The Eagles will bring their 2-0 record back home for a game with the Redskins. The team from Washington is coming off a win against the Jaguars and will feature Kirk Cousins as a starter. Former Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson will return to town and Philadelphia's struggling cornerbacks will have to deal with him and Pierre Garcon.
With Nick Foles coming off two somewhat unimpressive games, if he can turn it on against Washington, it will be huge for the team. Eagles fans are over the comebacks and just want to trash a division rival. Kaye & Klausner are back to preview the highly-anticipated contest.
1) Obviously, Nick Foles has struggled. What do you think the issue is?
Mike Kaye: I think the issue is a matter of trust in both himself and his receivers. He has had no issue throwing to Jeremy Maclin, Zach Ertz and the running backs, but Jordan Matthews and Riley Cooper have left a lot to be desired with drops. I also think Foles is lacking vision, as he has missed several open receivers and has made some poor calls on zone-read plays. I think he will inevitably get his groove back as I have seen glimmers of it in important situations in both games. He has made plays when it has mattered, but that shouldn't exclude him from criticism. He was playing teams that he should have built leads on and had to comeback because the offense couldn't do it early.
Dan Klausner: On one hand, I buy the trust and rust explanations. On the other hand, guys are open at multiple levels of the field. Plays are there to be made. It's not like Foles and his receivers are missing on timing routes or having miscommunication, so it would appear. The main issue, I'm afraid, is I'm just not sure how good Nick is, and it's an issue I've had -- not so quietly -- since last season. I've lost my goddamned mind on Twitter the first two games watching him simply not move his head to see open wide receivers, completely misfire to wide open receivers, throw to tightly covered receivers instead of the wide open ones, leave clean pockets prematurely, hold onto the ball for an eternity. His accuracy has been shoddy, his inconsistency maddening. And yet, it's not all on Foles. His receivers dropped six passes against the Colts, included what should have been a touchdown for Riley Cooper on a perfectly thrown ball to the back corner of the end zone. Cooper's been garbage, by the way, I hope he goes off against Washington. Jeremy Maclin pissed me off too on Monday night, particularly his lackadaisical effort on the first bubble screen attempt, though he got back into my good graces with a beautiful block on Darren Sproles' touchdown run. He's an enigma to me right now, but there's no question the game on Sunday is just as big for him as it is for DeSean Jackson on the other side. Maclin has a chance to silence the doubters, at least for an afternoon.
2) Why are the Eagles 2-0? Do they have hearts of lions or are they playing crappy teams that they should be able to coast against?
MK: I think it's a mix of both. I love how resilient this team has become but I am also concerned about their need to be in comebacks in back-to-back weeks. I like the way the team has battled through mostly self-inflicted adversity and has come away with two wins. That builds team chemistry and character, but I'd like to see a game where the Eagles hold the lead for at least two quarters in a win. I think the Redskins will be a nice test for Chip, Foles and Co.
DK: Coaches will always tell you it's hard to win in the NFL. That's a popular axiom for a reason. I'll agree with Mike that the results from the first two games of the season reflect a mix of both resilience and the benefit of lesser competition, but the biggest reason here is Chip Kelly. His style, his personality, the adjustments he makes on the fly, it all combines to be a home run. I say this all the time, and I was particularly critical of the Eagles pre-Kelly for it, but football teams -- more than any other sport -- take on the personality of their head coach. The Eagles at the end of the Reid era were disconnected, sloppy, overmatched and just an utter mess in every way. Under Kelly, the guys are cool, calm, collected and steadfastly believe in their training and capabilities. There's this permanent "we're going to break through" feeling. I don't have any anxiety during the game about what Kelly's next inevitable fuckup will be. I know I've got the smartest guy in the stadium on my sideline. His demeanor is perfect for leading men. There's no wavering, there's no collapse, and the team manifests that on the field. By the way, having a coaching staff that not only makes adjustments at halftime but excels at it is an unbelievable luxury and I'm getting spoiled.
3) Is there a matchup against the Redskins that has you worried? What about one you're excited to see?
MK: I am genuinely concerned about the Eagles secondary against the Redskins weapons. I really don't like what I've seen and Washington has three very good receivers (Garcon, Jackson and Andre Roberts). I am interested to see if Cary Williams steps up his game against Garcon and Jackson. I am also worried about Andrew Gardner being matched up against Brian Orakpo or Ryan Kerrigan. Say what you want about the Redskins defense, but they did have 10 sacks last week.
On the flip side, I like the Eagles defensive line against the Redskins interior offensive line. I think they will be able to stop the run in its tracks. I also think Fletcher Cox will continue his dominance. I am looking for more pass rush in this game.
DK: Sure, Washington has the number one ranked defense right now and sacked Chad Henne 10 times, but this will be its first test against an offense that won't finish in the bottom third of the league. Sunday will be the ultimate proving ground for that unit to announce it is, in fact, legit. I'm terrified of Ryan Kerrigan going up against Andrew Gardner. That's not going to end well for Gardner or Foles or the Eagles if Gardner has to block Kerrigan one-on-one all game -- and if anything Kelly has done his first year-plus of NFL games is an indication, one-on-one it will be. He loathes giving help to a blocker, as it means eliminating a potential receiving option who can help stretch the field. That said, I'm sure Gardner will be getting plenty of chips from LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles as they exit the backfield and head upfield -- hopefully on wheel routes. We haven't seen the wheel route with either of them yet, but last season Kelly went to that matchup against Washington to get Kerrigan in space -- and it worked.
