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Fan-Demonium: A Season-Long Grind


Sunday night's loss was tough. The team has to forget about it and move on. This is the NFL. One game doesn't make or break your season. You move on to the next week. In college, a loss can change your season drastically. One game can end championship hopes.

The NFL is a season-long grind. Win or lose there will always be the next opponent. Sometime in late November or early December you start to see which teams are headed for postseason and which ones will sit home and watch. The NFL is all about the playoffs.

The Eagles lost to the Bears. Nothing can be done about that. The focus now shifts to this Sunday's game with the Washington Redskins. They just beat the Dallas Cowboys. That certainly got my attention. That's a rivalry game where anything can happen, but I was surprised to see Dallas lose. Pleasantly surprised, of course.

Washington is now 3-1 and playing pretty good football. They lost the season opener to the Giants and looked bad in that game. In the next two games, they played teams pretty even and found a way to win both games. I was very impressed with what I saw from Washington in their win over the Cowboys. That was a quality performance.

New head coach Jim Zorn has the team headed in the right direction. They are no longer looking for quick fixes. They seem to be focused on trying to put together a ""team."" Prior to this year, owner Daniel Snyder always seemed more interested in collecting players with big reputations, lots of accolades and high salaries. That simply didn't work. Whether the Redskins finish 11-5 or 5-11, I think they have made the right choice about how to build the team.

Quarterback Jason Campbell is a big reason the team is playing well right now. I've followed Campbell since he was a young guy at Auburn. He always impressed me with his physical skills, but he had the worst luck. His offensive coordinator has left or been fired almost every years since he's been out of high school. The Eagles have had three offensive coordinators in Andy Reid's 10 years on the job - Rod Dowhower, Brad Childress and Marty Mornhinweg. Campbell has had more than double that amount in his time as a pro and college quarterback. Learning new systems and dealing with new coaches has not helped Campbell's development.

Zorn and Campbell have really hit it off this year. Campbell ran the West Coast offense in college and is now back in that system. I'd say it suits him well. His quarterback rating is over 100. He has yet to throw an interception and his team is 3-1. This young man is playing good football. A couple of things stood out to me as I watched him. First, Campbell is ""running the offense."" You'll see him drop back and read his progressions. He's not just looking at his first option. Campbell is trying to find the best option. Some quarterbacks when young or in a new system just drop back and force the ball to the primary target. That isn't happening with him.

I'm also impressed at how Campbell is using his legs. He is running more than in the past. He is also buying time in the pocket. He had a couple of plays on Sunday where he extended the play by eluding pressure and giving his receivers extra time to get open. Campbell isn't running because he can't pass. He is running when he needs to. That makes him a dual threat quarterback. He can throw the ball effectively and efficiently, but also make plays with his legs.

Wide receiver Santana Moss is off to a great start. He already has 27 catches and three touchdowns. Last year, he finished the season with 61 catches and three touchdowns. Moss is the main target obviously. Antwaan Randle El is the other main wide receiver and Chris Cooley is the tight end. They are both playing well this year and on pace to improve their numbers from the 2007 season. Cooley has always been a nemesis to the Eagles. He is deadly on third downs.

Zorn may run the West Coast offense, but he believes in running the football. The Redskins have almost a 50-50 run/pass ratio. Clinton Portis looks really good this year. They are feeding him the ball and he's producing. Portis already has 369 yards on the ground. His average per carry is up from last year. Portis is most dangerous as a downhill runner. The Redskins have tailored the running plays to fit what he does well. They like to run wide, but not outside. That gives Portis a chance to build up a head of steam while also reading blocks and looking for a running lane.

Washington's defense is a work in progress. They are 14th in the league in yards allowed and 12th in points allowed. They have had some injuries to deal with and that hasn't helped. The hope was that Jason Taylor would come in and be an impact player that would really help the whole defense. Unfortunately, Taylor is hurt and hasn't provided the desired impact.

The Redskins have just six sacks and six tackles-for-loss on the season. That tells you they don't get a lot of penetration and make plays in the backfield. They are only 23rd in the league in pass defense. Washington does seem to make timely plays on defense. They have five interceptions. In the Dallas game, they just had a knack for doing what needed to be done on a particular play. The Redskins just came up big when they needed to. That was also true in the win over the Saints. Washington stopped them on a third-and-one run play late in the game. The Saints had moved the ball all game long, but not getting that one yard changed things entirely. Moss caught a long touchdown pass on the next offensive play and the Saints never recovered.

London Fletcher still runs the defense from his middle linebacker spot. He's the leading tackler and on-field leader as well. The safeties are young. LaRon Landry is in his second year and Chris Horton is a rookie. Don't let the age fool you. Landry is a very talented player and Horton already has three interceptions this year.

Washington played back against Dallas and basically dared the Cowboys to play small ball. It worked pretty well. I'm not sure if they'll use the same strategy against the Eagles. I tend to think they will. Donovan McNabb and the offense love the vertical passing game. They tend to struggle when needing to move up the field in a more methodical style. Dallas did have some success with crossing routes, especially in the second half. Expect the Eagles to try and get the ball over the middle. This is a game where you'd love to be able to work in Kevin Curtis and his run-after-catch ability.

Brian Westbrook's status is still up in the air. Adding him to the mix would be huge. He's got the ability to catch short or medium passes and turn them into big gains. If Washington plays him more aggressively, that opens up downfield throws to DeSean Jackson and Reggie Brown.

The Eagles have moved the ball every game this year. Scoring touchdowns is the key. Settling for field goals cost the team on Sunday. They have to get into the red zone and come away with seven points. Getting back Westbrook and/or L.J. Smith would really help in this area.

Washington's offense reminds me of Pittsburgh in terms of personnel. It will be interesting to see if Jim Johnson uses a similar gameplan to the one he did against the Steelers. That game featured a lot of blitzing and attacking. There was less of that against the Bears. I hope Johnson does come after Campbell and the 'Skins.

This is going to be a critical game for the Eagles. You don't want to fall to 1-3 in the NFC or 0-2 in the division. The Eagles responded to the Dallas loss with a terrific effort at home against the Steelers. The Eagles need to respond to the Bears loss with another such effort, and maybe a few more points.

Sunday is going to be a big-time game.

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