Scouting the Eagles and Redskins
Chip Kelly is not thinking playoffs, not talking playoffs, and not even open to the idea of hearing about the playoff picture. But the Eagles are 5-5 and could take possession of first place in the NFC East with a win over the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.
"We're going to keep our head down until Dec. 29," Kelly said. "Wishing and hoping and looking at tiebreakers, you should be watching film and breaking down your opponent instead of doing that stuff."
Washington is not buried at 3-6, and it has last year as a reason for hope. The Redskins had the same mark last season and won the remainder of their games to reach the playoffs. That streak started against the Eagles, and it came nearly one year to the date of Sunday's game.
"The great thing about this year is that the NFC East has been so terrible," Washington linebacker London Fletcher said. "We're at [Week 11], and our leader is 5-5. So even at 3-6, we're conceivably still in this thing."
Who will win the Eagles-Redskins game Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field?
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An Eagles win could nearly knock Washington out and propel the Eagles into their bye week. A loss would continue the Eagles' home losing streak and send them into the bye with a losing record and with two teams with winning records waiting for them to begin December.
When the Eagles run
LeSean McCoy's 155 yards last week were a major improvement from the previous three games, and the offensive line deserves credit. Allen Barbre filled in for Jason Peters at left tackle, and the production did not decline. Peters is questionable for Sunday, so Barbre might need to again have a big game. McCoy rushed for 184 yards in the first meeting against Washington, which has the No. 18 rush defense in the NFL and allows 113.8 rushing yards per game. McCoy is 68 yards away from reaching 1,000 yards for the season. If he can get into the open field like he did in the opener, it could be another big afternoon.
The most recognizable name on the Redskins defense is Fletcher, a 16-year veteran, but fellow inside linebacker Perry Riley has been more effective this season against the run. The Skins rely on outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. Nose tackle Barry Cofield is also having a strong season.
Michael Vick was a threat to rush in the first game. Don't rule out Nick Foles' running, though. He had five rushes last week, three of which went for first downs. Even if he's not especially fast, he's proven that he can spot open space and take advantage of it.
When the Eagles pass
Nick Foles' last two performances have revitalized the Eagles passing game. Foles' accuracy and decision-making are two of his best attributes. Washington is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 66.5 percent of their passes. Foles is at 63.2 percent this season, but he's been a 73.9 percent passer the last two games.
Riley Cooper has five touchdowns in the last two games, and his effectiveness only helps DeSean Jackson, who has been strong all season. Washington allowed Vikings tight end John Carlson to catch seven passes for 98 yards last week, so either Zach Ertz or Brent Celek could have strong games. Celek had 56 receiving yards in the first meeting.
Washington's secondary is a weak spot. Their best cornerback is DeAngelo Hall, who is questionable with a foot injury. Safety Brandon Meriweather did not play in the opener against the Eagles, and he's a big hitter in the middle of the field. Rookie cornerback David Amerson has been inconsistent. The Redskins must hope this is one of his good days.
Washington needs to rely on its blitz packages to disrupt Foles. Kerrigan has 61/2 sacks and Orakpo has four. Cofield has 21/2 sacks from the interior and must be accounted for by center Jason Kelce. Look out for linebacker Rob Jackson, who has sacks in two of the last three games.
When the Redskins run
It didn't look like it in the first game, but the Redskins are one of the NFL's best rushing teams. Alfred Morris' 45 yards in the opener marked his worst performance of the season. He's since been a steady presence and is third in the NFL in rushing with 825 yards. His 5.2 yards per carry is the best average among eligible running backs.
The Eagles have the No. 14 rushing defense in the NFL and held Packers running back Eddie Lacy in check last week. The key for the Eagles is their defensive line. Cedric Thornton remains a strong run-stopping presence, and Bennie Logan has been a welcome addition to the starting lineup. The play up front has allowed DeMeco Ryans space to roam, and he is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. Inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks might be absent with a knee injury, in which case Najee Goode would need to step in.
The other variable is Robert Griffin III's rushing ability. Griffin's mobility was limited in the first game, but his knee appears much stronger. Washington's zone-running plays and option plays could be a problem. The Eagles did a nice job keeping Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor in check on designed runs, but Pryor found space on some scrambles that hurt the Eagles. Griffin has the same potential.
When the Redskins pass
The success of Washington's rushing attack helps its passing game, which is No. 10 in the NFL. Griffin has not been as effective as he was last season - he already has nine interceptions, four more than last year, and his completion percentage has declined - but he can still be dangerous. The Skins are one of the NFL's best play-action teams, so the Eagles must be careful not to bite on runs.
Washington's top receiver is Pierre Garcon, who has 61 catches for 803 yards and has topped 100 yards in consecutive weeks. But the biggest difference in Washington's passing game is Jordan Reed, who played only 33 percent of the snaps in the opener but is now one of the NFL's top tight ends. No tight end in the NFL has been better during the last five weeks, a span in which Reed has made 31 catches for 381 yards. The third-round pick can be used in a variety of ways, and Goode might need to help if Kendricks is absent. Without Earl Wolff, Patrick Chung will also be counted on to cover Reed.
The Eagles secondary will be helped if Bradley Fletcher can return. The starting cornerback missed last week's game and remains questionable. The Eagles also need a better pass rush. Although defensive coordinator Bill Davis contends that sacks are overrated, the Eagles need more pressure from their edge rushers.
The Redskins have allowed too many big plays on special teams this season, including two punt-return touchdowns and a 90-yard kick return. Look for DeSean Jackson to continue to return punts, where he's always dangerous. Washington's punter is former Eagle Sav Rocca. Look for Brad Smith to be active and contributing on special teams in his first week with the team. It remains unclear if he'll return kicks. Eagles kicker Alex Henery missed a field goal last week, which was his first game with an attempt in three weeks.
The Eagles' home losing streak is at 10 games, but the team also has generated momentum with two straight wins. One of those streaks must give on Sunday. Washington has been exposed to the Eagles system this year, which could be an advantage. Washington also had extra time to prepare for this game, coming off a Thursday night loss to the Vikings, one of the NFL's worst teams.