It feels like the end of the 2008 season around here, except there are two games left instead of one, and the Eagles are playing the Washington Redskins, instead of coming off a devastating loss to them. If you remember, going into Week 16 of 2008, the Eagles were riding a three-game winning streak that had taken them from 5-5-1 to 8-5-1. It was considered a fait accompli that they would continue their roll against a 7-7 Redskins team that was on a three-game losing streak and had lost five of its last six after starting the season 6-2.
But no, the high-flying Eagles offense was grounded by the Redskins defense all game and lost in truly agonizing fashion, as a 16-play, 90-yard drive was thwarted at the 1-yard line when Reggie Brown was stopped from breaking the plane of the goal line as time expired. The Eagles were left needing a miracle -- for various playoff contenders to lose their Week 17 games, with some going against considerably inferior opponents, in order to open the door back up for a postseason berth. Something tells me you remember the rest. Hey, maybe it can happen again!
1) The Redskins are 3-11, mired in their usual dysfunctional turmoil and haven't won a game since the Monday Night Football victory over the Cowboys in Dallas on October 27. In only one of those games have they lost by single digits. How are you feeling going into this matchup?
Klausner: This sucks and I'm feeling shitty. The loss to the Cowboys and relinquishing control of the division and our playoff destiny is a real kick in the gut. Even if we knew this team's ceiling with its flaws, beating Dallas to all but lock up our second NFC East title in as many seasons with Chip Kelly at the helm -- with the turd-sandwich quarterback situation and leading the entire league in turnovers -- would have been a remarkable accomplishment. I guess I'm feeling fairly pessimistic about things in general, but the Redskins are a true tire fire and this Eagles team has always responded to Chip (these back-to-back losses represent the first time it has happened since Weeks 7 and 8 of last season). I think they've narrowed their focus to make this a two-game season, are intent on controlling only what they can control and will rebound. The season isn't over, and we all know how much the Cowboys excel in losing crucial games, especially following huge wins. It's very possible the Eagles are right back in the driver's seat and in control of their own destiny when Sunday ends. They just have to win first.
BLG: For as much as people want to rant about how the Eagles can't (or don't) beat good teams, they do take care of bad ones. The only time they've lost to a bad team was last season against Minnesota. In hindsight, that was an obvious trap game because the team had just won five straight games with the most recent win having been the Eagles-Lions snow bowl adventure. I can't really see how this game would be a trap considering the Eagles have lost their last two games and desperately need to win here.
2) Which player has to step up the most for the Eagles to win this game?
Klausner: Unfortunately, the answer is Mark Sanchez. He's not the long-term answer at quarterback and never was, but now that's a certainty. After pooping the bed in the two most important games to reviving his career as a starter in the NFL, he needs to make sure that disappointment doesn't spill over into the next two games. The Redskins are 7th against the run, allowing just 101.0 yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry, and will game-plan on defense to stop the Eagles' ground game and force them into passing situations. If we see the Sanchez from the Seahawks and Cowboys game, the Eagles are going to lose this game and the following week to the Giants to finish 9-7.
BLG: LeSean McCoy will have a tough challenge going up against Washington's seventh-ranked run defense. He only managed 22 yards on 19 carries in the first meeting between these two teams. That's terrible. He needs to be better than that. Establishing a respectable run threat will lessen the burden for Sanchez.
3) The defense has not been able to get off the field on third down the last two games, and the secondary has been torched. The front seven was able to pressure Russell Wilson but, just like everyone else, couldn't corral him. However, I can't for the life of me fathom why Bill Davis called for so many three-man rushes against Tony Romo after annihilating him with blitz packages in Dallas. With a vulnerable (see: garbage) secondary, it was a recipe for disaster, and disaster it wrought. What does the defense have to do against Robert Griffin III and the Redskins offense to ensure victory?
Klausner: It's no secret that Griffin's relationship with Jay Gruden is strained; he has struggled mightily and, so the conjecture goes, might not be the future in Washington. He's a shell of the of the dynamic quarterback we saw as a rookie and isn't as eager to use his legs to hurt defenses -- which is to his own detriment, since Griffin has not progressed at all in the pocket as a passer. For the whole season he's completing nearly 70 percent of his passes at 7.59 yards per attempt but has just three touchdowns and three interceptions in 150 attempts. Now, this will mark his second game back since his benching for Colt McCoy, but the fact remains that in six full games as a starter this season, Griffin has led the Redskins to a total of more than 13 points just twice. The offense, even with all its skill position weapons, has a terrible offensive line that gives up 3.8 sacks per game (31st in the NFL) and is ranked 30th in third down conversions (4.0 per game). Tons of flash, very little substance. Then again, the Eagles defense gave up over 400 yards to Kirk Cousins and I don't have any faith in the secondary, so perhaps this is gearing up to be Griffin's breakout passing game. If Bill Davis is aggressive and allows the front seven to attack instead of sits back, it should generate the kind of pressure it has ever since the 49ers game, therefore rattling Griffin and rendering him ineffective while masking the secondary issues.
BLG: This is the Brandon Lee Graham (shout out to all the BLGs out there) takeover game. It's his first start since 2012 and it's his prime audition to earn a big contract in free agency. I think Graham shows up huge against this offensive line, especially considering left tackle Trent Williams is dealing with a shoulder injury. Graham should be able to get to Griffin early and rattle him. I realize the question asks for a game-plan and not just one player, but that's how big of an impact I'm predicting Graham to have.
4) DeSean Jackson. Wow, DeSean Jackson! If the Eagles had him, they definitely would've won the last two games since Mark Sanchez would've been able to throw the ball more than 20 yards in the air to him. Or Jackson would've been able to throw the ball to himself. Or something. Are the gripes about this team being worse off without Jackson legit or simply the easiest criticism for a team whose season is in peril?
Chip Kelly has high praise for RG3
Philadelphia's head coach had some nice things to say about Washington's maligned quarterback.
Klausner: I answered this question in the question itself. The DeSean stuff has been a popular topic on sports talk radio in this city because it's Washington week and the offense has struggled in the past two games. Also, everyone on sports talk radio is a drama-mongering idiot. My question, to everyone who thinks this way: What about the last two games would've been different with DeSean on the team? Don't just parrot Richard Sherman's bullshit either, since the two of them are childhood friends. If you want to say that Jackson would have "opened up" the the middle of the field by stretching the defense, cool, do you realize that the middle of the field hasn't NOT been open? It all comes back to the quarterback being able to remain poised and consistent, make open throws and anticipate routes/pull the trigger to throw his receivers open. If anything, I feel that not only would the Eagles be in this same exact situation, but that DeSean would've made a huge stink about Sanchez being unable to hit him down the field -- with a sideline blowup for sure -- and there'd be all this locker room drama and in-fighting to compound the losing.
Get the fuck over it. DeSean Jackson not being on this team isn't the problem, and it's not what's preventing them from realizing their potential with Chip Kelly. If you honestly think it is, you're not only disingenuous, you're dumb. Also, Riley Cooper is the worst starting wide receiver in the league and never should have been re-signed and I'm sure that'll be used against me as a pro-DeSean argument in the comments but I don't care.
BLG: Don't really disagree with what Dan said. The DeSean situation is always going to be more complicated than most people realize or are willing to admit.
Klausner: 31-17, Eagles, plus the Cowboys lose to the Colts, so we're back in first place in the NFC East with the chance to clinch with a win over the Giants and everyone is happy-go-lucky-woo-yay-football again.
BLG: 33-23, Eagles win (and cover the nine-point spread), but the Cowboys beat the Colts in a gut-wrenching victory, 27-23.