Does DeSean Jackson play? How do The Eagles handle Washington's fierce pass rush? What does quarterback Kirk Cousins mean in this game? Welcome to the NFC East opener, a fantastic stage to grab an early advantage in the division.
The storylines are many for this one. Washington's quarterback picture has been turned upside down with Robert Griffin III sidelined with a fractured ankle and Cousins now the man with the plan. Former Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson may or may not play after suffering a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder last week. He has practiced only a little bit during the week, but he made the trip to Philadelphia and will be a game-time decision (the guess here is that Jackson watches from the sidelines). Washington is rejuvenated after a blowout win over Jacksonville last Sunday and wants to send a message to the Eagles that there is going to be some company at the top of the NFC East.
There is plenty on the Eagles' plate, too. How does the loss of Mychal Kendricks impact the linebacking corps? A combination of Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho has the responsibility of playing well against the run with the formidable Alfred Morris carrying the football and covering in space against Washington's short passing game. Whether Jackson plays or not, Washington has plenty of weapons in the passing game, and an Eagles secondary that played well against the Colts has another challenge here.
It's an early-season statement game in the division. The Eagles have a chance to create some distance, albeit only a sliver, with a victory, and Washington indicates it is ready to be a contender in the East with a win at Lincoln Financial Field.
Fun, fun. A wonderful rivalry renews under bright sunshine with warm temperatures in Week 3. Here are some of my random thoughts ...
- An injury nobody is talking about is one that could be extremely significant. Washington center Kory Lichtensteiger is nursing a groin injury, suffered during the week in practice. He's been limited in practice, and he's listed as questionable to play. These are the kinds of injuries that knock players out of games or, at the least, make it very difficult for them to play at their peak. Losing Lichtensteiger would be a serious blow for Washington.
- It's all about the coaching, at least to see how the Eagles scheme up against a pass rush that produced 10 quarterback sacks on Sunday. Leaving right tackle Andrew Gardner all alone against linebacker Ryan Kerrigan on the edge seems risky, on paper. Chip Kelly finds a way to get the best matchups, and Jeff Stoutland has done a masterful job with his offensive line early in the season.
- The anticipated high temperature could be in the low-to-mid 80s. The question is, then: Is Washington conditioned enough to hang with the Eagles' high-tempo offense? Can the Eagles wear down another opponent late with their relentless offensive ways?
- Playing without a tight end as talented as is Jordan Reed would hurt most offenses, but Washington has been riding Niles Paul, who has 12 receptions and is averaging more than 15 yards per reception. Paul was a fifth-round draft pick in 2011 and had a career high of 8 receptions in 2012 prior to his early-season flurry.
- Fletcher Cox and Trent Cole need to win the battle against the left side of Washington's offensive line, featuring standout tackle Trent Williams. Who doesn't expect a heavy load of Morris to the left side of the offensive line of scrimmage?
- Right guard Todd Herremans has his hands full working against Jason Hatcher, whom Washington signed as an unrestricted free agent following his fine season in Dallas. A Herremans "win" would mean so much for the Eagles offense.
- If you are Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, you probably want to prioritize LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles in the running game, right? So the Eagles counter by spreading the field and seeing who has the best matchup. How Washington deals with tight end Zach Ertz is a key component in this game. Does Washington play straight-up man-to-man coverage on the wide receivers? If the Eagles are solid in pass protection, they're going to have some one-on-one matchups that they have to win to give quarterback Nick Foles some open windows through which to throw.