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Spadaro: The Eagles Insider's 6 storylines to follow Sunday

New Eagles safety Kevin Byard
New Eagles safety Kevin Byard

For the second time in a month, the Eagles face the Washington Commanders, a team looking to hang in the picture in the NFC East. The Commanders are 3-4, coming off a 14-7 loss to the New York Giants last Sunday, and they are a team in need of a win and some positive momentum. FedEx Field will be, as usual, a sea of Eagles Green, as Philadelphia looks to improve its record to 7-1.

Here are some storylines as the teams finish off their 2023 season series.

1. The new guy, Kevin Byard, is ready to go

The veteran safety, who had a bye week last weekend, came to Philadelphia via a trade with Tennessee and has had a full week of practice and integrating into the defensive scheme. Will he play in this game? It sure seems like it. How much will he play? That is something we'll find out when the game begins.

"We feel like he's had a great week of practice," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said. "Everything is considered. He's been playing, so it's different than (wide receiver) Julio (Jones) as far as the pitch count, as far as health-wise goes. But man, he's a pro, and he's worked really hard this week, so we're confident in him. We'll see how much he plays in this football game."

2. Eagles focusing on limiting giveaways; winning the turnover battle

Philadelphia is an uncharacteristic -2 in the turnover ratio department this season and that's something the team has emphasized. Four turnovers contributed heavily to the loss to the Jets two Sundays ago, while the Eagles were a -1 and still won against Miami on Sunday night.

Quarterback Jalen Hurts talked during the week about the need to minimize the giveaways, and he has been very secure with the football in his career. Clearly, giving the football away is one of the few things the Eagles' offense has done that has not been up to its standards this season. Expect it to improve.

3. Quarterback Sam Howell is taking a beating

In his second season and his first as a starter, Washington quarterback Sam Howell has been sacked an NFL-high 40 times. The Eagles reached him five times in Week 4, and Howell used his legs to escape several other close calls.

Why is it happening? A couple of reasons jump immediately to mind: 1. The Washington offensive line has had its troubles this season, a challenge that is even greater with left guard Saahdiq Charles out for the game and now on Injured Reserve with a calf injury. Washington is also reportedly considering other position changes up front, and that's a tough proposition when a very good Eagles pass rush is coming to town. 2. Howell, like most young quarterbacks, holds the football too long at times. And he gets hit. And he gets sacked.

4. Is it another A.J. Brown Sunday?

There is no hotter offensive weapon in the NFL than wide receiver A.J. Brown, who has five straight games of 125-plus yards receiving, tying an NFL record. Is this another Sunday for Brown to go off? How much will Washington alter its coverage Brown's way to limit his effectiveness?

The Eagles have a bunch of offensive weapons, so Hurts will take the options that are open. If Washington wants to double Brown, someone else will be in a great matchup. Clearly, though, Brown is the focus of a big-time passing game.

5. Winning against Washington's defensive front

All four starters are first-round draft picks, so the talent is very high for Washington up front defensively. That group is capable of taking over games, so the Eagles know how critical the matchup will be in this one. There are no gimmes here and there are no pushover matchup wins. It's going to be physical, explosive, and very important in the trenches.

The Eagles have played very well up front offensively and they, as always, expect to be up to the challenge.

6. Starting fast is important, as always

And finishing strong, yes. But the Eagles have been especially good with their first offensive drives this season, scoring six times in seven games. In a game against a team that is struggling, the best thing to do is jump out early and keep pouring on the pressure.

Washington led the Eagles 17-7 in the first half of Week 4 and it genuinely appeared Washington was on the way to a potential win. Then a late-first-half catch from wide receiver DeVonta Smith set the Eagles up for a Jake Elliott field goal from 41 yards out, and the Eagles took some momentum into the locker room at halftime and carried it through the third quarter. Of course, we know the game went into overtime and Elliott won it with a 54-yard field goal, a franchise record for the longest overtime game-winner.

Don't give Washington any reason to think it can win this game. It is going to feel like a home game at FedEx Field, so keep the Eagles' fans loud and leading the way by jumping out early and keeping the foot on the pedal.

Take a closer look at this week's practice as the Eagles prepare for another NFC East rivalry game with Washington.

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