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Game Preview: Redskins-Eagles

With a three-way tie atop the NFC East, the final two weeks of the regular season are set up to be as interesting a close to the season for the division as there has been in recent memory. Though the Eagles are the odd team out of the playoff hunt, they will be very much in the thick of the chaos that decides the division champion with a pair of closing games against the Washington Redskins and New York Giants. It begins this Sunday in the final 2012 game at Lincoln Financial Field, as the Eagles welcome in the Redskins, who are one of two teams, along with the Cowboys, who control their own division title destiny. The red-hot Redskins have won five games in a row behind a pair of rookie quarterbacks after fourth-round pick Kirk Cousins replaced an injured Robert Griffin III two weeks ago and led the team to victory before backing that performance up with a superlative effort in a win over the Cleveland Browns last weekend. Griffin, who is waiting to return from a knee injury, is expected to be back in the lineup this Sunday to face an Eagles team against whom he had a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating back in Week 11.

The Eagles, meanwhile, are coming off a few extra days of rest following their loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last Thursday night. They too will be following a rookie quarterback, as Nick Foles prepares to face the team against whom he made his first NFL start. Foles has come a long way since that matchup and his progress is one of the most important storylines of these final two games for the Eagles. Fellow quarterback Michael Vick has returned to practice from the concussion he suffered over a month ago, but head coach Andy Reid has not yet declared whether Vick will be the primary backup or not. Also facing an uncertain role upon his return from a concussion is Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy, who rejoins a backfield featuring rookie Bryce Brown, who flashed his promise, along with some ball security issues, in McCoy's absence. Defensively, the Eagles have taken a step forward over the past two games, especially when it comes to pass rushing, where the Eagles have eight sacks over the last two games, more than they had in any three-game span prior. With the role of spoiler thrust upon them, the Eagles have every intention of throwing a wrench into the NFC East proceedings, and it begins on Sunday.

Last Time They Met:
November 18, 2012 – Redskins 31, Eagles 6
In Nick Foles' first NFL start, the offense failed to get much going early before being faced by an uphill come-from-behind proposition. The Redskins offense took advantage of a litany of defensive miscues as Robert Griffin went 14-of-15 for 200 yards and four touchdowns, including bombs of 49 and 61 yards. Griffin added 85 yards rushing in his introduction to the Eagles.

Tale Of The Tape (2012 Stats)
Redskins Eagles
Record 8-6 4-10
Points Scored Per Game 27.2 (5th in NFL) 18.1 (29)
Total Yards Per Game 389.8 (4) 352.8 (15)
Rushing Yards Per Game 164.8 (1) 119.6 (t-12)
Passing Yards Per Game 225 (19) 233.2 (16)
Points Allowed Per Game 25 (23) 26.8 (26)
Total Yards Allowed Per Game 381.1 (29) 341.5 (16)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game 95.9 (6) 122 (20)
Passing Yards Allowed Per Game 285.3 (30) 219.5 (13)
Turnover Ratio +13 (t-4) -22 (t-31)

When The Eagles Have The Ball:

When these two teams squared off back in Week 11, it was Nick Foles' first-career NFL start.

The Redskins, who rank tied for fifth in the league with 17 interceptions, picked off Foles twice in his first 10 pass attempts. Overall, the Redskins rank tied for ninth with 26 total takeaways on the season. Meanwhile, the Eagles are tied for 31st in the NFL in both turnovers (34) and turnover differential (-22).

Foles finished the game 21-of-46 for 204 yards with no touchdowns and the two interceptions. Since that rough first quarter in Washington, Foles has actually thrown just one interception in his last 175 pass attempts. The Redskins have capitalized on picks this season. In six games with multiple interceptions, the Redskins are 5-1 including last Sunday's win against Cleveland.

It wasn't just interceptions that plagued the Eagles against the Redskins. The Eagles were set to trail 14-3 at halftime until the usually reliable LeSean McCoy fumbled in Eagles' territory which allowed the Redskins to tack on an extra field goal before the half expired.

