Eight games are in the books for the 2010 season, but the Eagles have only played one game against an NFC East opponent. That means that five of the final eight games will be division battles. This provides the Eagles with a huge opportunity. At 5-3, the Eagles are in the middle of the playoff mix. Now the team can make a strong push for the division title, always a major goal.
The Eagles start this run by going to Washington on Monday night. Forget about the side issues of going against Donovan McNabb and trying for revenge on the earlier loss to the Redskins. This game is important because of the standings. A win puts us at 6-3 and in a tie with the Giants for first place in the NFC East. Washington would fall to 4-5 with a loss on Monday.
Let's talk about the earlier game for a minute. The Eagles lost 17-12. That was a very frustrating game. Washington was more physical and made a handful of big plays. We were sloppy and blew chance after chance. Remember that the final play was a desperation pass that Jason Avant got his hands on, but couldn't hold onto.
After that loss coach Andy Reid challenged the Eagles to be a more physical team. Sean McDermott really got after his defense. There were several top shelf running backs on the schedule and something had to change. The defense listened to Reid and McDermott. They played much better. There were also a couple of lineup changes that helped. Moise Fokou became the starter at SAM. Juqua Parker became the starter at left defensive end. Brodrick Bunkley got hurt and Antonio Dixon took his place. The defense that Washington beat is history. This is a different bunch.
I don't think Washington will be able to run the ball with regular success on Monday night. In the first game, tailbacks ran for 125 yards. McNabb ran for 39 yards threw for just 125. The running game allowed them to survive the meager passing attack. If we can control the run game, the pressure shifts back to McNabb. It is anyone's guess how that would turn out. The Redskins passing game is really struggling right now. In the last three games, McNabb doesn't have a QB rating above 76. He has three touchdown passes and five interceptions. He's been sacked 11 times.
Cornerbacks Dimitri Patterson and Asante Samuel are coming off outstanding performances. They made life hard for Peyton Manning and his receivers last week. Washington doesn't have the same kind of weapons. That should bode well for us. The big difference is that Washington will throw deep more than the Colts did. They will attack vertically on a regular basis. That keeps a lot of pressure on the defensive backs. You can't make mistakes when passes are going 30, 40, or 50 yards downfield.
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Washington won't be able to go vertical if the pass rush does its job. Last week Manning was sacked three times and pressured all game long. McNabb only got sacked once in the first meeting. That has to change. Brandon Graham was largely a non-factor in that game. He's healthier now and should be more of a force off the edge. Dixon is doing a good job of getting pressure up the middle. That will help make life difficult for McNabb. You also know that McDermott will mix in the blitz on a regular basis.
There is one potential issue for our pass defense. Rookie Kurt Coleman will get his first NFL start in place of Nate Allen. You know the Redskins will target Coleman with some deep balls. The good news is that Coleman did play in the first game against Washington so he's got a feel for their scheme and players.
Maybe the most important aspect to winning this game is scoring points. Washington averages less than 20 points a game. If Michael Vick and the offense can put up 24 or 28 points, that will put a tremendous burden on Washington's offense. I just don't see them winning a shootout.
The Eagles racked up 353 yards in the first game, but only scored 12 points. That killed us. I think we were hurt by the fact that the previous week we had played a horrible Jacksonville defense. Things came too easily in that game. The Redskins have some issues on defense, but they still have quite a bit of talent. They challenged us and we didn't respond well. We had to fight for a tough win last week. The offense came up big, but it wasn't easy. That will help the guys stay focused. They'll be prepared to fight for every point and yard.
Red zone offense was a problem last week and almost cost the Eagles the game. I'm sure that was a point of emphasis this week in preparation for the game, as well as on the practice field. We must score touchdowns. LeSean McCoy hasn't scored a touchdown in three straight games. That needs to change. Brent Celek can be an effective weapon in the red zone. He's really struggled this year. He only had 8 receiving yards last week. Something tells me we'll try to get him going early on Monday night.
The line needs to control Albert Haynesworth and Brian Orakpo. Those guys are disruptive players who can get to the quarterback. The good news up front is that Jason Peters is healthy and it looks like Max Jean-Gilles will start as well. The final decision hasn't been made, but he did practice on Saturday. Our line is much better with him at right guard. Washington's defense is vulnerable, but the skill players must have time and space to work.
Our game plans in recent weeks have been really good. Marty Mornhinweg has done ""a nice job"" (as Reid would say) of using our playmakers. Get the ball to DeSean Jackson and good things will happen. The Eagles didn't do that in the first meeting, but I expect it to be a point of emphasis on Monday night.
We finished the first half of the season 5-3. That's pretty good for a young team. I hope the guys understand that the second half is what really defines a season. We have a veteran coaching staff that can preach that message to the players, but we do need them to understand and embrace it. What was good enough in September and October won't be good enough from here on out. This is the real deal. We're playing division games and marching toward the postseason. It's time to man up and go win some big games.