December 20, 2014 was a night to forget for Eagles fans.
Needing a win to keep playoff chances alive, the Eagles went into Washington to play a Redskins team that had just three wins to that point. But on a dreary night in our nation's capital, Washington got the best of the Eagles, winning the game 27-24 on a 26-yard field goal with five seconds left on the clock. The Dallas Cowboys clinched the NFC East title the next day.
This time around, the Eagles enter the game with payback on their minds, looking to erase last year's disappointing loss and get back to .500 with a crucial NFC East win. Last week against the Jets, the Eagles got their running game back on track, as Ryan Mathews filled in for the injured DeMarco Murray with a 108-yard performance and a 23-yard touchdown reception. The offense was rolling for much of the first half, but things tapered off some for the Eagles in the second half. This week, the Eagles are looking to put together 60 minutes of solid offensive football, and they'll be tested by a solid Redskins front seven.
Another big question heading into Sunday's showdown will be the weather. With Hurricane Joaquin making its way toward the east coast, it could be a rainy and windy afternoon for football in Landover, Maryland. This could put extra emphasis on both teams' ability to run the ball, which has been a strength for Washington all season long and an area that the Eagles took a great leap forward in last week. As Chip Kelly said last season, football is for the elements.
Just three games into the season, the NFC East is wide open. Both teams enter with 1-2 records and could be tied for first place in the division by the end of the day. Will it be the Eagles or the Redskins that get back to .500 and rock the NFC East like a hurricane on Sunday? Here's the preview.
- Alex Smith
Last Time They Met
Redskins 27, Eagles 24
December 20, 2014 - FedEx Field
After opening the season 9-3, the Eagles dropped two straight to the Seahawks and Cowboys, allowing Dallas to take a one-game division lead with two weeks left. Philadelphia needed a lot of help to keep their playoff hopes alive, with a 2-0 finish their only path to a playoff berth and that plus a 0-2 Cowboys finish being the only way they could win the division crown.
Entering Week 16 against the 3-11 Redskins, losers of their last six games by a combined score of 170-86, the Eagles and their fans had high hopes that they could keep their playoff dreams alive. But a heartbreaking 27-24 loss in Landover, Maryland dealt the team its death blow, all but eliminating them from postseason contention.
But this time around, the teams look quite different.
Neither starting quarterback from last year's Week 16 meeting – Mark Sanchez and Robert Griffin III – will start this time around, with Sam Bradford and Kirk Cousins getting the nod instead. Zach Ertz (15 catches for 115 yards) and DeSean Jackson (four catches for 126 yards) are the top returning performers from the two teams, but Jackson is out with a hamstring injury. Then-rookie Jordan Matthews added another 58 yards on three receptions and Darren Sproles added 67 total yards. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks led the way for the Eagles' defense with 10 tackles and a sack, defensive lineman Fletcher Cox added another sack and safety Nate Allen picked off a Griffin pass in the fourth quarter.
The loss brought the Eagles to 9-6 on the year, and a road victory against the Giants the next week made it 10-6 for the second straight season.
- Max Rappaport
*When The Eagles Have The Ball
With a roster that features a trio of running backs with Pro Bowl credentials, a rising star wideout in Jordan Matthews and former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford manning the quarterback position, many expected the Eagles' offense to be one of the most dynamic in the NFL this season. But through three games, the team has struggled to get consistent production in any area when they control the ball.
Philadelphia ranks 31st in yards gained and 22nd in points scored this season and has had two games rushing for fewer than 70 yards rushing and 220 yards passing. In the team's first win of the season, a 24-17 road victory over the then 2-0 Jets, they surpassed the century mark on the ground for the first time this year, rushing 39 times for 123 yards and a touchdown. Their passing game, though, never got going, with Sam Bradford ending the day 14-of-28 through the air for 108 yards and one touchdown against the league's fourth-rated passing defense.
Don't expect things to get much easier Week 4 against Washington, whose defense ranks in the top 10 in both yards and points allowed so far this season. With DeMarco Murray expected to return to action after missing a game due to a hamstring injury, the Eagles will look to become the first team this season to go over 100 yards on the ground against the Redskins.
Without last year's rushing champion in Murray against the Jets, Philadelphia leaned heavily upon Ryan Mathews, who rushed 25 times for 108 yards (4.3 yards per carry). Through the air, Mathews, Darren Sproles, Jordan Matthews and tight end Zach Ertz were the only four players to catch a pass. Wide receivers Miles Austin and Nelson Agholor were targeted a combined seven times but were not able to come away with a reception. In fact, those four aforementioned players plus Murray have accounted for all but 14 of the Eagles' 73 receptions on the year.
Three weeks into the season, Sam Bradford has thrown three touchdowns to four interceptions, marking the first time since Week 7 of his rookie season in 2010 that his TD:INT ratio has been worse than 1:1. But after tossing two interceptions against Dallas in Week 2, he took care of the ball against the Jets and didn't throw any. The Redskins are one of three teams that have yet to pick off a pass this year, with their lone turnover on the season coming via a sack and forced fumble against the Dolphins in Week 1.
It doesn't help matters that cornerback DeAngelo Hall, second among all active players with 43 career interceptions, will miss Sunday's game after suffering a Grade 2 tear in his right big toe. In his place, second-year corner Bashaud Breeland will take his place. Against the Giants last week, Breeland was targeted 10 times by quarterback Eli Manning, according to Pro Football Focus, allowing eight receptions and two touchdowns. The starter on the opposite side, Chris Culliver is dealing with a knee injury that could sideline him for Sunday's game against the Eagles.
