Washington comes to Lincoln Financial Field tonight a wounded animal. The defense, already banged up, lost prized rookie tackle Jonathan Allen for the season with a foot injury. Standout cornerback Josh Norman is out. The other starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland may play, but he's hurting with a knee injury. Pro Bowl offensive tackle Trent Williams is a game-time decision.
So why is it so worrisome?
We've seen this play out the wrong way too many times: Opposing team is missing key players and then plays a great game to pull off the upset. Washington is a tricky team to match up against, having won three of its last four games since the Eagles won in Week 1. Here are some battles to watch tonight ...
EAGLES PASS RUSH VS. QB KIRK COUSINS
So how do you rattle Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is completing 67 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and just two interceptions? You have to pressure him, and you have to do it in a variety of ways. The Eagles have had success in the past coming off the edge – Malcolm Jenkins had an interception return for a touchdown last season when Cousins was flushed from the pocket – and this season they went after him up the gut to force a fourth-quarter pass that Jalen Mills intercepted. Expect the Eagles to go after Cousins.
Now, the Williams story is worth watching. He's barely practiced all week a knee injury. Head coach Jay Gruden said of Williams on Saturday, "He's pretty much in the same place. Hopefully that thing is … the pain and soreness is starting to alleviate a little bit, but he's still a little gimpy."
A little gimpy? Two days before a game? For a left tackle protecting the quarterback's blind side? If Williams plays, which he will certainly try to do, he won't be near 100 percent. His backup, Ty Nsekhe, is already out with a core muscle injury.
EAGLES DEFENSE VS. RB CHRIS THOMPSON
He used to be a secret weapon and as Thompson made play after play against the Eagles, you'd say, "Who in the heck is he?" Now, everybody knows. Thompson is what used to be referred to as a "scatback" at 5-8, 191 pounds. He's a great receiver out of the backfield and he's an explosive running back. Thompson leads Washington with 175 rushing yards (4.9 yards per carry) and he has 18 receptions (tied for team lead) and is averaging a ridiculous 18.9 yards per catch.
Thompson had six rushes and 53 yards and two catches for 24 yards in a 2015 win over the Eagles at FedEx Field. He had 12 carries for 75 yards and three receptions for 29 yards in two games against the Eagles last season. In Week 1, Thompson caught four passes for 52 yards and a touchdown against this defense.
Jim Schwartz knows all about Thompson. It's been a big story all week. He's a big weapon for Washington.
EAGLES RT LANE JOHNSON VS. WASHINGTON LB RYAN KERRIGAN
Lane Johnson is back after missing a game with a concussion and he faces a huge rival in Kerrigan, who, as we all know, has played very well against the Eagles in the past. Johnson was playing outstanding football before suffering his concussion, and if he can get right back to that level, the Eagles are going to be fine. If it takes Johnson time to settle in, the pass protection has to adjust and keep Kerrigan out of the backfield.
. Or Nelson Agholor. As much as you can see the Eagles making sure to test the Washington run defense early, the opportunities could be there in the passing game as well.
Washington's depth will be tested as the Eagles use three wide receivers and try to position some favorable matchups. This is a situation the Eagles can dictate with their personnel groupings and get some good looks in coverage.
EAGLES AT 5-1 VS. HIGH EXPECTATIONS
It looks like a great night is ahead for the Eagles, no doubt. The atmosphere will be electric. The fans are amped up and partying with this 5-1 start. A chance to take a commanding lead in the NFC East is here. Washington is right there to be beaten.
And yet, going back to the top of this story, remember that a wounded animal is a dangerous one. The Eagles aren't, we hope, believing all the hype about being "the best team in the NFL." That stuff – the power rankings and all of that – means nothing.
Let's see how the Eagles do playing the favored role. Washington is coming in here with nothing to lose. The Eagles have the pressure. How they handle it will say a lot about this team moving forward.
This should be a great night. David Akers goes into the Hall of Fame. It's a national television audience once again. The Eagles are well rested and hungry. Washington is a rival that has had the Eagles' number the past three seasons.
So the stage is set and the Eagles have a chance to take firm control of the NFC East. Tonight, we learn more about the maturity of the Eagles to accept prosperity.