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Eagles - Redskins Game Preview

And so Sunday's tilt against the Washington Redskins is a game from which Michael Vick and company need to emerge victorious if the season is to turn around. Luckily, the Eagles will travel back to a place where they've had plenty of recent success, having won four of their last five games at FedEx Field. Success would be putting it mildly when describing what happened last season, when Vick and the Eagles blitzed the Redskins from the first play of the game en route to a record-setting 59-28 victory.

Of course, this time around the surroundings are quite different. The Eagles take on the division-leading, you read that right, Redskins, who are coming off their bye at 3-1. The Redskins have found early success in Mike Shanahan's second season with hard-nosed victories over the Giants, Cardinals and Rams. The Redskins' strength thus far has been their sixth-ranked defense, which has been killer at ending drives as they've ended drives on a league-best 74 percent of opposing offense's third downs. The Redskins have also done plenty of boasting early on, led by quarterback Rex Grossman, who all but guaranteed a division title before the season began. But setting the 'Skins aside, the result of this division showdown is likely to come based on the performance of the visiting Eagles. If they can limit mistakes and turnovers, something they've rarely been able to do this season, then talent should win out and the Eagles can head to their bye week with a glimmer of hope. But if the Eagles fall into the same self-defeating trap, it could make for a long remainder of the season.

Last Time They Met:
November 15, 2010: Eagles 59, Redskins 28

The last time the Eagles faced the division-rival Redskins was in a Monday Night Football game for the ages last season. Michael Vick and the Eagles offense scored more points in a one half, 45 in the first two quarters, than any team in the history of Monday Night Football. The game began with an 88-yard touchdown pass from Vick to a streaking DeSean Jackson on the first play from scrimmage. The Eagles followed that up with four more unanswered touchdowns, finishing the game with eight total. Vick was electric, putting up 413 yards of total offense and scoring six touchdowns (four passing and two rushing). Five Eagles accrued at least 75 yards from scrimmage, each scoring a touchdown. Defensively, Philadelphia intercepted former-Eagle Donovan McNabb three times and held him to zero rushing yards. It was one of the most dominating performances of the 2010 season, and set the then- 4-4 Redskins on a path to a 6-10 finish.

When The Eagles Have The Ball:
Another NFC East rival has been known for years for boasting two very good 3-4 outside linebackers with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer in Dallas. But all of a sudden, the Redskins have a pair of their own. Brian Orakpo burst onto the scene with 11 sacks in his rookie season of 2009. Now, he has a counterpart in 2011 first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan, who is the starter on the left side of the defense. The Purdue product has 2.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception (which he returned for a touchdown) in just four NFL games and was named the league's defensive Rookie of the Month for September. The Orakpo-Kerrigan tandem offers coordinator Jim Haslett a lot of flexibility along with a player the Eagles know all-too-well in safety LaRon Landry, who has had a strong start in his return to the lineup after missing the first two games of the season due to injury. Of course, Landry was a big part of the Eagles' 59-point extravaganza in 2010 under the bright lights of Monday night in Washington.

The Redskins spent last season shifting from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 look and continued that transition this offseason by revamping the defensive line with the additions of Barry Cofield to play the nose and defensive ends Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker. Cofield and Bowen are quite familiar with the Eagles having played previously in New York and Dallas, respectively. London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh are the stalwarts of this Redskins defense, serving as the inside backers in the 3-4 base. DeAngelo Hall remains the left cornerback and, as one of the league's fastest players, he has the penchant for interceptions, but is at risk for getting beat as well. This season, Hall has surrendered 18 completions for 281 yards and a touchdown. The Redskins signed Josh Wilson from the Ravens to replace Carlos Rogers as the team's right cornerback in free agency and has been more consistent in coverage thus far than Hall with just nine receptions allowed for 113 yards. Kevin Barnes is the team's slot cornerback. Safety O.J. Atogwe, also new to the team, has been an asset in run support.

Offensively, the Eagles need to eliminate turnovers and while the Redskins haven't forced a ton this season (six total), they have been stingy allowing just 15.8 points per game (third in NFL), 212 passing yards per game (tied for eighth) and only 84.5 rushing yards per game (sixth in the NFL). Haslett has been known for having an aggressive mentality when it comes to blitzes, but the pressure generated from Orakpo and Kerrigan on the outside and inside from Cofield and Bowen allow him to be more conservative and drop everyone else into coverage. However, the Redskins pulled out the max blitz numerous times in their win over the Cowboys, so, with two rookie offensive linemen and most likely King Dunlap back at left tackle again, all bets are off.

