In a normal year, meetings between the Eagles and the NFC East are met with fanfare; with stories traded about our least favorite players (Michael Strahan, anyone?) and favorite memories (too many to name). In a normal year, fans circle the four games against the Giants and Cowboys as soon as the schedule comes out.
But Washington? Not so much.
The Eagles' rivalry with their neighbors south of I-95 has been the middle child of the rivalry for most of the last decade. For much of this century the Eagles have been the class of the division, while their burgundy and gold rivals wallowed in mediocrity or worse.
The arrival of Robert Griffin III looks like it could change all that. His first game against the Eagles was one of RG3's best games as a pro, as he torched Nnamdi Asomugha and company for a win in Landover. And even though Griffin III is out for this game (and depending on who you ask, out for good in Washington), the arrival of one DeSean Jackson figures to make this rivalry something approaching the T.O.-in-Dallas days of the mid-Aughts.
As if the rivalry stories weren't enough, this week also brings up many of the same stories we've been talking about since the start of the season: injuries suck, Sproles rules and Nick Foles needs to get it together.
Darren Sproles Is Good At Football
Here's a medium-hot take for you: this 2014 Eagles team is 0-2 without Darren Sproles.
As I said on BGN Radio before the Colts game, Sproles has been the heart and soul of this Eagles since the beginning of the regular season. Whether it's a huge touchdown run to spark the offense or a timely punt return, Sproles has looked every bit as good through two games as McCoy during the best few weeks of last season. Just check out these awesome stats, courtesy of Randall Liu, the NFL's Director of NFC Football Communications:
Sproles was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance on Monday night against the Colts. With 156 yards receiving in the game, Sproles is now ranked 14th in the NFL in receiving yards.
Despite his size, Sproles was built to play in this offense. The Eagles' athletic offensive line creates great opportunities in the screen game, while Kelly's schemes get Sproles out in space where he can use his size and elusiveness to create mismatches.
As Grantland writer and noted Giants fan Bill Barnwell pointed out this week, players like Sproles can be undervalued because of how they fit in a traditional scheme. But as we've learned, Kelly will use the personnel at his disposal to create mismatches, rather than creating a square-peg-round-hole situation with his existing players. That's why, despite the "big people eat little people" mantra, a player like Sproles makes sense for what Chip is doing with this offense.
Read more: Darren Sproles named NFC Offensive Player of the Week by Brandon Lee Gotwon
Read more: Winners and Losers from Eagles win over Indianapolis Colts in Week 2 by Mike Kaye
See more: Philadelphia Eagles defeat Indianapolis Colts to move to 2-0 [Photo Gallery]
Injuries Are Bad
Remember when, in 2013, the Eagles were one of the least-injured teams in history? Wasn't that great? Yeah, it sure was...
Last year's lack of injuries during the regular season gave fans another thing about which to celebrate, and it wasn't hard to make the connection between the lack of injuries and the nebulous and unexplained methods behind Chip's sports science. After all, since he never explains his methods, he has blinded us with science.
This season has proven that, in the NFL, science can only shield players from injury in so many ways. Football is a violent game, and these things happen. Monday night claimed another impact starter, this time on defense. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks was injured in the second half of the win over Indianapolis, and has not practiced all week. Though no timetable has been set, it's not looking like Kendricks will play tomorrow.
Immediately following the injury, defensive coordinator Bill Davis replaced Kendricks with Casey Matthews, with predictable results. Matthews was eventually replaced by Emmanuel Acho, who fared better. The linebacker situation is made all the more difficult due to the loss of Najee Goode in Week 1. Goode was slated to be the third middle linebacker, and the plan was to use him to spell veteran DeMeco Ryans.
With Goode out for the year, and with the possibility of Kendricks missing a couple weeks, Marcus Smith continued his cross-training, spending all day Thursday practicing in the middle. Smith, who was inactive last week after not playing a single snap in Week 1, has trained at all three linebacker positions.
While none of the coaches have said so explicitly, it seems like they are disappointed with Smith's progress throughout the summer and into the fall. But injuries happen, and Smith could figure to see some real playing time in the middle this week, especially if Acho (who would likely start over Matthews) struggles.
Elsewhere on the injury front, several players are making their way back to the practice field. Wide receiver/return man Josh Huff practiced for the first time in the regular season, albeit in a limited role. Matt Tobin is also back, and could replace third-string right tackle Andrew Gardner next week. While neither player is expected to return in time for tomorrow, both will be welcome additions whenever they're ready to go.
