In order to preview the Eagles’ Week 7 against Washington, I reached out to our enemies over at Hogs Haven. The insightful “Bill-in-Bangkok” kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming game. Let's take a look at the answers. (Also don't forget to check out my Q&A exchange over at Hogs Haven.)
1 - How is this Washington team different from Week 1, if at all? What have you learned about them? Is this team different than the team Philadelphia saw in Week 1?
That’s not just a “yeah”… that’s a “hell yeah!”
One curse of the Jay Gruden coaching style (combined with the Kirk Cousins quarterbacking style) is that the Redskins seem to come out flat to start the season every year. That ‘flatness’ has in previous seasons also manifested itself in the 1st quarter of most games, even later in the season; and it has been a problem with the team not showing up ready to play after bye weeks. Redskins fans don’t like it, though we’ve come to expect it. We now sort of ‘write off’ week one as a pseudo-preseason game that puts us a game behind the other playoff contenders going into week 2.
That’s something that Gruden has been working on, with limited success. This year, the Redskins have been starting faster on opening drives. Without looking it up, I believe that the Redskins scored on three opening drives this season, and in three of our 5 games this season the ‘Skins have been in double digits before the opponents scored. (If those stats aren’t exactly right, they should be pretty close; I read the correct stats in articles this week but can’t find the link now). That faster start in games hasn’t previously been a hallmark of the Redskins under Gruden.But the slow season starts haven’t been fixed. The Redskins have lost the week 1 game every one of the 4 years that Jay Gruden has been the coach. But in 2015 & 16 the team came back from those slow starts to do well, putting together back-to-back winning seasons.
This year’s team looked horrible against the Eagles in Week 1. I was ready to write off the entire season by the end of that game.But the 3-1 team that has taken the field against the Niners, Rams, Raiders and Chiefs since that time has looked completely different, and I think they are much better than the ’16 version, or even the 2015 team that won the division title.
The offense – Kirk Cousins
Offensively, Cousins has played 3 ½ very good games. While Kirk is still developing ‘chemistry’ with his receivers, his accuracy, which was shit in Week 1, is dialed in now, and Cousins is playing very well.
For those who like a little statistical support, let me offer some information provided by HH writer James Dorsett:==============================
Cousins posted QBR scores of 34.2 and 35.2 in Weeks 1 and 2, which ranked 19th and 23rd in those respective weeks. As you might’ve figured, he has been on fire since then. His QBR has been over 81 in each of his last three games, which has put him at 6th or higher in each of those weeks. Cousins trails only Dak Prescott in QBR since Week 3. His 67.5 overall QBR ranks 5th this season. He ranked 6th in both 2015 and 2016.
Since Cousins’ poor outing in Week 1 against the Eagles, he ranks first in the NFL in yards per attempt (9.27), adjusted yards per attempt (10.25) and passer rating (117.7).===============================
The Offense – Chris Thompson
Chris Thompson, a late round draft pick in 2013 who started his career on IR and practice squad, has been a revelation this season. He is tied for the team lead in receptions (18) and leads the Redskins in first downs (14), receiving yards (340) touchdowns (4) and yards from scrimmage (515), and currently leads all NFL running backs in receiving yards (340), receiving yards per game (68) and yards per reception (18.9).
CT also leads the NFL with 329 yards after the catch (YAC), which is 77 more yards of YAC than the second place player in that category. His 18.3 YAC average is also tops in the league.If Thompson continues at this pace, he will become the fourth player in NFL history to gain 1,000 yards receiving in the same season that they had 100 rushing attempts (Marshall Faulk, Roger Craig and Lionel James). Faulk was the last running back with over 1,000 receiving yards in a season, and he did it in 1999, the year Dan Synder bought the Redskins.
The real difference – the Defense
But the real difference has been on defense. The defense ranks 8th against the rush and 12th overall, but the passion and fire that they are bringing to the field is impressive. It’s not the statistical performance that is impressive with this group; it’s the attitude.
The Defensive Line – especially Matt Ioannidis (we call him ‘IoanMan’ on HH), who is having a pro bowl quality season though no one knows his name --- has been getting interior pressure and has been collapsing pockets. That may be harder to achieve with Jonathan Allen now injured and out for the season.The edge rushers, especially Preston Smith, have been getting home and really making quarterbacks feel the heat.
The cornerbacks, especially Josh Norman, have been playing lights out, and the on-field performance has been much better than the stats would indicate. The inside linebackers, Zach Brown in particular, have been flying to the ball and tackling well. Opposing runners have earned every yard.
Safety play, especially from DJ Swearinger, has featured good communication for the first time in years. My personal feeling is that the Redskins lost the opener at home against the Eagles primarily for one reason – they got lots of pressure on Carson Wentz, but too often failed to bring him down. They fell off tackles and let him extend plays.
I don’t think Wentz will be any easier to corral this week, but I think that Week 1 was a particularly bad time to play against him, as training camp hadn’t prepared players to tackle the way they need to against a guy like Wentz. I feel sure that the Redskins coaches will have stressed the need to stop Wentz from escaping the pressure and extending plays, and I am confident that players will have learned from the Week 1 experience. I believe the defensive pass rushers will be ready to bring him to the ground instead of falling off tackles this week.