When The Redskins Have The Ball:
Mike Shanahan is notorious for both his ability to elicit production from previously unheralded, if not unknown, running backs and for his penchant to ride the hot hand. So despite a quick start from Tim Hightower, whom the Redskins traded for in the offseason, Ryan Torain could be the bellcow for a Redskins offense that relies on running the ball effectively. Torain rushed for 135 yards on only 19 carries in the Redskins' win over the St. Louis Rams heading into their bye. Of course, knowing Shanahan, rookie Roy Helu might just lead the team in carries against an Eagles defense that has struggled against the run this season. Torain, though, is a bruiser of a running back who actually had some success against the Eagles last season at Lincoln Financial Field when he ran for 80 yards and a touchdown. Expect the Redskins to rely on the ground game against an Eagles defense that is allowing 140 yards per game on the ground, 30th in the league.

But while the Redskins run-based offense may sound like a good matchup against the Eagles, it could also be a recipe for a bounceback performance for Juan Castillo's unit as they look to build upon a strong second-half performance against the Bills. The arrow could be pointing up for this defense. Safety Nate Allen is coming off what Andy Reid called his best overall performance as an Eagle, while middle linebacker Jamar Chaney notched his first career interception and Nnamdi Asomugha looked more comfortable when playing his traditional man-to-man role on the outside. Because the Redskins don't necessarily have the firepower to burn the Eagles in the air, Castillo and co. can turn their attention to stopping the run by loading the box. If the Redskins then elect to put the ball in Grossman's hands, that could be good news for the Eagles, as Grossman has already thrown five interceptions in only four games. But that all depends on the Eagles' ability to stop the run, which begins by tackling better, something Reid has pointed to repeatedly over the last few weeks. It's time for the defense to wrap up, or else they may find their season all but wrapped up.

Key Matchups

Eagles WR DeSean Jackson vs. Redskins S LaRon Landry
LaRon Landry bit off more than he could chew last year when the Eagles visited the Redskins. Landry tried to intimidate wide receiver DeSean Jackson before the game, but Jackson let his actions speak as he caught an 88-yard touchdown on the game's opening play with Landry falling down trying to catch the speedy receiver. Landry is an integral part of the Redskins defense because he is an explosive, dynamic playmaker for them. He missed the first two games this season due to injury (Achilles, hamstring), but has played well in his return to the lineup helping shore up the pass coverage and allowing defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to rush the quarterback with only four players. Jackson had five catches for 86 yards last week against the Bills including a 31-yard catch-and-run for the touchdown. Four of those catches were in the second half as the Eagles tried to rally from behind.

Eagles DT Cullen Jenkins vs. Redskins RG Chris Chester
Here is a battle of free agent acquisitions. It might be safe to say that the Eagles are much happier with their purchase to date. The Redskins have struggled to run the ball this season as Tim Hightower, the team's leading rusher, is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry. It's no surprise that Ryan Torain looks to be the feature back now as he's averaging 7.1 yards per carry this season. The Redskins rarely run behind Chester, the former Raven, with just four plays in his direction in 2011, which is next-to-last in the league. Jenkins, meanwhile, is tied for fourth in the league in sacks with 5.0. That includes the one he had Sunday against the rarely sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick. Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman, however, has done a serviceable job avoiding the pass rush having gone down eight times so far in 2011.

Players To Watch

RB Ryan Torain
Torain is attempting to make the most of his second chance under Mike Shanahan. Drafted in the fourth round by the Denver Broncos in 2008, Torain tore his ACL as a rookie before getting released the following summer. Last offseason, Shanahan, his former coach in Denver, invited Torain to training camp. Torain impressed the coaches and made the roster, starting 10 games in 2010. In his 10 starts last season, the third-year rusher ran for 742 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 4.5 yards-per-carry; he also added 125 yards and two touchdowns receiving. The all-purpose rusher entered training camp this season as the starting tailback, but a broken hand kept him out of the first three games of the year. Last week, in his return to action, the Arizona State-alum rushed for 19 times for 135 yards and a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams, showing enough for Shanahan to give him back his starting job. The 218-pound Torain will make his first start of the season against a struggling Philadelphia defense that has allowed the third-most rushing yards per game in the league this season. 

OLB Brian Orakpo
One of the young leaders on Washington's defense, rush linebacker Brian Orakpo is making his presence felt early on this season. Through four games, the 260-pounder has 3.5 sacks. A first-round pick in 2009, he has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons. In fact, since his debut in the Redskins' 2009 regular-season opener, he has started all but one game and ranks ninth in the league in sacks with 23. The Texas-alum is one of the most physically gifted defenders in the league, with a long 6-4 frame, elite closing speed, and impressive strength. Collegiately, he was a force, winning the Bronco Nagurski Trophy, given to college football's best defensive player, as a senior; he recorded 132 tackles in his college career, 60 of which were behind the line of scrimmage. With Jason Peters likely sidelined for the second straight week, King Dunlap could have his hands full Sunday trying to stop the Pro Bowl sack artist. 

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