Week 11: Unlike the Eagles, firing my defensive prognosticator has worked. I predicted a Birds loss the last two weeks and was correct. Logic would suggest I should keep picking against them until they show they can win, but I’m a glutton and see some hope in Washington.
For a team that has lost five straight, the Eagles appeared very loose this week. Maybe its denial, maybe they’ve completely given up or maybe the players decided they have nothing to lose. As Andy Reid told his troops earlier in the week: “Just go play. Go play, one play at a time. Go play. Enjoy the game. That’s what this is all about. You’re in the National Football League. You play for the Philadelphia Eagles. Go enjoy the game.”
Of course, they may just stink it up again. But the Eagles are likely to win a few more and it might as well be against those wretched Redskins. As dynamic as Robert Griffin III has been this season, coach Mike Shanahan hasn’t found a way to convert a multifaceted offense that utilizes the quarterback’s unique skill-set into a consistent winning formula.
Griffin, along with rookie running back Alfred Morris, will give the Eagles defense something to think about. But Washington’s offense which relies more on misdirection than power could play into the Eagles’ strengths. No one would ever call the Eagles defense a smash mouth unit, but it does have speed and it does have players that can make plays in space (assuming, naturally, that they tackle, which is a rather significant assumption).
So I don’t see the Redskins, who have the No. 2-ranked rushing offense in the league, running roughshod over the Eagles.
As for on the other side of the ball, Nick Foles makes his starting debut. An Eagles nation turns its lonely eyes to the rookie quarterback. That’s a lot of pressure to bear. Reid and Marty Mornhinweg will carry over last week’s game plan in which both Foles and Michael Vick weren’t asked to stand in the pocket for too long behind a deficient offense line.
They will take chances downfield. They would be crazy not to against a defense that has had ever less success getting to the quarterback than the Eagles. But the Birds were leading the Cowboys, 17-10, late in the third quarter behind an offense that ran a lot of screens and quick, timing-based throws.
LeSean McCoy will get his touches, as well. The aftereffects of last week’s flu are gone and Reid/Mornhinweg won’t have any excuses for not feeding their running back in the early going. With Vick sidelined, the end of Reid’s tenure a near certainty and the playoffs a pipe dream the Eagles will finally deliver a crisp performance and win by two touchdowns -- yes, two touchdowns. And that will mean another week of Foles under center.
Prediction: Eagles 27, Redskins13.
What goes right: Todd Bowles shows his defense acumen and bottles up Griffin for most of the game.
What goes wrong: The Eagles’ special teams have another breakdown.
Week 11: There is practically no reason for optimism in the Eagles’ fortunes anymore, because every week they seem to display an aversion to winning. But the team on the other side this weekend is also reeling, and does not have the talent -- particularly on defense -- that the Cowboys possessed last week.
The wild card in this game is how Foles plays. Considering the Eagles’ scoring and turnover problems, a rookie quarterback’s shortcomings will not exactly negate offensive momentum. In fact, I think the presence of Foles will alter how the Eagles play and actually create a template that is more conducive to winning with this offensive line and roster.
Look for Foles to throw high-percentage passes. It would be imprudent not to take shots down field, especially because the Redskins’ secondary is susceptible and their pass defense ranks No. 30 in the NFL. But this game will be won by McCoy running the ball and catching screen passes, and short completions by Foles to his pass-catchers with hope that they can generate yards after the catch. By doing this and keeping the Redskins on notice, the Eagles could potentially find big plays over the top -- and Foles has the arm to make those throws.
Also, the offense could benefit from the absence of Jason Avant. This is not to diminish Avant as a player, because he’s a capable slot receiver. But Avant is purely a slot receiver, and the Eagles can now mix and match the other receivers to try to create mismatches. This is what teams have often done against the Eagles this season to considerable success.
There should be legitimate concern about the Eagles’ defense against Griffin, which is the best reason to pick against the Eagles. Washington’s misdirection and play-action will prove to a be a challenge, and the Eagles must be careful that the wide-nine does not create lanes for Griffin to exploit. A key player to watch for Washington will be tight end Logan Paulsen, who has capably filled in for the injured Fred Davis. He’s a safety valve for Griffin and could especially help on third down. The Redskins’ zone-rushing scheme will also cause the Eagles fits.
Still, I think this is a game the Eagles will win. A more conservative offensive approach will be beneficial for a team ill-suited to win shootouts, and the Redskins’ recent struggles scoring shows that the Eagles are not the only team in this game in disarray.
Look for another close game before the Eagles to snap their five-game losing streak. It won’t alter the outcome of the season, but it will at least change the story for a week.
Prediction: Eagles 21, Redskins 17.
What goes right: McCoy exceeds 100 rushing yards, Foles completes 65 percent of his passes and the Eagles cornerbacks play better against comparatively inferior wide receivers.
What goes wrong: Griffin wows the Eagles with a handful of dazzling plays and the Eagles still struggle to force turnovers.