When the Eagles take the field tomorrow night (6:55 PM EST) to face the Redskins at FedEx Field, they'll have a fairly drastically different team. Enter new head coach, former Oregon Ducks coach Chip Kelly, enter new defense, new coordinators and a new mindset after an abysmal 4-12 2012 season.
Washington, on the other hand, is coming off of an NFC East title, 10 win season, in which they reached the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and won the division for the first time since 1999. Daniel Snyder teams have been known to have high payrolls but inefficient results on the field, until last year when 2nd-overall pick Robert Griffin III (or RG3) lead them to the playoffs. Despite their success, and Griffin's strong play, they would go on to lose to 5th-seed Seattle in the Wild Card round, 24-14.
Griffin had a stellar year last season. He made the NFC Pro Bowl team, threw for 3,200 yards with 20 touchdown passes to only 5 interceptions. RG3 also ran for 815 yards, for 6.8 yards-per-carry and 7 rushing touchdowns. Not only was Griffin awarded with a Pro Bowl nod last year but he was presented with the 2012 NFL AP Offensive Rookie of The Year Award as well, the first Redskins' player to win the award since running back Mike Thomas won it in 1975.
(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Further breaking down Griffin's game, and how good he was for a rookie last year, he finished third in the NFL in passer rating (he lead all rookies in the same category) with 102.4, behind only Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. He finished first in the league in yards per pass attempt with 8.1. and pass interception % with 1.3. Griffin lead the Skins to three comebacks, and out of his 513 combined passing attempts and rushing attempts he only fumbled the ball 12 times.
Another rookie for the Skins last year, running back Alfred Morris, made an immediate and long-term impact. Morris finished second in the NFL (and also first among rookies) in rushing yards with 1,613 (behind only MVP Adrian Peterson, who finished with over 2,000). Surprisingly, Morris didn't make the NFC Pro Bowl team (their running back depth chart was pretty stacked already with AP, Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore) but he was in the top five in multiple rushing categories (with his rankings noted in the parenthesis) including:
Rushing Yards- 1,613 (2/48)
Rushing Attempts- 335 (3/91)
Rushing TDs- 13 (2/90)
Rushing Yards/Game- 100.8 (2/69)
(he also finished within the top 10 in yards gained per rushing attempt, yards from scrimmage and approximate value)
Offense aside, Washington has some talent on paper, but besides being depleted due to injuries last year they looked lost at times. Under defensive coordinator, and former Saints head coach, Jim Haslett they gave up 388 points on defense- which ranked them 22nd out of 32 NFL teams last season. Luckily, their offense was able to bail them out on most occasions (Kyle Shanahan's offense ranked 4th overall). With Pro Bowl caliber defensive end Brian Orakpo back after missing 14 games due to a torn pectoral, the defense automatically gets stronger.
Back to Haslett, this has been his fourth year as Redskins' defensive coordinator, and yet none of his three previous Redskins' defenses have fared any better than 21st overall in the rankings. Perhaps it's time to switch coordinators if you're Daniel Snyder and Bruce Allen.
On the other side of the ball, plain and simple: Philadelphia has to play smart defense, turnover free offense and sustain Washington's rushing attack if they want to have any chance of winning Monday night.
If the Eagles want to sustain Griffin (even though he's still not 100% due to nagging ACL/LCL injuries) and Morris, they'll have to be patient, cover downfield as they would normally and block off openings. If they can do this collectively, they may not so much shut the duo down but rather slow them down and limit them to maybe 50-60 yards or less.
Michael Vick has to remain calm in the pocket, especially now that Orakpo is back for Washington, and remain turnover-free for the game, if he wants to have any success. Washington this past off-season switched their defensive scheme from a 3-4 to a 4-3, which is the opposite of what the Eagles did under new defensive coordinator Billy Davis.
3 matchups to look out for:
01. Alfred Morris vs. Eagles' rush defense
This may sound like a stupid pick considering Morris is one of the best RBs in the league, but I have him as one of the matchup-stars based on the fact that, besides his ability and talents, the Eagles are a weak rush defense team. Last year, overall, they gave up 444 total points under Andy Reid, which ranked 29th in the NFL.
