Unless you've been living under a rock for the last month, you probably know that Pope Francis made his first visit to the United States last weekend. He visited New York and Washington, D.C., but he spent the bulk of his time in good ol' Philadelphia. And thanks to a little
divine Marky Mark intervention, the Eagles were able to get their first win of the season over the New York Jets.
This week, the Eagles visit another of the inferior cities that served as a warm-up act for the Pope. This time, they take a trip to our nation's capital. To get to 2-2, the Eagles will need to get through a Washington team that, disfunction-wise, already looks to be in midseason form.
To get the win Sunday, the Eagles would be wise to heed some of the same advice as last weekend's Papal pilgrims:
Beware of road closures
After mustering just 70 yards rushing in their first two games, the Eagles' run game found life against the Jets. Ryan Mathews became the first Eagle of the year to gain 100 yards on the ground, rushing 25 times for 108 yards. But that momentum may be slowed this week against a Washington defense that is only giving up an average of 75 yards rushing per game, good for third in the NFL.
Complicating matters, though, is the news that right guard Andrew Gardner suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury against the Jets. He will be replaced by backup guard Matt Tobin, who started seven games for the Eagles last year. Pro Football Focus ranked Tobin the team's worst pass blocker last season. Though Gardner didn't have the best start to the season, he was the highest-rated player on the Eagles offense last week, per PFF's Aaron Rodgers-hating metrics.
Fortunately for the Eagles, their own run defense has been almost as stout as their division rival's. Despite missing defensive ends Cedric Thornton and Taylor Hart last week, the defense held the Jets to 47 yards on 16 attempts, or 2.9 yards per carry. And while the Eagles run game has taken its lumps, the 'Skins have fared much better. They are fourth in the league with 431 yards on the ground, and two of their backs, Alfred Morris and Matt Jones, already have more than 180 rushing yards each.
Both offenses are built with the run in mind, and both defenses are stout against the run. The team that is able to better control both aspects of the run game will have a huge advantage in this game.
Don't let the hype make you panic
Remember this past summer? It was really something. We could all go down the shore, there were still barbecues to attend, and the Eagles' starting quarterback looked like a preseason MVP candidate.
How things have changed. Through three games, Sam Bradford has gone 73-of-117 for 673 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. He's also averaging 5.8 yards per attempt, which is second-lowest among all qualifying quarterbacks. Oh, and his 72.5 quarterback rating is among the lowest in the league. How low, you ask? Lower than these guys:
Because it is so early in the season, it's tough to tell what's going on with Bradford. All indications were that he looked great in practice all summer, and everyone in the media stood up and took notice of his preseason performance against the Packers. But the regular season has simply been a different story. He's missed open receivers, checked the ball down too often, and generally looked uncomfortable for much of the year.
But as bad(ford) as it's been, there is plenty of room for optimism. Bradford's touchdown throw to Mathews against the Jets was as pretty a throw as you'll see, and it's still early enough in the season that mistakes are correctable. And as we'll cover in a minute, this game presents plenty of opportunities for the passing game to get back on track. The best thing the offense can do is to not panic, to knock the remaining rust off, and start playing like a Chip Kelly offense again.
The Eagles traded for Bradford with the hopes that he could step in and be a legitimate starting quarterback. After three subpar weeks, it's time for him to get things moving.
Hold on to your valuables
At 1-2, Eagles fans don't want to hear excuses for the disappointing start. But after three games, one thing is apparent: the Eagles' receivers need to hold on to the ball. Philly's offense already has 10 drops on the season, almost as many as the rest of the NFC East combined (13). And one of those drops was a game-sealing interception late in the fourth quarter of the season opener.
Fortunately for them, this week might be the remedy. The Eagles will go against a Washington defense that has allowed completions on 63.3 percent of passing attempts, has allowed four touchdowns, and has yet to come away with an interception.
And the news gets better: with DeAngelo Hall out, Bashaud Breeland moved outside from the nickel and promptly got abused, Bradley Fletcher style, by Eli Manning. Per the Washington Post, Breeland was targeted 10 times and allowed eight catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
Starting opposite Breeland will likely be veteran Chris Culliver, who has only been targeted seven times this season. And in the slot figures to be Justin Rogers, who missed the last two games (and is not a lock to play this week, either) with plantar fasciitis. If the Eagles limit mistakes and execute well, they should be able to take advantage of Washington's secondary.
Watch the Philadelphia coverage
It's not an understatement to say that the Eagles secondary had about as rough first two games. After being torched by Julio Jones and the Falcons (a dubious honor that looks less troubling with each passing week), the Cowboys were able to score points without the aid of Dez Bryant. But last week, the playmaking secondary many Eagles fans were expecting showed up.
The defense came away with three interceptions against the Jets, including a gorgeous end zone interception by rookie Eric Rowe. And while Brandon Marshall did get his numbers, the Eagles were able to frustrate him to the point of forgetting how football is played.
The Eagles should be able to do that again this week. Washington starter
Robert Griffin III Kirk Cousins has thrown four interceptions, including two last week in their loss to the Dolphins. In his career, Cousins has thrown more picks (23) than touchdowns (21). This should be a favorable matchup for an Eagles defense that has nine takeaways on the year.
Get there early
Washington fans don't like going to games. And who can blame them? Their stadium was built in 1997 and somehow looks worse than The Vet looks now, the field is in rough shape, and the team is so hopeless that they stole the plot of an episode of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia and are letting fans kick field goals (okay not really, but still).
All this is to say that if the Eagles can jump on Washington early, they can take them out of the game. Washington has scored only seven second-half points at home this year. When it's running smoothly, the Eagles' fast-paced offense can put teams in an early hole. They almost did it against the Jets. It would certainly been a sign of improvement to see them do it to a division rival in their own building.