The Eagles' rollercoaster start to the 2013 season has landed them squarely on the .500 mark with one game to go before the bye. Coming off a two-game winning streak during which Nick Foles has posted the greatest two-game stretch in history in terms of quarterback rating, the Eagles have a chance to grab sole possession of first place in the NFC East heading into their week of rest and recovery. Standing in their way will be a 3-6 Washington Redskins team looking for a repeat performance from last season. In 2012, the Redskins won the division thanks to a season-closing seven-game winning streak after they began the season 3-6. So the Eagles, searching to snap a streak of 10 straight home losses, would be well advised to snuff out the Redskins now before the visitors have a chance to get on a similar run.
The success of the Eagles offense thus far extends beyond the play of Foles, as they sport the league's top-ranked rushing offense both in yards per game and yards per carry. LeSean McCoy, the league's leading rusher, bounced back from a few weeks of sub-his-standard totals with 155 yards rushing last week in the Eagles' 27-13 victory over the Green Bay Packers. The combination of McCoy's abilities and Foles' ascension has forced upon opposing defenses the difficult choice of focusing their efforts on halting either the run or pass. The Redskins defense, meanwhile, has allowed 7.8 yards per pass, which ranks 30th in the league. After the Eagles racked up 443 points and 33 points in the season opening victory over the Redskins, the focus will be on whether Foles' offense can do to the Redskins was Michael Vick's offense did on that Monday night in FedEx Field.
Last Time They Met
September 9, 2013: Eagles 33, Redskins 27
On the opening night of the Chip Kelly era, the Eagles raced off to a blazing start against the Redskins, scoring 33 points in a row while unveiling their new-look offense. The Redskins did get on the board first, thanks to what was ruled a backwards pass that was recovered and run in for a touchdown by DeAngelo Hall. But then LeSean McCoy ran for 184 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries, Michael Vick ran for 54 yards and a touchdown and tossed two more as the Eagles pulled away. The Redskins did fight back in the fourth quarter, pulling within six points with just over a minute remaining before the Eagles recovered the last-ditch onsides kick attempt to close out the victory.
When the Eagles Have The Ball
Thanks to a 204-yard performance against the Green Bay Packers, the Eagles running attack has climbed back atop the NFL in terms of yards per game. Through 10 games, the Eagles have averaged an astounding 153.5 yards per game on the ground. They also hold a .01-yard lead as the league's best rushing team on a per-rush basis, with 5.07 yards per rush. The team close behind them? The Washington Redskins. So it's safe to say that the running game figures to play a key role for both sides. Against Green Bay, LeSean McCoy had more rushing yards (155) than he had in his previous three games combined (147). He also received the most carries (25) since his 116-yard performance against Tampa Bay in Week 6. The Eagles are 3-0 this season when McCoy carries the ball at least 25 times. All of that evidence seems to point to the conclusion that getting McCoy the ball provides a winning formula for the Eagles. Factor in that McCoy's best game of the season game against Washington in the Monday night opener, when the Eagles' back ran for 184 yards and a score, and McCoy could be poised for another outstanding game.
McCoy's running numbers from the first time that these two teams met this season may have been helped out by the fact the Redskins had to keep an eye on Michael Vick and his ability to run with the football. It appears that Vick will not be ready to go this Sunday, once again putting the ball in the capable hands of Nick Foles. In short, Foles has been phenomenal this season, throwing for 16 touchdowns without an interception. In the Eagles' last two games, Foles has thrown for 10 scores and has demonstrated the ability to connect on deep passes. The second-year pro has also been able to extend plays by shuffling and stepping up in the pocket, giving his receivers more time to get open. Foles is more athletic than most people give him credit for, and his ability to make plays on the run could be a big part of Sunday's matchup. His back-to-back stretch of 158.3 and 149.3 quarterback ratings stands as the greatest such stretch in NFL history.
The play of the offensive line, meanwhile, has helped greatly in the Eagles' ability to run and throw the football. Touted as one of the league's most athletic offensive lines heading into the season, the Eagles' offensive line was rolling right along until an injury last week to left tackle Jason Peters. But even in Peters' absence, the Eagles offense cruised forward with veteran Allen Barbre at left tackle. So even if Peters ,who is day-to-day with a quad injury, is unable to play this Sunday, the Eagles should remain stout up front. The Eagles did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage in the season opener, and they will need to do that once again to come out with a win on Sunday.
Moving outside, keep an eye on Riley Cooper. The physical wide receiver drew a lot of criticism for his lack of production earlier in the season, and he's responded in a big way. In the last two games alone, Cooper has been on the receiving end of five touchdown passes. Cooper's seven touchdown catches on the season ranks above notable names like A.J. Green, Andre Johnson, and Larry Fitzgerald. DeSean Jackson is just 97 yards away from 1,000 on the season, and his numbers from here on out depend on Cooper's ability to draw attention from opposing safeties.
