Let's end the home season on a good note and hopefully use a win as a springboard for more success in 2013 because, let's face it, the Eagles need to get the home-field advantage back. They need to play good football and get the fans fired up and create the atmosphere they had in wins against Baltimore and the Giants back when the weather was warm and the hopes for 2012 were sky high.
The home slate ends against Washington and young star Robert Griffin III, the emerging quarterback of the NFC, if not the NFL. As the Eagles play out the season in the role of the spoiler, the Redskins are surging with five straight victories and a world of confidence. This is a role reversal from the days when the Eagles were ahead of the pack in the NFC East and the Redskins were, well, where the Eagles are right now.
I'm going to put aside all of the big-picture stories for this game. I understand what most of the media and what many of the fans are focused on here. I understand that the Eagles are 4-10 and that the future holds a lot of questions.
For one day, though, one perfect late-December day at Lincoln Financial Field, I want the Eagles to rise to the occasion and play a great football game and give the fans something good to think about during this holiday season.
The fans deserve it.
Are the Eagles able to deliver?
Nick Foles is the quiet understudy to Griffin's starring role, but for us he is the one in the spotlight. I'll get to how the defense needs to deal with Griffin in a moment, but for the Eagles the big story is Foles in his second start against a Redskins team that picked him off twice early in his first NFL start and made life miserable for the Eagles.
Foles wasn't asked to do much of anything in that game except get rid of the football quickly. Playing behind a patchwork offensive line, Foles threw a series of screens and slants and hooks and tried to catch up to the pace of the regular-season game.
Now we're five weeks into the Foles Experiment. He is far advanced from that Sunday at FedEx Field. The game has slowed down for Foles and he's been able to command the offense with maturity and poise and a great deal of leadership. Foles has to work on his game a great deal and he knows he is in the early stages of the process. The young man certainly has a lot going for him, and there is a valid reason why the Eagles are so high on him.
The order of business directly in front of Foles and the offense is to establish something against Washington's aggressive defense. With LeSean McCoy in the lineup and with Bryce Brown having established something in the time during McCoy's absence, the Eagles should try to establish the ground game in the early going. Opening with the passing game could be the approach, and it's the way the Eagles usually take, but why not come out and pound on the ground early against Washington?
Anyway, all eyes are on Foles. A win here would be huge in his developmental process. Washington won't let him sit in the pocket all day, so Foles has to read and trust what he sees and find weaknesses in the Washington scheme and make plays down the field. Evaluating Foles against two defenses in the playoff race is important and it's going to be telling, and I guarantee we will have a lot to discuss about his progress in the matter of two games.
With McCoy on the field and with tight end Brent Celek back in the lineup, the Eagles have some weapons. You will see a lot of three-wide receiver sets as fullback Stanley Havili is out and backup tight end Clay Harbor is sidelined, so the Eagles have to manufacture some consistency from the running game without a proven fullback.
On defense, it's all about dealing with Griffin and the multiple nature of the Washington offense. The Redskins have a fantastic running game with rookie Alfred Morris leading the way, and they work the passing game off of the run game. The Eagles couldn't handle Griffin the first time around -- he tossed four touchdown passes and threw just one incomplete pass -- and the defense gave up too much ground in the running game in the second half.
Todd Bowles has the defense playing its best football of the season the last couple of weeks. There haven't been any crazy-open receivers running free. The tackling has been much improved. The gap discipline has been more structured.
Still, the Eagles need to take the football away from Washington. They need to first control the running game and attack the line of scrimmage, and then try to keep Griffin in the pocket and force him to make small-window throws. He had it way too easy in November, flipping passes to wide-open pass catchers and heaving up bombs into coverage and having his receiver -- not the Eagles defense -- come down with the football.
Welcome to the last home game of this 2012 season. The Eagles haven't won at Lincoln Financial since the Brian Dawkins night of October 30. The Giants were in town then, and the Eagles rose up to win a nail biter and improved to 3-1 and, back then, it seemed like anything was possible for the Eagles.
Anything, that is, but being 4-10 and forced into the role of spoiler here. A win against Washington would, maybe who knows, give the Eagles to build upon as they look forward to a brighter tomorrow.