I had been mostly on the mark for the last two months, but struck out magnificently last week when I predicted the Packers would better the Eagles. A first quarter injury to Seneca Wallace didn’t help, but we’re talking about Seneca Wallace (!). How did I ever think he would beat the Eagles in the first place? I’ll blame the antibiotics I’ve been woofing down to kill an ear infection.
So I’m picking the Eagles this week. I don’t feel entirely confident about the selection, but I’ve watched enough of Washington’s putrid defense to be fairly certain that the Eagles offense could put up 30 without batting an eye.
The main obstacle to topping the Redskins will be slowing Robert Griffin III and an offense that has been clicking since the first time these two teams met in the opener. The argument could be made that it’s the best offense the Eagles have faced since the Denver game in late September. Griffin is healthier, and while he may not be playing as consistently as he did the second half of last season, he is still dangerous. The Redskins use a lot of misdirection, play-action and, of course, option football. And there is always an element of run plays that utilize zone blocking schemes that Mike Shanahan had great success with in Denver.
But the zone read plays that involve Griffin as a runner will test an Eagles defense that has been mostly stout against the run this season. The last time the Birds saw the option they were effective in stopping Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor on designed plays. It was his scrambles, though, that hurt them and Griffin is certainly capable of taking off when a pass play breaks down. But the first concern must be limiting running back Alfred Morris. The Eagles held him to 45 yards on 12 carries in the first meeting, but he has averaged 5.4 yards a carry since.
DeMeco Ryans has been getting recognized for his strong efforts against the run this season. But the entire front seven, for the most part, has done a fine job. Outside linebackers Trent Cole and Connor Barwin have set the edge and defensive ends Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox have plugs holes and tailbacks. Nose tackle Bennie Logan seemingly gets better with each week.
The question for coordinator Bill Davis is: Do you give additional safety help in slowing the run at the expense of the pass defense? He said he did last week against the Packers and that’s why Scott Tolzien and company threw for over 300 yards. It worked. But Griffin is a significant upgrade.
The Eagles need to get pressure. They haven’t been as lackluster in that regard as the numbers suggest, but they need to improve. Griffin has been sacked only 18 times in nine games. His top target is receiver Pierre Garcon. He’s averaging nearly seven catches a game and went over 100 yards receiving the last two games. Garcon is very good after the catch – 426 of his 803 receiving yards came after the catch. Cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher (if he plays) and safeties Nate Allen and Patrick Chung will have to bring their “A” tackling games.
Tight end Jordan Reed (44 catches for 487 yards) has become the Griffin’s No. 2 option. The rookie was used very little in the opener but has the most receptions for a tight end in the NFL since Week 6. The Redskins like to use him in their screen game. With Mychal Kendricks likely out with a knee injury, Najee Goode could see a good deal of Reed.
The Eagles have yet to match the explosiveness of that first half against the Redskins, but Chip Kelly’s offense continues to motor along. Nick Foles has been very good since returning from a concussion. He faces another test as he tries to win on home turf for the first time. The Eagles, you may have heard, have lost ten straight at the Linc.
Foles and company benefitted from the return to form of the running game last week. LeSean McCoy ran for 155 yards on 25 carries and the offensive line did solid work in opening lanes for the running back. The Redskins aren’t as deficient against the run as they are the pass, but aging inside linebacker London Fletcher could once again be a defender the offense preys on. The Eagles were effective whenever they got their linemen out in space in Week 1. I recall center Jason Kelce pulling twice and running over Fletcher downfield.
If Foles is anywhere near as good as he’s been for the bulk of this season he could light up the Redskins secondary. All of Washington’s defensive backs – cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson and safeties Reed Doughty and Brandon Meriweather – are suspect in coverage. And if outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo and the rest of the Redskins pass rushers can’t generate enough pressure, they could be in for a long game.
Prediction: Eagles 34, Redskins 27
What goes right: DeSean Jackson has another 100-yard receiving game.
What goes wrong: Chung has a rough return to starting.
Predicting this game could rely on one question: Which Nick Foles will show up on Sunday? If it’s the Foles of the past two games, he should be able to shred a suspect Washington secondary. If it’s the Foles of the last home game, then the Eagles offense would put too much pressure on their defense to hold a dangerous Washington offense.
I think it’s closer to the Foles of the past two games, and the Eagles secure a home win for the first time in more than a year and a winning record for the first time since beating Washington in Week 1.
Foles and the offense are clicking right now, and opponents are passing for 274.8 yards per game against them this season. You don’t see as many long, deep passes over top against Washington. In the past six games, they haven’t allowed a pass of more than 35 yards. It’s more their inability to force incompletions that’s been the problem. Washington is allowing a 66.5 percent completion percentage. Foles is generally an accurate passer, so that could be to his advantage.
In Washington’s loss to Minnesota last Thursday, tight end John Carlson had a big game. I’m curious to see if Zach Ertz and/or Brent Celek emerge in the intermediate passing game this week. Riley Cooper has been more of a vertical threat in recent weeks, but his size could also be an advantage in that area.
LeSean McCoy had a huge game in the first meeting, rushing for 184 yards. The offensive line showed last week what it could do when it’s overpowering. I was particularly impressed with how Allen Barbre filled in for Jason Peters. If Peters is absent, It will be interesting to see if Barbre can remain effective. Washington’s right outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is effective in run defense, and right defensive end is Stephen Bowen is also solid against the run.
On defense, the Eagles need to stop Washington’s rushing game. Alfred Morris is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and has topped 120 yards in consecutive weeks. That opens up the play-action, which Washington does exceptionally well. The onus will be on the three defensive linemen and DeMeco Ryans to keep Morris in check.
In Washington’s three wins this season, Griffin never attempted more than 32 passes. And this was not because they ran the ball late in games – each game was fairly close. Pierre Garcon has been very productive this season, topping 100 yards in each of the past two games. But the big difference from the last game is tight end Jordan Reed, who didn’t start in Week 1 and played just 33 percent of the snaps. All his production came in the second half. Reed is now a featured part of Washington’s offense, and it gives them a dimension they simply didn’t have before.
Likely without Mychal Kendricks, the Eagles might need to rely on Najee Goode to fill that role. They could also use Patrick Chung on Reed. I’m curious to see what’s in the game plan.
The defense has not allowed three touchdowns in a game in the past five games. If they can do it again, they’ll win. I’m not convinced they can do it on Sunday, but the offense might still be able to outscore Washington. Pay attention to special teams, too – Washington has been susceptible to long returns. They’ve allowed two punt return scores and a 90-yard kick return.
This is not an easy game, and Washington is the type of that can get hot. But if Foles plays well, the Eagles will enter the bye week ready for the most intriguing December that Philadelphia has experienced since 2010.
Prediction: Eagles 35, Redskins 31.
What goes right: Foles throws three touchdowns, McCoy eclipses 100 yards, and Ertz finds the end zone.
What goes wrong: The defense’s hot streak concludes. Foles throws an interception.