- Max Rappaport
When The Redskins Have The Ball
Through three games, Washington has been the fourth-best rushing team in the NFL behind only Buffalo, San Francisco and Minnesota. Come Sunday, the Eagles' defense will surely be put the test because of those numbers, especially if the weather becomes a major factor.
The Redskins rack up an average of 143.7 rushing yards per game, split between two talented running backs in Alfred Morris and rookie Matt Jones. Morris is picking up 4.1 average yards per carry, while Jones is rushing about 5.3 yards each time he touches the ball on the ground. With these two consistent backs, the Eagles' front seven will surely have their hands full.
Although Washington's stats in the run game are impressive, the Philadelphia run defense is just as good. The Eagles only allow an average of 3.11 yards per carry, the lowest among all teams in the league. Furthermore, in its last outing, the Jets were only able to rush for 47 yards. If the defense can continue to shut down the run this weekend, it will force quarterback Kirk Cousins to throw, which could potentially work in the Birds' favor.
Currently, Cousins has a quarterback rating of 81.3, a completion percentage of 69.2 and four interceptions on the season. Last week alone, the Eagles' secondary was able to nab three interceptions, bringing the total to five on the year, which is tied for third best in the NFL. Only the Cardinals and Broncos have more. Walter Thurmond leads the way for Philadelphia with two picks this season, one of which he carried an additional 23 yards up the field.
With regard to Washington's passing game, Cousins will have to work without wide receiver DeSean Jackson. The former Eagle is still recovering from a Week 1 hamstring injury. The wide receiver has had multiple standout performances against his old team, which will make his absence all the more noticeable on Sunday.
In the first meeting of 2014, Jackson had five catches for 117 yards with an 81-yard touchdown. In that game, Cousins was able to throw for an astounding 427 yards. In the second game between the teams, Jackson again had over 100 receiving yards. With Jackson out, the Eagles are sure to have less of a challenge on their hands in that aspect, but will still need to focus on stopping tight end Jordan Reed, who has 241 receiving yards on the season. Nevertheless, stopping the run will truly be the key for dealing with this Washington offense.
- Julie Bacanskas
Eagles WRs Vs. Redskins Secondary
It's very clear that the Eagles' passing game has been a struggle this season. Jordan Matthews is the only wide receiver who has made a substantial impact thus far with 231 receiving yards. The remaining four receivers on the roster have combined for 122 yards, highlighting the issue at hand.
Nevertheless, this week could be their chance to rebound against an ailing Washington secondary. The team's top cornerbacks, DeAngelo Hall and Chris Culliver, have been listed on the injury report all week. Hall has already been ruled out for Sunday with a toe injury, while Culliver is questionable with a knee injury.
If Culliver is also unable to play this weekend, the Redskins will have only three healthy cornerbacks, one of whom was only signed to the active roster this past Tuesday. Through its three games, Washington has ranked in the top 10 in passing yards allowed per game, but with such key players on its secondary injured, this could be a chance for the Eagles' wide receivers to have a breakout performance.
Stopping TE Jordan Reed
With Jackson out of the lineup, Washington has relied heavily upon Jordan Reed. The tight end is averaging 12.7 yards per catch, which means determining how to cover him will be key to preventing Cousins from having another standout passing performance against the Eagles.
There are a number of matchups the defense could choose to use in an attempt to negate the tight end's abilities, especially if linebacker Mychal Kendricks returns from his hamstring injury. Kendricks has been a full participant in practice all week, making it is likely he will play. The team could also utilize Jordan Hicks or even Connor Barwin.
In certain situations, the Eagles may have safeties Walter Thurmond and Malcolm Jenkins cover Reed. The two have been dynamic thus far, and would be more than capable of stopping him. It's likely that coverage will alter throughout the game to best defend the tight end.
Eagles Defense vs. Washington RBs
Stopping the Washington run game will be a true test for the Eagles this weekend, but if it is successful in that aspect, the chances of winning will be far greater. Compared to previous seasons, Washington now relies on two backs as opposed to just Morris. The addition of Jones allows for both players to stay fresh at all times, which is a big reason the team has seen such success running the ball.
Nevertheless, the Eagles' run defense is up for the challenge, having been stellar through three weeks. Allowing a league-low 3.11 yards per carry, the team only wants to continue to improve and force its opponents to rely more on passing.
- Julie Bacanskas
*Trends To Watch
There's No Place Like ... The Road?
The Eagles are 11-7 all time at FedEx Field, including six victories in their last nine games at the stadium. Some of the recent Eagles wins in Landover, Maryland have been very memorable, including the 59-28 victory in 2010 in which Michael Vick accounted for six total touchdowns, and the 2013 regular season opener, Chip Kelly's first win as an NFL head coach.
There's No Rush
The Eagles haven't allowed an individual 100-yard rusher in 15 games, dating back to September of 2014, and only one player has gone over the century mark in the Eagles' last 27 games, including playoffs (then-49ers running back Frank Gore).
The Eagles have forced at least one turnover in nine straight games and have recorded 21 turnovers during that time. Through three games, the Eagles are tied for third in the NFL with eight total takeaways and five interceptions.
- Alex Smith