Jason Hatcher against Jason Kelce has me uneasy, as well. Kelce is the best center in the league and is playing at an All-Pro level through two games, but Hatcher gave him fits as a disruptive presence in the middle of an otherwise laughably porous defense that somehow gave Kelly's dynamic offense fits in both games last season. From watching Washington's All-22, Hatcher is their best player in the front seven and is the straw that stirs the drink and enables Kerrigan and Orakpo to get pressure off the edge. That in turns helps out a secondary, which is the weakest part of the defense and can be exploited if the quarterback has time.
We'll see how the corners hang with Washington's wide receivers. Pierre Garcon is a physical possession receiver who tallied 13 catches for 132 yards and zero touchdowns against the Eagles last season. He's exactly the kind of receiver Cary Williams (can't stand him) and Bradley Fletcher (nice hands) are suited to face. I wonder which one of them will draw DeSean Jackson, however. You just know there's going to be a play where Jackson burns one of them deep for a long gain. Jam him at the line all game, be physical and make his life miserable. Expect Brandon Boykin to man his normal slot responsibilities and lock up on Andre Roberts, who had success against the Eagles as a member of the Arizona Cardinals (11 catches for 139 yards in three games).
Like Mike, give me Fletcher Cox against anyone right now. He sure as hell looks like he's making THE LEAP. Same goes for Zach Ertz, and he's going to have to be at his best thus far since Keenan Robinson has been a stud in the middle and has the athleticism to cover seam receiving threats like Ertz. Then again, I don't care who's covering Ertz, he's averaging 23.3 yards per reception. Feed him the fucking rock, please.
Lastly, Matt Tobin might be poised to start his first game of the season after being the team's most impressive offensive lineman in the preseason. He was a full participant in practice on Wednesday. I'd be much more comfortable putting him at right guard and kicking Todd Herremans out to tackle to replace Gardner against Washington. Even putting Dennis Kelly out there in place of Gardner would assuage my fears, but it seems the team wants him at guard.
4) Outside of Foles, which two positions really need to step up to keep this thing going?
MK: I think the cornerbacks and Riley Cooper really need to improve. I have not been impressed with the secondary outside of Malcolm Jenkins and going up against Garcon and Jackson could be asking for trouble. Cooper has dropped passes and really hasn't looked like he did with Foles playing quarterback last season. Hopefully it's all just rust and he will bounce back in a big way moving forward. He's never had the best hands but at least he could secure well-placed throws.
DK: Good question. As previously touched on, the wide receivers as whole is one answer. Outside linebacker is another. Connor Barwin has been incredible in his versatile role, but Trent Cole has barely even sniffed the quarterback through two games, save for his forced fumble that led to Cox's touchdown against the Jaguars. The pass rush as a whole did dick against the Colts. Marcus Smith is practicing at inside linebacker, which makes me doubt Mychal Kendricks' status for Sunday. If he doesn't play, it'll be Smith or Emmanuel Acho next to DeMeco Ryans, since Casey Matthews quickly proved against the Colts he simply can't be on the field for anything that isn't special teams. Jordan Reed missed the Jaguars game and is still battling a hamstring injury; he didn't practice Wednesday and his status is in the air, but if he does play, who's going to cover him without Kendricks in there? Smith? Barwin? Hell, who's going to cover Reed's replacement, Niles Paul, the team's leading receiver in both games? I would love nothing more than to see Smith not only play but also have a positive impact. He is a gifted athlete who can cover downfield and showed it in college.
Ryans and whoever plays inside, along with the defensive line, will also have to step up to stop Alfred Morris, who's gained 176 yards on 36 carries so far and had two touchdowns against the Jaguars. The first half against the Colts was a nightmare for the run defense, but they tightened the screws in the second half. Morris was a non-factor in Week 1 of 2013 (well, he was a factor in our favor, thanks to that fumble-turned-safety in the end zone) but gashed the Eagles defense on the ground in the first half of the second game, before Washington went down 24-0 and abandoned the run game altogether.
5) We are playing the Redskins, let's mock them and come up with 10 new names for the team, 5 each!
MK: 1) Rapscallions 2) Monuments 3) Snyder's Silly Soldiers 4) The Washingtons 5) The Jeff Goldblums
DK: 1) Poop Eaters 2) Poor Man's Cowboys 3) Racism Lovers 4) Circus Clowns 5) Tomahawks
Bonus: What's DeSean Jackson's stat line for Sunday?
MK: Five catches for 71 yards (14.2 YPR), a touchdown and a fumble.
DK: A sprained AC joint is no minor injury, so I wonder how effective he'll be. That said, this is the biggest game of Jackson's career (from a personal standpoint at least) and he'll just have the trainers shoot him up with whatever pain meds he needs to play. Six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown. I also see him getting lit up on a CLEAN hit as he attempts to make a catch, the ball popping up into the air and getting picked off by an Eagle in the vicinity. Call it a hunch. And since no preview column article is complete without a prediction: 24-21, Eagles.