Chip Kelly leads his Philadelphia Eagles into a regular season game for the first time as the entire football world watches with curiosity. How will Kelly, who guided Oregon to national prominence, transition to the NFL? What innovations will he bring to the highest level of the game? How ready are the Eagles, after a 4-12 season in 2012, to turn the franchise around in the right direction?
"Everybody is watching and wondering," said ESPN's Jon Gruden, who is the analyst for tonight's game. "It's the program Chip runs that is so interesting, not just the offense. He's doing a lot of different things with the Eagles. I can't wait to see what all of that means when the game begins."
Everyone agrees. Chip Kelly is the one every player, coach, analyst and fan is watching. The Eagles are on prime time in his first game as a head coach. This is major stuff.
Yet, the Eagles need to focus on the game, and not make the moment larger than it is. Washington presents a formidable challenge as the defending NFC East champions welcome back quarterback Robert Griffin III and star linebacker Brian Orakpo from injuries.
The keys to victory? The same as in any game. So as a reminder that football is football, no matter the head coach, here are some key yardsticks by which to measure the 2013 opener ...
A STATISTIC EAGLES MUST WIN: TURNOVER BATTLE
You see it every week and you know how important the turnover number is in any football game. The Eagles have had problems with turnovers the last couple of seasons, so goal No. 1 is ball security. The Eagles must protect the football, make good decisions and not force plays, because the Redskins are going to go after quarterback Michael Vick and try to force him into making mistakes.
What does Kelly do to make it as easy as possible for Vick? When he had time to set up and throw in the preseason, Vick was deadly and the offense functioned beautifully. When Vick faced a lot of pressure, particularly in Jacksonville, the offense stuttered.
Running backs LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk also must display ball security every time they touch the ball, and that principle extends to every player who touches the football. The Redskins want to play pressure defense and get their hands on the football. Win the turnover battle and the Eagles can win this game.
DEFENSE HAS TO BE PHYSICAL VS RUNNING GAME
Bill Davis' defense has its hands full with Griffin, who is a threat as a passer and a runner. But the first priority is to contain the running game. Second-year man Alfred Morris is coming off an outstanding rookie season and he's a force. The Eagles didn't stop the run as well as they need to in the preseason, but Davis has had a couple of weeks to prepare for Washington and the read-option attack, with a lot of play-action passing mixed in.
The Redskins are a terrifically balanced offense, but it all starts with the run. Let's see how the front seven reacts, and let's see how the cornerbacks help against a running game that attacked the perimeter of the Eagles' defense last season.
It's not going to work for the Eagles if they try to run around blocks and chase down the Redskins. The Eagles must win the battle at the point of attack and they can't allow Washington's offensive line to wear down the defense. Will the Redskins really put RGIII in harm's way, or will they just run, run, run and then give Griffin a few easy throws to get into his season rhythm?
Let's see how tough this reconstructed Eagles defense really is. Winning the physical battle and being secure in tackling is the key tonight.
CONTROLLING THE TEMPO IS CRITICAL
Everyone expects the Eagles to come out and run a no-huddle offense and push the pace and try to wear down the Redskins. It make sense to think that way. That's the trademark Kelly carries with him from Oregon.
But what if Kelly flips the script and slows things down? Can that be just as effective? It sure could work if the Eagles execute the tempo, no matter what it is. They can't allow Washington to jump out early and make what is going to be a frenzied FedEx Field crowd even more insane. The Eagles need to put the pressure on the Redskins, who enter the game as the more experienced, more established team. The Eagles are the upstarts here, not the Redskins.
Let's see what happens in the fourth quarter if the game is close. Which team makes the big play to win the game?
DOMINATE ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Don't underestimate the importance of special teams. The Eagles can really help themselves by flipping the field and winning the battle of field position. It's not just enough to win the battle, though. The Eagles must dominate Washington here and forge a real advantage.
The weapons are in place. Damaris Johnson is a dynamic return man and Brandon Boykin had a fine preseason on kickoff returns. DeSean Jackson may or may not return punts. We all know what kind of threat he is with the ball in his hands.
In coverage, Dave Fipp's group performed very well in the preseason. It's critical that punter Donnie Jones has good hang time and direction, and that Alex Henery booms his kickoffs.