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Game Preview: Commanders vs. Eagles

Jalen Hurts
Jalen Hurts

Welcome to the NFC East opener for the Eagles against a 2-1 Washington team smarting after taking one on the chin last week against Buffalo. The Commanders have turned the franchise over to second-year quarterback Sam Howell, who played very well in the team's first two weeks (both wins), but then took nine sacks and threw four interceptions against the Bills.

This is a new week and a fresh start. It's a 1 PM game (one of only two currently scheduled at Lincoln Financial Field this season, with the New Year's Eve game against Arizona the other). And, yeah, it's the division, so you know what that means.

"Yeah, rough, physical, nasty," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "All the other stuff doesn't matter. We know what we're in for – their best shot and a tough game always."

With that, we move on to some storylines for Week 4 as the Eagles host Washington in the Crucial Catch game at Lincoln Financial Field ...

1. Jalen Hurts: 20-1 in last 21 – oh, about that 1

Quarterback Jalen Hurts has won 20 of his last 21 regular-season games and the exception was the loss to Washington last November, ending the Eagles' 8-game winning streak to start the season. Washington played the Eagles tough in both games last season and in the one that the Commanders won, Hurts threw for just 175 yards, two touchdowns, ran for a score, and tossed an interception. The Eagles had four giveaways.

Jack Del Rio's Washington defense is led by a strong front four and speed throughout. The Commanders will look to limit what Hurts does in the running game and try to force the Eagles into some behind-the-sticks situations.

By the way, a Hurts win would give him a second 10-game winning streak and he would join Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs) as the only quarterbacks to do that within the first four years of their careers.

2. The pass defense faces a test

Let's consider what happened against Buffalo an outlier, because Washington has excellent receivers and big-play capability with Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, and Curtis Samuel leading the way. The Eagles went with Darius Slay and James Bradberry when they played base personnel against Tampa Bay on Monday night and then Bradberry moved inside with Josh Jobe playing outside when the Bucs had three wide receivers on the field. That is a matchup to watch on Sunday.

The numbers from Monday were truly outstanding: 133 yards allowed in the passing game, one touchdown, one interception. The Eagles allowed just 174 total offensive yards (the fewest by the Eagles since a 2019 win over Chicago), 4 yards per play. Terrific stuff.

Pressure up front will help a lot. Howell has faced more pressure than any quarterback in the league and he's been sacked 19 times overall. The secondary has its challenge, yes, but the defensive line has to really dominate here.

The Eagles will look to improve to 4-0 as they take on the 2-1 Washington Commanders for Sunday's Crucial Catch game. Check out how they have been preparing for their division rival with photos from Photography Director Kiel Leggere.

3. Is this another D'Andre Swift game?

The principles of the running game haven't changed for the Eagles in that they are still going to use Kenneth Gainwell and Swift and Boston Scott and Rashaad Penny through the course of the year. But Nick Sirianni has said he will go with the "hot hand" and nobody in the league is hotter than Swift, who is averaging an NFL-high 6.8 yards per carry. And, by the way, this is not a one-time thing for Swift, who since 2022 (197 touches) has averaged 6.4 yards per touch. He's a big-play guy.

Washington's run defense hasn't been great this season, so it's natural to think ...

But you never know. And the Eagles will continue to use all of their backs. Could be Swift. Could be Gainwell. Could be ...

4. Eagles offensive line in focus again

It never gets any easier, does it? The Eagles have been studying a great group of defensive linemen this week – Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Chase Young. Four first-round draft picks. All powerful and explosive and a handful.

"Every week, it's tough, but these guys are good because they've been together and they play well together," left tackle Jordan Mailata said. "You know how it is: One mistake and it's a big play for them."

The Eagles could see a fair amount of blitzes from a team that does just that about 30 percent of the time, but a lot is going to come down to offensive line against defensive line. It is always a battle to watch and Sunday is no exception.

And this is a good statistic, just as a reminder: The Eagles are averaging 28 points per game. Last year after three weeks they were averaging 28.7 points per game. Consistency is key.

5. The injury factor

It matters, because the Eagles have some injuries to think about. Rookie safety Sydney Brown is out with a hamstring injury. Starting safety Justin Evans returned to practice on Friday, but is questionable with a neck injury. Wide receiver Quez Watkins practiced in a limited capacity this week, but will miss a second straight game with a hamstring injury.

Wide receiver DeVonta Smith has had an illness much of the short week. Guard Cam Jurgens has been limited with a groin injury.

Business as usual, yes, but also more tests for the depth of this team. So far, the Eagles have passed the tests. But in this long, long season, it never ends. That's why the Eagles think of their roster as 69 players, including the 16 players on the practice squad. They are all essential.

6. Bouncing back on a short week

The team arrived home from Tampa early in the morning on Monday. It's a quick turnaround for Washington, a formidable team that is looking to bounce back from a tough loss to Buffalo. The weather is going to be gorgeous on Sunday, and Lincoln Financial Field will be hopping with energy.

It's important that the Eagles start fast in this one and keep Washington chasing. Monday night was a classic example of playing that way – starting fast and then finishing with a 9-minute, 22-second drive to ice the game and to keep Eagles fans that crushed Raymond James Stadium on their toes and energetic the entire time.

A little nugget for you: Teams that start the season 4-0 in the NFL since 1990 have made the playoffs 84 percent of the time and won the division 66 percent of the time. So, judging by history, this means something, right? No team has repeated in the NFC East since the Eagles of 2001-04. The division play starts on Sunday. And the first priority for the Eagles is to win the division. So, there has to be a lot of urgency in the house.

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