That was the last game McCoy has played in since he suffered a concussion late in the game. McCoy has been cleared to return to game action and could play this Sunday. The Redskins boast the league's sixth-best run defense, allowing just an average of 95.9 yards per contest. Through the air, however, the Redskins are 30th in the NFL allowing 285.3 yards per game.

The centerpiece of the Redskins' 3-4 defense is the ironman London Fletcher, who has started in each of his team's previous 197 contests. The Pro Bowl middle linebacker has already accumulated over 150 tackles this season.

The pass rush is led by 2011 first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan, who has successfully made the transition from playing with his hand down in college to a two-point stance. He leads the team with 6.5 sacks after Brian Orakpo suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle. Kerrigan will battle his former college teammate Dennis Kelly, who made his first start at right tackle against the Redskins back in Week 11. Rob Jackson has stepped in for Orakpo and has 4.5 sacks on the season. Up front, the Redskins start longtime NFC East stalwarts Barry Cofield (former Giant) at nose tackle and Stephen Bowen (former Cowboy) at end with second-year end Jarvin Jenkins opposite of Bowen.

In the secondary, DeAngelo Hall is tied for the team lead with four interceptions, along with Fletcher. Hall recorded one of his picks against the Eagles in the first meeting. Opposite Hall is former Raven Josh Wilson. At safety, the Redskins have Reed Doughty on the strong side and Madieu Williams at free safety. If you recall, the Redskins had Brandon Meriweather for the first meeting and he recorded an interception. It turned out to be Meriweather's only game and play of the year as he tore the ACL in his right knee.

Eagles Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
QB Nick Foles LDE Brandon Graham
RB LeSean McCoy LDT Cullen Jenkins
FB Emil Igwenagu RDT Fletcher Cox
WR Jeremy Maclin RDE Trent Cole
LT King Dunlap WILL LB Mychal Kendricks
LG Evan Mathis MIKE LB DeMeco Ryans
C Dallas Reynolds SAM LB Jamar Chaney
RG Jake Scott LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
RT Dennis Kelly RCB Nnamdi Asomugha
TE Brent Celek SS Kurt Coleman
WR Jason Avant FS Colt Anderson

When The Redskins Have The Ball:

The Redskins, along with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, have received a lot of credit for transforming the team's offense around Robert Griffin and rightfully so. The Redskins ranks fourth in the league in yards per game and fifth in scoring, but their production may actually be even more impressive than that. The Redskins gain 6.2 yards per play, the best mark in the league. They also lead the league with 164.8 rushing yards per game (including a third-best 5.1 yards per rush) and though their mark of 225 passing yards per game only ranks 18th, the effectiveness of those passes is tops in the league at 7.9 yards per pass. All told, it's clear to see how the Redskins have bounced back from a 3-6 start to sit in a position where they can win their way into the playoffs. And though the offense has been built around Griffin, the effectiveness of Shanahan and the team's personnel was on display last week when Kirk Cousins threw for 329 yards and a 104.4 quarterback rating in his first NFL start.

So it's clear that the Eagles defense will have their work cut out for them. Hopefully, they won't be put in a bind by last week's turnover-prone Eagles offense that provided the Bengals with drives beginning in Eagles' territory on every Bengals' scoring drive. When the Redskins do pass the ball, the Eagles should have an opportunity to continue the pressure they created last week with six sacks. The Redskins offensive line is not great at pass protection, as they rank 22nd in sacks allowed per pass. Right tackle Tyler Polumbus, in particular, can be exploited, as he's allowed the most sacks on the Redskins offensive line this season and ranks as the second-worst right tackle in the league according to ProFootballFocus. That's good news for Brandon Graham, who has impressed since earning the starting left defensive end job in Jason Babin's absence. Graham has 4.0 sacks over the last three games, including 2.5 last week, so he'll be licking his chops to keep that string moving.

When the Eagles and Redskins last met, wide receiver Pierre Garcon was just returning from injury and barely played at all. Now, Garcon will pose the biggest threat to the Eagles secondary, as the big-ticket free agent acquisition has averaged 5.8 catches for 85 yards over the last four games. Last week, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie shadowed Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green all over the field and was able to limit Green to a pedestrian day by his standards. Keep an eye on whether Rodgers-Cromartie is again tasked with playing shadow this week on Garcon, or whether defensive coordinator Todd Bowles allowed Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha to remain on their respective sides.