Tobin was impressive in the preseason, and will be the top backup along the line once Lane Johnson returns. Huff has only played in one game for the Eagles, but he made it count by returning a kick for a touchdown against the Bears. Huff's return would be a boon to an Eagles squad whose receivers have not been playing especially well, and have been plagued by several drops through the first two games.
Read more: Eagles Injury Report: Emmanuel Acho favored to start in place of Mychal Kendricks by Brandon Lee Gowton
Read more: Eagles Finding Depth on the Offensive Line by Tommy Lawlor
Read more: Mychal Kendricks Injury: Eagles linebacker reportedly won't play against Washington by Brandon Lee Gowton
Read more: Eagles rookie Marcus Smith practicing at inside linebacker by Mike Kaye
When was the last time a storyline divided Eagles fans like this offseason's DeSean Jackson drama? As anyone who has been on Twitter this week can attest, time has not healed the wounds of Jackson's departure, and for those who miss him, this week has a long reminder of what could have been.
Whether you buy the organization's explanation that releasing DeSean was a football decision (and does anyone really believe that?) or you feel it was something more sinister (either on the part of Jackson or the team), it almost doesn't matter. DeSean could have been a valuable contributor to this offense in a way that brings back the sad "what if" feelings of T.O.'s departure in 2005. Just as Chip Kelly has revitalized the career of Darren Sproles, so too did Kelly find new and effective ways to use DeSean.
Last season Kelly was a new coach in a new city, asking his players to trust a guy with no NFL experience. Not only that, Kelly was asking his players to buy into a transformation that went beyond the walls of Lincoln Financial Field and the NovaCare Complex. Kelly wanted players in bed at a certain time. He wanted them to drink weird smoothies and change their workout routines. He changed their days off and the practice schedules.
Reading between the lines told us that somewhere along the way last season, DeSean got fed up with it. He had a career year, yes, but clearly he rubbed Kelly and the coaching staff the wrong way. For a coach who invests in things like psychology, it's very possible that Chip needed to establish that he was here to stay by removing a player who threatened to undermine the program.
And here, I believe, is the crux of the pro-vs-anti-DeSean argument. In the NFL, star players are treated better. They're not always necessarily coddled, but they are given more leeway. And it's not like LeSean McCoy, arguably the best player on the team, is a perfect angel (and I'm not just talking about Tipgate). What was it that DeSean did or was doing that Kelly found so intolerable? Was their relationship really beyond saving? The most frustrating part of all of this is that we'll probably never know.
Read more: Eagles vs. Redskins Preview: Who needs to step up to continue Philadelphia's undefeated streak? by Dan Klausner and Mike Kaye
Hail To The [Redacted]
Which brings us to Sunday. As for DeSean Jackson the player, he remains day-to-day with a shoulder injury. LeSean McCoy insists that Jackson will play, but if he's not healthy, he's not healthy. If he does play, he'll be thrown the ball by Kurt Cousins, who takes over for the injured RG3.
Cousins looked great against an admittedly atrocious Jaguars team last week. Word around the campfire in Washington is that the coaches see Cousins as a better fit for head coach Jay Gruden's offense. Observers have predictably compared Cousins' performance last week to Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton (whether that's a compliment is debatable). And even though Cousins was facing the Jaguars, it's tough to deny that he did seem more comfortable than he did a year ago.
Defensively, the Eagles will be facing a front seven that managed to sack poor, poor Chad Henne a whopping 10 times. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are a force at linebacker, and former Cowboy Jason Hatcher has helped improve the Washington defensive line. This defense will present the biggest challenge to date for the Eagles' offensive line. It will be imperative that quarterback Nick Foles makes quick decisions against this defense, because it's likely he won't have much time in the pocket.
Listen to BGN Radio: Eagles vs. Redskins Preview: What about Washington worries you?
Read more: Which Eagles need to be most disciplined against Washington? by Brandon Lee Gowton
Read more: Eagles-Colts Final Score: 10 things learned from Philadelphia's win over Indianapolis by Brandon Lee Gowton
Speaking of Foles, ol' Nicky Flash seems to be ever-so-slowly regaining form, though it's still too early to declare him a surefire franchise quarterback. True, he wasn't helped by some costly drops (hi Riley!) but he still needs to improve his decision-making and timing. Foles and his receivers don't seem to be on the same page yet. Fortunately for him, tight end Zach Ertz, McCoy and Sproles have been very reliable through two games.
While tomorrow's game doesn't seem like one in which the Eagles will dominate, there will be opportunities for the Eagles to attach Washington's suspect secondary and put up points. And a solid day from the Eagles' offense might even make Heath Evans shut up.