Slowing Down Redskins’ Run Game: The Eagles’ still-under-construction defense had its problems with the run in the preseason, allowing 5.3 yards per carry and giving up several long runs, mainly because people were in the wrong gaps. Now, in their first regular-season test, they’re going up against Alfred Morris, who rushed for 1,600-plus yards last season, and Robert Griffin III, who led all NFL quarterbacks in rushing in ’12 with 815 yards. They’ll probably catch a break with Griffin, who is coming off an ACL injury. But Morris is going to get the ball early and often.
The Turnover Battle: The Eagles had a league-worst minus-24 turnover differential last year. Coughed it up a league-worst 37 times and forced a league-worst 13 turnovers. That’s a lot of league-worsts. Things didn’t go much better in the preseason. They had a minus-5 turnover differential and picked off just one pass in four games. Quarterback Michael Vick has had just four turnover-free performances in his last 31 starts in which he’s played at least a half.
Special Teams Improvement. The Eagles’ special teams units were awful in ’12. Their impotent return game constantly had the offense playing on a long field. But Chip Kelly has put a lot of emphasis on his special teams. Return man Damaris Johnson had an excellent preseason, averaging 21.3 yards per attempt on punt returns and 27.2 yards on kickoff returns. Punter Donnie Jones had a 42.3-yard net and 11 of Alex Henery’s 17 kickoffs went for touchbacks.
Defending the Deep Ball: The Redskins didn’t throw the ball deep much last season. Robert Griffin had the third lowest percentage of passes that traveled 20-plus yards and the Redskins were 19th in completions of 40 yards or more (8). But Mike Shanahan figures to give Griffin a lot more let-‘er-rip freedom this season. If the Eagles’ safeties have to come up to defend Morris and the run, they could get burned by play-action.
The Michael Vick Experience: The 33-year-old Vick beat out Nick Foles for the starting quarterback job. Now he needs to prove he’s the right man for the job. That means staying healthy. That means not turning the ball over like he has the last two seasons. And that means making smart decisions both running and throwing the ball in Chip Kelly’s offense. Can he do that? We’ll find out soon enough. – Paul Domowitch
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