Finally, it will be interesting to watch how the Eagles deploy their tight ends on Sunday. Two weeks ago in Oakland, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz both found their way into the end zone. Last Sunday, Celek had just one catch, while Ertz was never even targeted. James Casey did come up big by taking in a screen pass and rumbling for a first down late in the game, but that was his only catch. Celek scored a touchdown in the first game against Washington, so the Eagles could once again be looking for ways to get their tight ends involved.
Switching sides of the ball, the Redskins defense has been a huge problem for the team this season. Washington has the second worst defense in the league, in terms of points per game, allowing 31.9 points per contest. It's difficult to point to one specific area as being the defense's downfall considering all of the talented players that make up the unit. Pass rushers like Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are still there, providing a constant threat to get to the quarterback, and Barry Cofield is a stout run-stopper in the middle. The middle of the Redskins defense contains the team's two leading tacklers in Perry Riley and London Fletcher, who has been in thorn in the Eagles' side for what seems like decades now. DeAngelo Hall, whose 42 career interceptions rank fifth among active players, provides some veteran leadership and the ability to swing momentum at any time, as he has scored three touchdowns this season (including one against the Eagles in the season opener).Factor in the presence of hard-hitting safety Brandon Meriweather, and it becomes apparent that the Redskins defense, despite the poor numbers, cannot be taken lightly.
The most interesting thing to watch with the Redskins defense will be how they react to the no-huddle from the Eagles. Washington served as the NFL's "guinea pig" when it came to defending the Eagles offense back in Week 1. They were the first team to see it in full-speed, and they were baffled by it, especially during the blitzkrieg first half when the Eagles ran 59 offensive plays. The Redskins were unable to get their substitutions in and looked generally unprepared for the pace of the game. That is unlikely to be the case this week, now that the Redskins have had a chance to see the Eagles offense in action over the first 10 weeks of the season.
When The Redskins Have The Ball
The Washington Redskins offense the Eagles see on Sunday is one of the NFL's best and will present a serious challenge. It ranks ninth in the NFL in points per game (25.6), fifth in yards per game at 410.4, third in first downs (23.8) and fourth in third-down efficiency (46.0 percent).
After a shaky start, the Redskins offense has been improving each week and is now clicking as quarterback Robert Griffin III has gained confidence in his surgically repaired knee. He leads a passing attack that ranks 10th in the NFL in yards per game (259.2) and 11th in yards per attempt (6.4). Griffin III's mechanics and throwing power have been much better as he has been able to plant and push off his base with authority, instead of relying just on his upper body. He is also showing an increasing willingness to keep the ball on zone-read options and take off and run once the play breaks down, registering 301 yards on 56 carries (5.4 average) in nine games. Griffin III is much closer to the dynamic player he was in 2012 than the clearly rusty one the Eagles faced in Week 1. For the season, he has completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 2,450 yards, 12 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a quarterback rating of 83.8. Griffin III is still incredibly dangerous on every snap, and it will require a tremendous collective effort from the Eagles defense to keep him in check.
At receiver, Pierre Garcon is the most recognizable name and remains Griffin III's favorite target. A big-play threat with 10 gains of 20-plus yards, he is having a career-best season so far with 61 catches for 803 yards and three touchdowns. Garcon is a tough, physical runner who looks to inflict pain on would-be tacklers after the catch and is coming off two straight 100-plus-yard performances. He will likely match up primarily against Cary Williams. Rookie tight end Jordan Reed, who looks like a star in the making, has emerged for the Redskins and quickly earned Griffin III's trust. He is the team's second-leading receiver with 44 catches for 487 yards and three touchdowns. Leonard Hankerson, who also has three touchdown receptions, and grizzled veteran Santana Moss have 29 catches for 370 yards and 21 catches for 249 yards, respectively. If Bradley Fletcher is unable to play again due to his pectoral injury, Roc Carmichael will step in outside as the other starting cornerback for the Eagles, just as he did against Green Bay.
The Eagles pass defense allowed a total of 305 yards through the air against the Packers and now ranks 31st in the NFL at 306.5 yards per allowed per game. They also recorded two interceptions, one in the end zone by Brandon Boykin to thwart a potential Packers touchdown and the other on a diving play by DeMeco Ryans, to bring the unit's season total up to 12, which is just one off the league lead. Speaking of Ryans, the leader of the Eagles defense is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season with 89 total tackles (71 solo, five for loss), two sacks, two interceptions and four pass breakups. Connor Barwin had a key pass batted down against the Packers, and Najee Goode, who replaced the injured Mychal Kendricks (knee), was a force as a run blitzer and nearly had a pick-six in coverage. If Kendricks is unable to play on Sunday, Goode will get the first start of his NFL career. At safety, Nate Allen was his solid, dependable self against the Packers, while Patrick Chung took over for the injured Earl Wolff (knee) and will remain in that spot with Wolff expected to miss multiple weeks.
