The Eagles face a Washington team on Sunday that looks a little different from the team they faced in Week 6. I asked Alex Rowsey of Hogs Haven a few questions about this squad. Here’s what we talked about:
1. Washington's run defense allowed at least 100 yards on the ground in each of its first five games of the year. Since then, just twice in the last seven games. What changed?
In a word, tackling. For some reason that I can't put my finger on, the entirety of the Redskins defense was absolutely abysmal at tackling early in the season. Even guys who are known as solid tacklers were missing. It was odd. Since then, they're now tackling at an incredibly average rate... which is a nice upgrade.
Beyond that, DC Joe Barry has changed up some of his schemes and a few of the players that were out there early in the season have been replaced. Early in the season, DeAngelo Hall and David Bruton were playing S. Both guys were the primary culprits (especially Bruton) for being out of position and missing a lot of tackles. They've been replaced (due to injury) and their replacements have tackled better. Another thing that's helped is Su'a Cravens getting more playing time. He's been dynamite at LB and is a very sound tackler who plays with a lot of speed. He's been a nice upgrade/addition to the defense from earlier in the year.
2. There's this whole DeSean Jackson-to-Philadelphia rumor floating around lately. Do you think Jackson would consider leaving Washington after this season? Why or why not?
He certainly would. The reasons could be plentiful. For starters, there's the whole money thing. It's not that the Redskins won't be able to afford DeSean Jackson, it's just that they may feel they're better served to allocate their resources at other spots. Right now, they're paying a whole lot of money to have both Jackson and Garcon on the team. Both guys are great, but they may feel they can get by just paying one of them to stay, especially with Reed, Crowder, and Josh Doctson locked up. With Philly's WR situation the way it is right now, it might make more sense for them to offer Jackson more money than Washington might be willing to do.
Also, not that DeSean doesn't like playing in DC, but I never got the feeling he really wanted to leave Philly. He's loved there and could step right back in as a totally featured guy on that offense pretty clearly as the top receiving threat with fans who have adored him. I'm sure he'd love the feeling he'd get by being welcomed back to that city in their current situation. I don't think he has any real strong loyalty to the Redskins and their GM seems like the kind of guy who lets guys go a year or two too early rather than too late.
Don't get me wrong, the 'Skins will want to have him back. He's dynamic. But I have no doubt he'll consider Philly in FA.
3. That Kirk Cousins-Scot McCloughan interaction sure was interesting. Based on his play, do you think Cousins gets the deal he wants from Washington this offseason?
I think I know what interaction you're referring to and I think that got way too blown up and taken out of context. Kirk was pumped, but I don't think he was really taking shots at Scot. Regardless, his play has been pretty damn outstanding and I do feel that he'll get a nice huge contract from Washington to be their QB moving forward. I don't know if he'll get everything that he wants exactly, but I think they'll be able to come to some consensus on what he's worth based on where the market's at and get a deal done that makes him very rich and satisfied. I think he has a good understanding of how good he is and where he fits into the league's QB hierarchy. I think he likes Washington and wants to be a Redskin and I think he understands that this is a team on the rise and he's in an offense in which he's very comfortable with a GM who has done a top-notch job surrounding him with enough weapons that any QB would be jealous. He'll get $100M+ over five years. Washington would be crazy to let him go. The only thing to keep in mind is that Washington needs Kirk more than Kirk needs Washington. He'll have the upper-hand, but I really think he wants to be here. That's why I think they'll get something done.
4. Washington's defensive line feasted on a young and raw Eagles offensive line in Week 6. Any reason to expect the pass rush to have cooled off? Or is it still firing on all cylinders?
The pass rush is still performing pretty well, but it's not coming much from the DL. Chris Baker can provide some pass rush, but he isn't 100% healthy and he has very little help from the other guys on the line. Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy have been balling at OLB, though. And Preston Smith is a very good player who plays a lot there, too. Last week both Kerrigan and Murphy got home for sacks in Arizona, the week before Kerrigan got Prescott in Dallas, and the week before that Kerrigan and Chris Baker both took down Aaron Rodgers. So no, the pass rush hasn't really cooled-off, at all. Kerrigan's up to 10 sacks, Murphy has 8, Smith has 3.5, and Baker has 3. They're the main culprits.
And obviously, the pass rush is about more than just getting sacks. Last week, Joe Barry got pretty tricky and blitzed Josh Norman a number of times with pretty good success. He's also been sending Su'a Cravens a little more regularly and has been utilizing more corner blitzes from the slot corner. The DL is weak, especially against the run, but the pass rush on the whole has been decent.
5. Who's one player over-performing on Washington's roster through 12 games, and who's one player under-performing on the roster?
The easiest choice for under-performer in my opinion is Preston Smith. As a rookie last year, he led all rookies in sacks with 8 and was arguably the team's best pass-rusher. He's been decent this year, but the production has taken a pretty big dip. Part of that is the resurgence of Trent Murphy. Murphy's eaten a lot into those OLB snaps that were going to Smith. It's a great trio and a good problem to have, but people really expected Smith to go up to another level as a pass-rusher this year and so far, that hasn't been the case. Matt Jones is another guy who under-performed to the point of losing his job as a starter and no longer being active on game-day.
As far as an over-performer, I'd have to say Rob Kelley. He's an UDFA rookie. The fact that he's starting at RB and playing with great success right now is a surprise. He looked good in preseason, but a guy who was basically a FB in college with almost no rushing stats to speak of comes along and goes undrafted and then goes on to be the starter... and a good one at that? He's performing far above what anyone would have expected when he left Tulane.
BONUS! Who wins, and what's the score?
The Redskins are going to win 24-22. It'll be super tight, in my opinion. The game's in Philly and the Eagles are fighting for their playoff lives this week. Washington has lost two straight and in a way are fighting for their playoff lives, too. Should be a great game. Washington's offense is incredible though, and certainly the best unit on either team. I think that's the difference right now. Philly's offense is OK but lacks the weapons and is relying on a rookie QB. Washington's defense is what could lose it for them if the Eagles offense brings their A game. Still, I like Washington's chances. Hard to predict these games, though...