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Spadaro: 6 storylines to follow Monday night vs. Commanders

Dave Spadaro On the Inside 1920

It was way back in Week 3 when the Eagles and Commanders first met, and back then we had some significant thoughts about Washington. It was Carson Wentz's team, no doubt about it, and the Washington offense had shown signs in its first two weeks – one win, one loss – that it could trade body blows with any defense because of its strong running game and dynamic passing attack. The defense, led by a terrific front four and dominating from the inside-out, had the tools to be one of the league's best.

Now it's Week 10 and as the Eagles prepare for the Commanders on Monday night, it's worth examining Washington to understand what is the same and what is different as the teams play an NFC East game.

1. Carson Wentz is out; Taylor Heinicke is in

After some serious ups and downs in 2022 – including absorbing nine sacks from the Eagles in Week 3 – Wentz went to Injured Reserve after suffering a broken finger on October 13 in a win over the Chicago Bears. Heinicke makes his fourth start on Monday night and he brings some juice to the Washington offense with his movement, his smarts, and the way his teammates rally around him.

Heinicke has completed 63 percent of his passes with 5 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and 629 passing yards in the last three games. He is capable of escaping the Eagles' pass rush and making plays "off schedule," as the coaches say.

"I think he presents a certain challenge because he can make a lot of off-schedule plays. He doesn't have a lot of fear of throwing the ball into coverage, and he's got good skill guys around him and he gives them chances to make plays on 50/50 balls, which you've seen him do as he's come back in a little bit," Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon said this week. "It's basically the same offense to me. It's just that he can move around and make some off-schedule plays, which that presents a different challenge to us when we rush and when we cover. We'll have a good plan ready to go, and we have to execute at a high level to give ourselves a chance to win the game."

2. Washington has a two-headed rushing attack

In the first meeting, Antonio Gibson gained 38 yards on 12 rushing attempts and, by the time the first half ended and the Eagles held a 24-0 advantage, Washington's running game was a non-factor. The plan going into the season was that Gibson and rookie Brian Robinson Jr. would share the backfield duties, but Robinson Jr. was shot in the knee in August and missed the first month of the season. In the five games since, he has 219 yards and is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry as he gets his timing back as a downhill, 225-pound runner.

Washington hasn't run the ball consistently well this season, averaging 108 yards per game to rank 22nd in the league, but the Commanders have picked it up a bit of late, averaging 133 rushing yards per game since Heinicke became the starter. The Eagles always say it starts with the run on defense, so let that be the case on Monday night. Washington could very well look to establish the ground game early to keep Heinicke in manageable situations.

3. The matchups in the passing game are different

The Eagles have the utmost respect for the wide receiver corps here, led by Terry McLaurin (38 receptions, 609 yards, and 2 touchdowns), Curtis Samuel (45-455-3), and rookie Jahan Dotson (12-152-4 in four games before suffering a hamstring injury; he is expected back on Monday night). All three played in Week 3 and the Eagles did a great job limiting them until late in the second half.

What's different now is the matchup from the Eagles' standpoint. Darius Slay and James Bradberry are the standouts on the outside at cornerback and they are healthy and ready for this challenge. However, Avonte Maddox will miss the game, so Josiah Scott is expected to make his third start (he started against Jacksonville and Arizona). Scott is experienced in the defense, having played 120 snaps to date. It's going to be interesting to see what Washington does in terms of matchups and which receivers they run through the slot to perhaps avoid Slay and Bradberry.

4. Washington's strong defensive front could have more firepower

Nothing official yet, but Chase Young could make his 2022 debut at defensive end in an undetermined capacity. The young star suffered a torn ACL one year ago to the date of Monday night's game and is currently in his 21-day practice window. The word from Washington is that Young is not all the way back but is closing in. Does he play? If so, Young would likely be on a snap count, but even that could be enough to make the Eagles account for his presence. Young, the team's first-round draft pick in 2020 (second overall), had 7.5 quarterback sacks as a rookie.

The strength of the Commanders' defense is in the middle, where tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne have combined for 10 quarterback sacks, so the Eagles know they have a handful to deal with inside. Washington was hampered a bit by injures up front in Week 3. That isn't the case for Monday night. Not at all. Washington hopes to have a key piece back in the form of Young.

5. Commanders will have new faces at LB

Washington will be without middle linebacker Cole Holcomb for a third consecutive week as he recovers from a foot injury, but the Commanders have still played at a very high level. Holcomb led the way in Week 3 with 9 total tackles and a quarterback hit. Kamron Curl has become a hybrid safety/linebacker and he has been extremely productive as Washington gives different looks – including using a five-man front – week to week.

Impressively, Washington played outstanding defense in its loss to Minnesota last Sunday, allowing only 56 running yards and 262 passing yards against that powerful offense.

6. In Week 3, WR DeVonta Smith dominated. In Week 10 ...

No doubt the Commanders will show some different coverage looks to the Eagles and will try to limit the star wide receivers and tight end Philadelphia has utilized. DeVonta Smith had 10 catches (12 targets), 169 yards, and a touchdown. A.J. Brown caught 5 passes (10 targets) for 85 yards and a score. Dallas Goedert scored. What's different for Washington now is that the Commanders have used Benjamin St-Juste more as an outside corner who shadows the opposing team's top wide receiver. He's a second-year man, 6-2, and he impressed Washington's coaches last week with the way he worked against Vikings star wide receiver Justin Jefferson.

Would the Commanders use St-Juste exclusively on Brown as the two match up fairly well, size wise? How about on Smith after the game he had in Week 3? A nickel cornerback when the Eagles saw him in Week 3, St-Juste is the main man in the Washington cornerback picture along with Kendall Fuller, joined by Rachad Wildgoose. Maybe you need to think the Eagles must make Washington go on a Wildgoose chase to keep pace with Brown, Smith, and Goedert, but it's more than likely St-Juste will draw Brown or Smith outside.

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