Finally, don't sleep on rookie running back Alfred Morris, who has somehow remained under the radar despite ranking third in the league in rushing as sixth-round pick. Morris has topped 100 yards rushing in three of the last four games and his downhill, battering style will prove an interesting test for a defense that is still adjusting to the change in defensive line philosophy. Gone is the every-down wide-nine, which has pinched the defensive ends in a little bit and allowed the safeties to abdicate much of the run responsibilities they had earlier in the season, which sometimes caused big plays down the field in the passing game. A reworked linebacking corps that still features DeMeco Ryans (one of only two or three Eagles who can make a Pro Bowl case this season) in the middle but has slid Mychal Kendricks to his natural WILL position and swapped Jamar Chaney into the strongside will be put to the test by Morris and crew.

Redskins Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
QB Robert Griffin III DE Jarvis Jenkins
RB Alfred Morris NT Barry Cofield
FB Darrel Young DE Stephen Bowen
WR Joshua Morgan OLB Ryan Kerrigan
LT Trent Williams MLB London Fletcher
LG Kory Lichtensteiger MLB Perry Riley
C Will Montgomery OLB Rob Jackson
RG Chris Chester CB DeAngelo Hall
RT Tyler Polumbus CB Josh Wilson
TE Logan Paulsen FS Madieu Williams
WR Pierre Garçon SS Reed Doughty

Players To Watch

DE Brandon Graham

Since Brandon Graham reclaimed the starting role in Week 12, Graham has shown the ability that made the Eagles move up in the first round to select him three years ago. In his four starts this season, Graham has 24 combined tackles, four sacks, seven hurries and a forced fumble. And last Thursday against the Bengals, he had the best game of his career, notching 10 total tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

This week's matchup could prove to be a good one for Graham. Redskins starting right tackle Tyler Polumbus could be out after suffering a concussion in last week's win over the Browns. And with reserve tackle Jordan Black suspended, the Redskins will have to scramble to fill that spot. Look for Graham to continue his recent success again this Sunday.

CB DeAngelo Hall

A former first-round pick of the Falcons in 2004, cornerback DeAngelo Hall is tied for the team lead with four interceptions. One of them came against the Eagles in Nick Foles' first career start. Hall finished with eight tackles in that contest.

The Redskins, however, sport the league's 30th-best pass defense. While these two teams' first meeting didn't go the Eagles' way, Hall and the defense present a matchup that quarterback Nick Foles will look to take advantage of with more experience under his belt.

Key Matchups

RB Alfred Morris vs. Eagles' Run Defense

Quarterback Robert Griffin III may be the rookie getting all the headlines in D.C., but another first-year player is having an equally impressive season. Running back Alfred Morris, a sixth-round pick, has rushed for 1,322 yards so far this season. That's good for third-best in the NFL. He is also near the league leaderboard with nine rushing touchdowns. Morris has already broken the Redskins' rookie rushing record, and needs fewer than 200 yards to break the franchise's single-season rushing record.

Needless to say, the Eagles need to take Morris seriously.

In their last meeting, the Eagles were able to keep Morris relatively quiet. He finished the day with 76 yards on 20 carries and was held without a touchdown. The Eagles did not allow a 100-yard rusher for the first 12 games, but have allowed one in each of the past two weeks. It's a trend the Eagles would like to correct, and they'll get another chance Sunday against a formidable opponent.

QB Nick Foles vs. Redskins' Pass Defense

Nick Foles made his first career start in Week 11 at FedEx Field and did not have the kind of game he had hoped for. The offense never got off the ground as Foles went 21-of-46 for 204 yards and two interceptions in a 31-6 loss.

But that was then. Foles is showing improvement each week and has now played in six games, making five starts. Since game against the Redskins, Foles has thrown for 933 yards, four touchdowns and only one interception. Meanwhile, the Redskins are ranked 30th in pass defense, surrendering 285.3 yards per game through the air. Since these two teams last met, the Redskins have allowed an average of 298.5 yards to opposing quarterbacks. Foles would likely be more than happy to put up similar numbers Sunday afternoon.

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