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From The Eagles: How Will The Eagles Handle Adversity?

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Eagles insider Dave Spadaro takes us inside the Eagles’ preparation for Week 6.

This feature is a weekly piece on BleedingGreenNation.com titled From The Eagles, featuring Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro. The intention is to provide a perspective directly from the Philadelphia Eagles in this forum for the great fans who visit BGN.

They’re coming off a loss. They’ve got a rookie starting at right tackle … on the road … against a relentless NFC East defensive end. For the first time this season, the Eagles are looking up in the division.

It’s certainly not a “10” on the scale, but the Eagles are facing their first adversity of the 2016 season. How do they handle it? What will we learn about head coach Doug Pederson? How much do the leaders of this team step up?

When the Eagles were 3-0 and riding atop the NFC East, hey, everything was just great. Perfect. Coming off a bye week, going into Detroit, no question, it would be easy-peasy to get to 4-0. But that didn’t happen, as we know, and the Eagles enter their division opener with a must-win sense of purpose.

So this is a critical Sunday for the Eagles, who have very difficult final 12 games and who know they have to win in the NFC East, and win big, to reach the postseason. These are the times when you find out about a head coach and his ability to navigate through tough times and when you find out about the chemistry and camaraderie in the locker room. It’s easy to be a leader when you’re winning. It’s easy to be a great head coach when you’re 3-0.

As the Eagles enter this critical stretch, these are some of the things that are important in the big picture of the Eagles. This roster isn’t a completed project, not by any means, and the coaching staff has done a very find job of working the roster to the outer limits. So far, Pederson and his staff have been outstanding.

But the challenge starting Sunday is substantial. Consider the first quarter of the regular season a very promising appetizer. The main course is terrifically difficult.

EAGLES NEWS AND NOTES

  • Unlocking defensive end Connor Barwin is critical for the Eagles defense. He had a quarterback sack in the opener and hasn’t had one since, compiling 3 total tackles in the three games since the win over Cleveland. Barwin has a tough matchup at Washington, going against four-time Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams. As a group, the defensive line has been good this season. It needs to be great on Sunday. Is there any way the Eagles can move Barwin around? Jim Schwartz isn’t know to use a “joker,” but maybe he has something up his sleeve to get Barwin on the quarterback sack board again. The Eagles need him.
  • Speaking of the defensive line, Marcus Smith has been active for all four games and has played 39 snaps, with one solo tackle and one assist. Steven Means had one tackle in the first three games and then wasn’t active in Detroit. The Eagles must get more production from those two.
  • What to expect from right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai? Well, he isn’t Lane Johnson, who is one of the very best right tackles in the NFL. Vaitai is going to make some mistakes. He’s being thrown into a very difficult situation, so the Eagles need to give him help. Look for a lot of Brent Celek lining up tight next to Vaitai on Sunday. This is a long-term situation, folks. If Vaitai can develop this season, the big-picture view of the offensive line is promising, because the Eagles are high on some of their young prospects, including Isaac Seumalo and Dillon Gordon as the look to replenish the group in years to come.
  • No Jordan Reed for the Redskins is good news for the Eagles secondary, which has its hands full with an excellent group of receivers. The most difficult to contain for the Eagles? It could be Jamison Crowder, a 5-8, 180-pounder who gave the Eagles fits from the slot last season. Crowder had 7 catches for 65 yards when Washington beat Philadelphia at FedEx Field and finished his rookie season with 59 receptions. Crowder already has 21 catches and 2 touchdowns this season. Tough matchup, particularly on third downs.
  • How much will the Redskins copy what Detroit did last week when the Lions spread the formation and forced the Eagles into covering in space. The Eagles need to force quarterback Kirk Cousins to hold onto the football for an extra second to give the pass rush a chance to get home. Three-step drops and quick releases are tough to defend.
  • It’s just a hunch, but I think Wendell Smallwood is about to get back into the rotation at running back. Ryan Mathews has an illness that forced him out of Friday’s practice, but Smallwood is on the come. Quick to and through the hole, he can be a spark for a running game that could use it. The Eagles want to run the ball and run it a lot this week.

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