The win over Cleveland is behind us now. Time to focus on Sunday's game with Washington. As interesting as studying all the playoff scenarios is, the whole situation means nothing if the Eagles don't do their part. They must keep winning.
While our Eagles are on a three-game win streak, times are not so good down in D.C. The Redskins have lost three in a row and five of six. They got off to a great start this year, but things just started coming apart at midseason. The players and coaches have been feuding publicly. That's never a good sign. Their offense hasn't scored more than 20 points since October. The team that won consecutive games at Dallas and at Philadelphia is long gone.
Last week Washington lost to the Bengals. That is the low point of the season. A win would have kept the Redskins in the thick of the playoff race. The loss basically ended any postseason hopes. Now they sit in the NFC East cellar and hope to play the role of spoiler.
While things aren't good for them, don't think for a second that the Eagles will have an easy game on Sunday. Washington hasn't allowed more than 24 points in a game all year. They play good defense and that keeps them in just about every game.
The Redskins don't have much of a pass rush this season. They only have 21 sacks all year. They don't make many plays in the backfield and they don't force a bunch of turnovers. Washington is great at controlling the middle of the field. Middle linebacker London Fletcher was robbed when he was left out of the Pro Bowl. Fletcher is at least 97 years old, but you watch tape of their defense and he is just outstanding. He plays the run well. Those old legs get him to the ball and he still knows what to do when he gets there. Fletcher is good in coverage as well.
Safeties LaRon Landry and Chris Horton are playing great football this year. They help Fletcher to control the middle of the field. Landry doesn't let plays get behind him. He has great range. Horton, only a rookie, makes more plays around the line of scrimmage. They limit big plays. Washington is tied for fifth in the league in fewest pass plays of 20 or more yards allowed. The Eagles by comparison are tied for 28th.
The Eagles have recently been playing a lot of small ball on offense. That fits in well against the Redskins. You need to run the ball and throw efficiently. Third down conversions become a key part of offensive success. The Eagles are on fire with third downs in the last three games. They've converted on 33 of the last 50 attempts. That is absolutely incredible. Should Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and the rest of the offense keep that up, Washington will be in for a long day.
Westbrook didn't have a great day in the first meeting between the two teams. He had missed the previous week with an ankle injury and then suffered a rib injury early in the game. McNabb and the offense marched down the field on the opening series to score a touchdown, but things got ugly after that. The offense didn't have one successful third down conversion in either the second or third quarter. The offense could not stay on the field or move the ball. That's a surefire recipe for a loss.
Things should be different this time around. We have the hotter team. Westbrook is healthy and playing well. There were several costly drops in the first meeting. Eagles receivers have done a much better job of holding onto the ball during the win streak It also helps that McNabb is playing his best football of the year. He's very confident and running the offense brilliantly. McNabb has seven touchdown passes and only one interception during the last three games.
The Washington offense is struggling. Quarterback Jason Campbell didn't throw an interception in the first eight games of the year. He's thrown six since then. Campbell has been sacked 21 times in the last seven games. Part of that is on him, but injuries to the offensive line have been the biggest culprit. Right tackle Jon Jansen is hoping to play, but left tackle Chris Samuels is done for the year.
The running game was dominant early in the season. Not so much these days. They've only had a 100-yard rusher once since October. Clinton Portis has been slowed by injuries and the banged-up offensive line hasn't helped matters. You may recall that Washington ran for 203 yards in the first meeting this year. Their line did a great job of blocking and controlling the line of scrimmage.
One of the areas in that game where the Eagles struggled the most was the play of the outside linebackers. Chris Gocong and Omar Gaither struggled against the run. They didn't do a good job of setting the edge. They let Washington run wide way too easily. More troubling was their inability to get to Portis. He had 31 touches in the game and neither Gaither nor Gocong tackled him once. That won't happen again. Gocong is playing his best ball of the year at this point. Gaither was benched in favor of Akeem Jordan. That move looks pretty good at this point. Jordan has played much more aggressively and he's more physical against the run.
The most interesting part of this game will be seeing how Jim Johnson plays the Redskins. He focused on stopping receiver Santana Moss in the first game. He believed controlling Moss was the key to victory. He seemed to think the front seven could stop the run. That didn't happen. Moss was shutout, but Portis and Ladell Betts ran wild and helped Washington to win.
Will Johnson focus on Moss this time around? Will he focus on Portis and the running game? Recently Johnson has let the defense be more aggressive. I hope that continues on Sunday. Moss has been productive recently, but doesn't have a play of more than 25 yards in the last six weeks. He's still a very dangerous player, but I don't know that he's worth focusing on as opposed to attacking the run game. I want to see Johnson crowd the line of scrimmage and turn his guys loose. Let them attack and really test Campbell and the Redskins line.
The Eagles have a lot of advantages in this matchup. Most of the signs would point to a win for the Birds. But this is an NFC East game. History has shown us that anything can happen in late-season division games. Remember that this time last year, the Eagles upset the Cowboys in Dallas to end a three-game losing streak. Washington can win if they run the ball, come up with a big play or two in the passing game and force some turnovers. The Eagles just need to continue what they've done the last three weeks. They've been efficient on offense and aggressive on defense. A big day from Brian Westbrook would go a long way to the Eagles securing win number nine on the year and staying alive in the playoff hunt.