Welcome to another edition of Crunching The Numbers, where I compare the Eagles against their upcoming opponent in a set of select statistics to preview the game. If you want more information on my methodology, or read previous posts, check out this hub.
The Eagles have a big game this week against what appears to be their biggest threat to winning the division for the first time in four seasons. But first, I want to adjudicate my “game plan” for the Panthers by seeing how my thoughts and suggestions held up against what actually happened. My main points were:
- The Eagles should be aggressive (again) and attempt some fourth downs in the game. They should also go deep, specifically early in the game.
- The defense should focus on playing contain, pressuring Newton with four rushers, and only allowing completions underneath.
The one big thing I got wrong here was how the Eagles would utilize ball control. I figured they would use the same strategy of killing the clock to keep Newton on the bench, but instead they opted for an up-tempo attack to put pressure on the defense. The Eagles lost the time-of-possession battle for the first time this season, but it worked for them.
Other than that, I felt I was fairly accurate with my predictions. They did indeed play contain with four rushers - the running backs were held to under ten yards and while Newton got his, he was rarely able to turn the corner and mostly took stuff up the gut. I also specifically mentioned the defense preventing the deep ball and forcing Newton to use McCaffrey as a safety valve. Well, two of Newton’s deep passes were picked (McCleod’s was called back by a phantom penalty) and McCaffrey ended up with ten receptions. Offensively, my main point was about being aggressive, and boy were they ever. They went for a 4th-and-1 inside the 10 after getting a red zone pick. There are few things more demoralizing then coming up empty after being gifted field position like that, but Fearless Doug wasn’t worried about that. He wanted to go for the jugular, as was further evidenced by his decision to take points off the board after a penalty on the PAT and go for two.
My favorite line from last week’s post?
I won’t be upset if [the Eagles] win the toss and defer [they lost the toss and received], but the defense better be ready to be physical right out of the gate if that happens.
I think it’s safe to say that the Eagles were indeed physical on defense.
But enough about the Panthers. What does my crystal ball have to say about the Redskins? (NOTE: Numbers in parenthesis represent league rank. Boldface numbers represent which team has the edge in that matchup.)
For as much skepticism as we’ve had about the Redskins, they are certainly performing well in three of the five categories. In particular, Kirk Cousins’ 8.0 YPA is tied for first in the league... with Tom Brady. They are also top ten in TOP and PTS/1HLF. The Eagles have a lot going for them right now, but given the way Washington plays them and the fact that they’re actually playing decent football, we should not be expecting a cakewalk by any means. This will be a hard-fought game and it is very possible the Redskins steal a win on Monday night.
Let’s look to see what Philadelphia can do to prevent that from happening.
When The Eagles Have The Ball
The one thing that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet are injuries, and while the Redskins have been without Josh Norman for a few weeks, they just recently lost their other starting corner, Bashaud Breeland, in their last game. They still haven’t been as injured as the Eagles have been here, who have missed their free safety, best corner, and best cover linebacker at different times this season. And yet their secondary has produced similar numbers defending the pass, allowing 10.4 OY/CMP to the Eagles’ 10.5.
What I’m trying to say here is that Washington needs to be tested on the deep ball early and often. If this sounds like a broken record from the last two weeks, my apologies. I can’t really help that the Eagles happen to be facing defenses with similar strengths and weaknesses for three straight weeks. Which is why it shouldn’t surprise you when I say that the Eagles should also be... aggressive again! Like Arizona (27th) and Carolina (20th), Washington also struggles with OY/PT. As the Cardinals and Panthers showed us, this means they will give up touchdowns. Don’t settle for three if seven is there to be had. This is especially true if Cousins decides to think he’s Aaron Rodgers like he tends to do against the Eagles. If this game turns into a shootout, which it might since Washington is averaging 15 PTS/1HLF, Fearless Doug needs to carpe diem on fourth downs.
When The Redskins Have The Ball
As I touched on a bit above, the Redskins have been a well-oiled machine on offense, producing top ten numbers in YPA (1st), TOP (5th), and PTS/1HLF (6th). Given Cousins’ ability to push the ball down the field and Jay Gruden’s style of offense, I really want to see some press-man to disrupt the intermediate timing routes while playing two-deep bracket coverage on the speedier receivers. Chris Thompson has been the big surprise for Washington this season, as he leads the team in both rushing and receiving. As good as the Redskins are up front, I think Schwartz needs to trust that his line will hit home and give the second level some room to key in on Thompson. I don’t think putting a spy on him would be too crazy of an idea, actually. He is clearly their biggest playmaker right now and shutting him down could make Cousins uncomfortable if the pass rush is having success.
Playing a strategy like this is not without risks, as it requires extreme discipline with communication in the secondary. Playing a two-deep cover shell will provide some easy reads for an experienced quarterback, and if someone blows their assignment that can go for a long touchdown.
Outside of those suggestions, in general I think it’s crucially important to set the tone as soon as possible. Washington’s ability to find a rhythm early in the game and score in the first half should be respected. Taking that away from them early would take them out of their element and should open things up for the Eagles later in the game.
After beating the Panthers on a short week in Charlotte, the Eagles look like a team that can take on anybody. But as any fan of the NFC East knows, division games are a different animal altogether. We should NOT sleep on the Redskins. They are a legitimate threat in the division and unless the Eagles play good, clean football they can easily lose this one. It wasn’t too long ago that we were lamenting how Washington had managed to beat us five times in a row.
Of course, ever since they found their ground game in Week 3, when adversity has challenged the Eagles they have risen to the occasion. I’m a big believer in Doug Pederson and have no reason to feel that this game, at home in a rocking Linc on ten days’ rest, will be any different.
The Redskins are good, but they are beatable. It’s time to fully turn the tables on the recent rivalry.