Back to the team's defense this year, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga may be unable to stop Morris, especially if he's able to find a wide enough gap to penetrate through. If Morris averages more than 4 1/2 yards per carry, I'd expect Washington to pull out the victory.
But this matchup could be good/interesting if Philly's 3-4 defensive scheme actually works to plan.
02. Brian Orakpo (vs. the entire Eagles' offense)
The two-time Pro Bowler is making his return to the field since tearing his pectoral in Week 2 of last season vs. St. Louis, so he'll be eager and ready to make his return in a fashionable way.
03. Desean Jackson vs. DeAngelo Hall
This will be perhaps the best head-to-head matchup of the night. Considering how dominant and excellent veteran, Pro Bowl caliber cornerback DeAngelo Hall has been for his respective teams in the past, this matchup of two Pro Bowl caliber players should be a good one.
Hall is a 10 year veteran who was a snub for the Pro Bowl last year considering his numbers (64 tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries and 1 sack). Jackson, on the other hand, is a speedy, top-notch, # 1, Pro Bowl caliber receiver, who's made the Pro Bowl twice in five years. Expect Jackson to be the slot receiver, and Hall to play him 1-1/man-to-man, considering he's the only Eagles weapon at wideout, after Jeremy Maclin went down.
Maurice Hurt (physically unable to perform list) (knee)
Adam Carriker (physically unable to perform list) (quads)
Keenan Robinson (IR) (pectoral)
Brandon Meriweather (questionable) (groin)
Barry Cofield (probable) (hand)
Kirk Cousins (probable) (foot)
Keys To The Game
-For The Eagles to win:
01. Stop the running attack, or at least minimize it
The good thing about this key is the fact that Alfred Morris, as great of a year as he had last year, did not perform well in either of his starts vs. the Birds last season. He didn't crack the 100 rushing yards mark in either game, which say something considering he averaged over 100 for the season. Here's how he fared in the two games:
11/18- 20 attempts- 76 yards, 3.8 Y/A average, 0 TD (Skins won 31-6)
12/23- 22 attempts- 91 yards- 4.14 Y/A average- 1 TD (Skins won 27-20)
As evident by the stats above, between the two games vs. Philadelphia, Morris averaged 83.5 rushing yards, but only with a 3.98 yards-per-attempt average at that.
02. Win the turnover battle (this especially goes for Michael Vick)
As it is with any game for Michael Vick, he has to control his turnovers, win the turnover battle and keep his team in the game. This has been a reoccurring problem for Vick, who refuses to slide after rushing the ball, for fear of injuring himself, so instead usually a helmet-to-helmet tackle occurs. If he's able to be smart and safe with the football, that automatically raises the Eagles' chances of winning the game by a good margin, because when he's not turning over the ball or getting injured he can be effective in multiple facets.
03. Stop the Skins' pass rush
The Skins' front four will surely test the Eagles' offensive line. It'll be a tough task for rookie Lane Johnson and third-year center Jason Kelce especially. Orakpo's return will make an immediate impact for Washington psychologically, not to mention on the field as well. Don't forget Ryan Kerrigan, who perhaps, when paired with Orakpo, makes up one half of the best pair of pass-rushers in the league. Don't forget London Fletcher as well.
-For Washington to win:
01. Contain Vick, and keep him within the pocket
Pretty self-explanatory. Vick is arguably the best rushing passer in the NFL, maybe alongside his opponent this week, and Cam Newton, so it's always a task for the opposition to try and contain and stop his rushing attack, especially when the pocket opens up. If the offensive line stays healthy this year and plays up to their potential, Vick could have a field day if the o-line prevails vs. guys like Orakpo and Fletcher.
02. Rely on your running game
Washington's running game -- Morris and Griffin combined -- is what got them far last year, specifically a Division title. They need to do what most good teams do and continue to do with a winning formula and stick to their guns, and do what won them games, and what can still win them games, even the close ones.
03. Stop the Eagles' pass rush
Billy Davis will be trying different defensive schemes I'm sure within the game tomorrow to try and bring down Griffin or confuse him. These schemes may consist mostly of covering downfield, but blitzing here and there may be in the works as well.
Favorite: Washington by 3 1/2
My Game Prediction:
Washington, in a close one, 23-20. Enjoy the game everyone. Tweet with me pre and post game for comments, questions, concerns and game reactions/predictions.