Eagle Scout: Will RG3 or Kelly melt in the glare?
Picks | Zach Berman: Redskins, 30-28 l Jeff McLane: Redskins, 34-28
Scouting Kelly and Griffin: Centers of attention
Finally, there's a game that counts. And if you haven't heard, Chip Kelly is coaching and Robert Griffin III is playing.
Few stories have dominated the NFL offseason as much as Kelly becoming the Eagles coach and Griffin recovering from his knee injury in time to start at quarterback in the opener.
Kelly's debut and Griffin's return will be in front of a national audience Monday. So there might be a mention or two of them during the game.
There's considerable intrigue over how the Eagles will look in the opener, and the general belief is that Kelly withheld much of the offense in the preseason. The pace will accelerate, and the playbook will likely expand.
"I've watched 23, 24 Oregon films. I watched what they did in the preseason," Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said this week. "If they can do anything else, God bless 'em."
Kelly, in his typically understated fashion, does not overplay the narrative. In fact, one of the challenges in the opening week for Kelly has been all the time leading up to the game.
"You probably have a little bit more time to drive yourself crazy: 'What if they do this? If they do this, they can do this,' " Kelly said. "Especially when you open late. If it was the first game, there's not as much. But you sit through a Thursday night, there will be some college games [Friday], college games on Saturday. You sit around all day Sunday. You have to play again Monday. I think you can drive yourself crazy a little bit."
By Tuesday morning, it will be clear whether it's been worth the wait.
When the Eagles run
The way the Eagles run is different than last season, with more read-option and play out of the shotgun. Haslett has studied films of Kelly's offense for tendencies, but the Eagles might come out with the unexpected.
A healthy offensive line will bolster the Eagles running game, and they'll use LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, and Chris Polk enough that there will be a diversity of ballcarriers.
"It all depends on how the game is going," Kelly said. "But I have no issue if Bryce is in there on the fifth play of the game. If LeSean just had four runs in a row and the fifth one maybe a 20-yarder and he's tired, then we've got to get Bryce in the game."
The Redskins were one of seven NFL teams to allow fewer than 100 rushing yards per game last season, and their rushing defense is ahead of their passing defense. The player to watch is 38-year-old middle linebacker London Fletcher, who had 139 tackles last season.
When the Eagles pass
This is the best way for the Eagles to exploit Washington's defense. The Redskins start sixth-round pick Bacarri Rambo at safety, and fellow starting safety Brandon Merriweather has been limited this week with a groin injury. The Redskins also return starting cornerbacks from a pass defense ranked No. 30 last season. But Haslett is a creative defensive coordinator, and pass-rushing linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are healthy and dangerous around the edge.
Quarterback Michael Vick must be decisive in the pocket and avoid turnovers. He doesn't have depth at wide receiver, but look for him to connect with DeSean Jackson deep and utilize his tight ends and running backs in the short passing game. A healthy offensive line helps against the Redskins pass rush.
When the Redskins run
There's no greater advantage in this game than the Redskins rushing offense against the Eagles rushing defense. Washington led the NFL last season with 2,709 rushing yards, including running back Alfred Morris' 1,613 yards. Then there's Griffin, who's always a threat to run the ball - especially when Washington uses the zone read. Griffin might be cautious in his return from injury, although the team says he's 100 percent.
The Eagles rushing defense struggled throughout the preseason. Opposing teams averaged 5.3 yards per rush against the Eagles, and the defense was especially susceptible to big runs. The Eagles need better play from their defensive line, who must clog the running lanes and let the linebackers roam.
When the Redskins pass
Even though the Redskins are a run-first team, they are lethal in the play-action. This is what the Eagles must be worried about, especially if the Redskins have success running the ball.
"When you're running the ball as well as they're running the zone plays, when you're that good at the running game, everyone is trying to stop the run, so it's easy to give that same look and pull the ball," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said.
That's how Redskins tight end Fred Davis, who has recovered from a torn Achilles tendon, could get open. The Eagles must also watch out for speed receiver Pierre Garcon, who is a big-play threat. The Eagles don't have a fast secondary, and Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher both rely on being physical at the line of scrimmage.
The Eagles have a renewed focus on special teams, so look for improvement from last season. The Redskins had success with kicker Kai Forbath, who made 17 of 18 field goals after getting the job in October.
Washington coach Mike Shanahan noted the element of surprise when the Redskins upset the Saints in the season opener last season with a new offense, so that's a possibility on Monday. The FedEx Field crowd will be energized by the return of Griffin, who is the most popular athlete in Washington.