Philadelphia Eagles News

The Eagles Insider's Notebook: Get ready for a 'heavyweight battle' vs. Washington

Fletcher Cox
Fletcher Cox

For the second time in a month, the Eagles play Washington, this time at FedEx Field on Sunday at 1 PM. It's a road game for the Eagles, but we all know the deal: The stadium will be filled with Eagles fans making the trip from Philadelphia and it's going to feel like another home game in many ways.

With that said, it's also going to be a rumble. The Eagles won the first meeting between the teams, 34-31 in overtime at Lincoln Financial Field on Jake Elliott's 54-yard field goal, and it was every bit as tough as the score indicates.

So, here we are: A second game between the teams as the Eagles look to build off the momentum from Sunday night's win over Miami. The locker room has had great energy and purpose this week. Here is what the players are saying as the Week 8 game nears …

A.J. Brown: A 'heavyweight battle' is ahead

Wide receiver A.J. Brown has had five straight games in which he has 125-plus receiving yards, but that is not the focus for him. Not in the least. It's about winning football games. The numbers are nice, but they are simply a product of his hard work and his teammates doing their part as well.

"It means I'm working hard, I'm doing the right things, and God is truly blessing me. Fortunately, I'm not really worried about it," he said. "I'm just trying to make the most of my opportunities and play with my teammates and try to get the win."

Washington is 3-4, coming off a 14-7 loss to the Giants. It's the second NFC East game of the season for the Eagles and we all know what that means. Brown does, too.

"These guys are going to play hard. They know us and we know them. That game went into overtime last time and I'm expecting a heavyweight battle," he said. "I'm not thinking we're just going to go in there and roll these guys. No, we've got to come to work. We have to execute on offense, play good on defense, and on special teams, too. All three phases. It's a division game, so we don't take it lightly. We have to put our hard hat on."

Eli Ricks: Reps and confidence are growing

Signed after the 2023 NFL Draft, cornerback Eli Ricks has had nothing handed to him. That's fine. Earning it all is the best way, he says. As he's gone along in his rookie season, Ricks has seen his snap counts rise – just one rep through the first three weeks and then 13 in Los Angeles, 12 against the Jets, and then a career-high 14 in Sunday night's win over the Miami Dolphins.

An outside cornerback at Alabama, Ricks has played both inside and outside in the NFL – as well as stepping up on special teams – and he's gaining more and more trust of the coaching staff. He has come a long way since May.

"I'm a lot smarter now, and I'm not just saying that. I'm a lot calmer, a lot more comfortable," Ricks said. "I'd probably say those are the main things. We've built little things to my game, but I think those are the important things. This is the most knowledgeable I've been since I've been playing football. I've never known as many positions as I know now – and I'm also talking about the positions outside of the positions I play, too.

"It's also the most serious I've taken the game, too."

Ricks stepped up throughout Sunday's game and effectively ended it when he broke up a fourth-and-10 pass intended for wide receiver Tyreek Hill. The celebration started right away.

"We, as a defense, executed the plan," Ricks said. "I could not be doing this without the help of my teammates and my coaches and the time they've spent with me after practice, I just can't say enough about that. I felt at ease out there because I knew the game plan like the back of my hand that week, thanks to Coach (Defensive Coordinator Sean) Desai."

Take a closer look at this week's practice as the Eagles prepare for another NFC East rivalry game with Washington.

Fletcher Cox: Starting to feel the defensive identity

When does a defense really know what it's all about? Opening game? Mid-season? Not until December? Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox thinks the Eagles are really, really close to knowing, if they aren't there already.

"I think we're getting there, finding our identity," he said. "We have to improve on creating turnovers, giving the offense more chances, more opportunities. I think that's what we can improve on. I think we're getting to the point where we have these big games in front of us and it's that part of the season where you find out about yourself. The early part of the season is over. That excitement you feel is gone, right? It's Week 8 now. You start the grind now. Everybody is not feeling good right after playing for seven games, so this is when you find out."

The defense gave up 40 rushing yards to Washington quarterback Sam Howell the first time around. That can't happen again, Cox said.

"You have to be aware of it and we know that he made some plays with his feet last time," Cox said. "We will try to slow that down, but keep playing the style of football that we've been playing."

Jordan Mailata: Washington's defensive line is a handful, to say the least

Left tackle Jordan Mailata has played Washington enough to know the challenge in the trenches: The Commanders are very, very good there.

"They have four first-round picks, those guys are very elite," Mailata said. "I think they are well-coached, they play with purpose and I think they have a wide variety of tools – they have different techniques to apply – and that's what makes them threatening.

"(Defensive ends) Chase (Young) and Montez (Sweat) will swap, the interior will play sides, and they know their strengths and that's what makes them elite. They know what they are good at."

James Bradberry: Still some work to do in the secondary

The injuries, well, they've been every week for the Eagles' defensive secondary picture. Players up. Players down. A new player (safety Kevin Byard) in, as was cornerback Bradley Roby a few weeks ago. Changes all over the place.

So excuse cornerback James Bradberry if he wants to pause on saying the Eagles' defensive backfield has "settled in."

There is still work to be done.

"I think we're trying to get there still," Bradberry said. "We got a new piece (Byard), a veteran piece, who has been really, really good in the league, so we're going to continue to work on it and we're going to see. We will work to keep growing and striving to get that perfection and that jell."

Howell and the Washington secondary had some success in Week 4, but Bradbery says it wasn't as bad as it may have appeared, all in all.

"They played well on offense and Sam Howell had a great game, but I think we played pretty good on defense," Bradberry said. "We had some key penalties at some bad moments and, of course, we had the two-minute drive at the end of the game that didn't go too well. But I think if you take a couple of penalties away and better play in that two-minute drive, I feel like the story would be different.

"That said, we want to go out on Sunday and play better football. That's always the goal – to be better the next time out."

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