Running back Alfred Morris leads a rushing attack that ranks third in the NFL at 151.2 yards per game, just 2.3 yards behind the first-ranked Eagles. The Eagles shut down Morris and the Redskins' ground game in the first game of the season, holding him to just 45 yards on 12 carries. Since then, Morris has rushed for no fewer than 70 yards in any single game. Over his past five games, Morris has really hit his stride, averaging 105.8 yards per game and 5.1 yards per rush. He is coming off his most productive game, carrying the ball 26 times for 139 yards and touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings. For the season, Morris has 159 carries for 825 yards, third in the NFL, and five touchdowns. His 5.2-yards-per-carry average ranks first among all starting running backs. There has been no sophomore slump for this bruising wrecking ball with light feet, and Morris still requires multiple defenders to bring him down. He figures to see a healthy workload against an Eagles defense that swarms to the football, gang tackles, has been stout against the run – ranking 14th at 110.5 yards allowed per game – and is coming off a strong showing in which it shut down Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy. Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton were all fantastic once again in controlling the line of scrimmage. The only 100-yard running back the Eagles have allowed this season is the Oakland Raiders' Rashad Jennings, who passed the century mark in garbage time of the blowout victory. Roy Helu is Morris' backup, but he is a more effective receiver out of the backfield than ball carrier.
The Redskins offensive line features the same starting five from 2012 in Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus. The unit has been effective both in pass protection – 18 sacks allowed, fifth-fewest in the NFL – and run blocking. However, in the second half of the Redskins' recent loss to the Vikings, the offensive line struggled to keep Griffin III upright and allowed four sacks. The Eagles front seven had trouble generating pressure against the Packers and recorded just one sack, thanks to Vinny Curry, of quarterback Scott Tolzien. The Eagles rank 25th in the NFL with just 20 sacks and cannot afford to let Griffin III comfortably sit in the pocket all day. Bill Davis was effective in Week 1 when he dialed up blitzes, leading to two interceptions, and might have to do so again this time around.
Something in particular to focus on when the Redskins offense and Eagles defense are on the field together is what happens in the red zone. The Redskins are fourth in the NFL in touchdown efficiency in the red zone (64.52 percent), while the Eagles – in what has been a staple of a Davis-led defense – have become one of the league's stingiest red-zone defenses, ranking ninth overall in touchdown conversion rate (50 percent), but allowing just a 20 percent touchdown conversion rate in the past three games (tied for first in that span).
Lane Johnson vs. Ryan Kerrigan
In the Monday night matchup, Johnson played relatively well in his first NFL start against the dangerous pass-rushing abilities of Kerrigan. This will once again be a fun matchup to watch, as the two athletic big men go at it. With 6.5 sacks on the season, Kerrigan has been playing at a high level and will look to keep it up on Sunday. Meanwhile, Johnson is coming off of two of his best starts of the season, including a game at Oakland that Kelly referred to as the best of the University of Oklahoma product's young career.
Riley Cooper vs. Josh Wilson
In our game preview for the season opener, DeSean Jackson vs. DeAngelo Hall was a key matchup, and with good reason, as the two players are among the best at their respective positions. The emergence of Cooper, however, will make his matchup with Wilson just as important this time around. Cooper owns the clear height advantage, standing at 6-foot-3, while Wilson stands at just 5-foot-9. Look for Cooper to use his body to come up with some big catches as he looks to keep up his torrid pace of getting into the end zone.
Players To Watch Patrick Chung, S, No. 23
Chung is recovered from the shoulder injury that nagged him for weeks and forced him to miss a few games. Once Earl Wolff suffered a knee injury against the Packers and had to exit, Chung reassumed his full-time spot. He finished fourth on the defense in total tackles with five and was able to break up a pass, too. Chung excels against the run and will be key as the Eagles focus on shutting down the Redskins' dynamic ground game.
Jordan Reed, TE, No. 86
Reed caught five passes for 38 yards against the Eagles in the opening game, but his breakout performance came in a 45-41 victory over the Chicago Bears on October 20, when he caught nine passes for 134 yards and a touchdown. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, he is a classic "move" tight end with elite athleticism and lethal after-the-catch skills who will pose matchup problems for the Eagles defense. In putting together his game plan, Davis will have to decide whether he wants to devote a linebacker or cornerback to Reed in coverage.