Allen. Allen at one point was considered a lock to go in the top five of the 2017 NFL Draft before slipping to No. 17. He looks like could be an impact player for Washington from the get-go."

3. With Trent Murphy out for the year due to injury, who will help provide the pass rush along with Ryan Kerrigan?

Czarda: "Kerrigan, of course, has been Washington's top pass-rushing threat since being drafted in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. The two-time Pro Bowler is already third in franchise history in career sacks with 58.5. It looked like Murphy was finally going to be a threat opposite Kerrigan, as the 2014 second-round pick tallied a career-high 9.5 sacks last year. But the Stanford product was lost for the season with a torn ACL and MCL in the preseason opener. Now Washington moves forward with the trio of Preston Smith, Ryan Anderson, and Junior Galette opposite Kerrigan.

"Smith may be a name Eagles fans remember, as the Mississippi State product had a career night against Philadelphia in Week 16 of the 2015 season with three sacks. Smith is loaded with talent but hasn't consistently put it all together. As for Galette, he's sort of a wild card right now. He was a force in his final two seasons with the New Orleans Saints in 2013-14, recording a combined 22 sacks. But Galette was sidelined with two torn Achilles in his first two seasons in Washington. He returned to the field during the preseason and showed some of the burst that made him an exceptional pass rusher, but there's certainly still some rust there."

4. Who is an X-factor to watch for on Sunday?

Czarda: "I'm going to go with a name Eagles fans surely know (and likely get frustrated by): Jordan Reed. When healthy, Reed ranks among the best tight ends in the NFL today. Over the last two years, the 2016 Pro Bowler has collected 153 receptions for 1,638 yards and 17 touchdowns. But the one hit on Reed's game has been his ability to stay healthy. Reed has never appeared in more than 14 games during his first four years in the league. But make no mistake, when Reed is on, he's a mismatch nightmare for opposing defenses who have to determine who and how they'll slow him down. During that 2015 game in which Washington eliminated Philadelphia from playoff contention, Reed was at his best with nine receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns. With uncertainty to how quickly Cousins will be able to get his rhythm down with Pryor and Doctson, Reed's presence along will come in handy for the Redskins."

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