My reason for that confidence and belief is that the Manusky & Tomsula (DC & DL coach) led defense has hustled, hit, tackled and won battles in Weeks 2 through 6. The defense has executed at a level that they simply didn’t reach against the Eagles in Week 1. The consensus on Hogs Haven is that Jim Tomsula is a bad MF, and his attitude and coaching have transformed the defense. Additional credit is also frequently heaped upon Torrian Gray, the new defensive backs coach, who is credited with eliminating the sloppy play and poor communication that has typified the Redskin defensive backfield in recent seasons.
2 - Washington’s dealing with a lot of injuries right now (Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland, Jonathan Allen, etc.) To what extent are those issues a concern? Especially if the starting cornerbacks can’t play?
I think the injuries this week are a huge concern. They may be enough to determine the outcome of the game.
This week, the Redskins lost both their kicker, Dustin Hopkins, and the 2017 first round draft pick (DT Jonathan Allen) for the rest of the season. Hopkins has been replaced by Nick Rose, who will be kicking in his first-ever regular season NFL game. I’m sure he’ll enjoy kicking in Philadelphia on Monday Night Football. No pressure, no diamonds.
The Defensive Line rotation will have to adapt following the loss of Jonathan Allen.
Anthony Lanier, who flashed at times last season, should take over for Allen, and I expect Stacy McGee in particular to see more snaps. Also, AJ Francis, who spent training camp with the Redskins, has been added to the 53 to fill the roster spot.
The ‘Skins will also likely be without one, and possibly two starting cornerbacks – you mentioned Norman & Breeland in the question. That would leave them with second year CB Kendall Fuller, 3rd year converted (and undrafted) wide receiver Quinton Dunbar, and two rookie draft picks to defend against the Wentz-led Eagles passing attack. Dunbar and Fuller have played well already this season, but this is the position that is most likely to hurt the Redskins if either Norman or Breeland is inactive this week. The absence of Norman alone could spell the difference between winning and losing.
The starting running back, Rob Kelley has been injured twice already this season, and has only 29 carries going into Week 7. If he can’t go, rookie Samaje Perine, who is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry would get the start. To be honest, the running attack hasn’t been very awe-inspiring outside of the Rams game, regardless of who has carried the ball. I’m not sure that this injury makes much difference to the flow or outcome of the game.
Our all-everything left tackle, Trent Williams, has been dealing with a sore knee since training camp, and he aggravated it in the Kansas City game. He was a bit hobbled against the Niners, giving up a sack. One reason he has played through the pain is that the extremely reliable backup swing tackle, Ty Nsekhe, had surgery following an injury he sustained against the Raiders. With Nsekhe unable to play, TWill has been loath to sit out the game, and put the #4 OT (TJ Clemmings) into the lineup as a starter. Nsekhe played at a high level during a 4-game stretch that the ‘Skins were without Trent Williams last year, so I feel very confident in his ability to come off the bench and play at a high level, but with Nsekhe inactive following his surgery, I don’t have the same confidence in Clemmings. A nicked up Trent Williams or TJ Clemmings might provide an opportunity for Philly’s outstanding front-7 to have a huge impact on this game.
All teams deal with injuries, and winning teams have the depth to win despite the injuries, but I think that Week 7 is going to be particularly problematic for the Redskins in their MNF game against the division leading (and, by record, league-leading) Philadelphia Eagles.
3 - What’s one matchup that really favors the Eagles? And one that really favors Washington?
In the Eagles favor: Zach Ertz vs Redskins pass defense
The Redskins are always susceptible to being burned by tight ends. They may be even more vulnerable this week, with injuries to CBs detailed above, and rookie safety Montae Nicholson coming off his second in-game injury in as many games.
Zach Brown is one of our best defensive players. He plays inside linebacker, and he is blazing quick and a sure tackler. It would be reasonable to assume that Brown would be able to help slow down opposing defensive ends, but statistics (and the eye test) say the opposite. While Zach Brown is a beast against the run, and frequently a valuable part of the pass rush, he is not good in pass coverage.
Fantasy alert: Given that the Eagles boast one of the better tight ends in the league in Zach Ertz, I’d be looking for the Wentz-to-Ertz connection to go for 10 or 12 completions for over 100 yards and a TD on Monday night.
In the Redskins favor: Chris Thompson’s screen game to exploit the Philadelphia pass rush
In the Redskins favor, normally I’d say that our defensive backs against the Philly wideouts would be a great matchup for the burgundy & gold, but with Josh Norman and Baushaud Breeland possibly both missing the game with injury, I need to think a bit differently.
I believe the answer is going to be Chris Thompson in the screen game against the aggressive pass rush of the Eagles. CT had 4 pass receptions last week against the 49ers that went for a total of 105 yards. The shortest of the four screen plays went for 13 yards; the other three went for 20, 23 and 49 yards.
I can hear the objection already: ‘yes, but that was against the 49ers… the Eagles are a whole different ballgame.’
Before you rush to judgment, consider that Thompson has the following pass plays this season:
A 29-yard TD scamper in Week 1 against the Eagles
A 15-yard catch & run against the Rams
A 74-yard catch & run against the Raiders
The aforementioned 4 runs against the Niners
Chris Thompson is averaging 18.9 yards per reception (on 18 receptions) this season, and as you can see from the list, it’s not due to small sample size or one fluke play. He is consistently catching the ball near or behind the line of scrimmage with blockers in front of him, making one or two guys miss, and getting 15 or 20 yards downfield with his great burst.
He is also averaging 4.9 yards per carry as a runner, though that is skewed somewhat by sample size, and a single 61 yard touchdown run against the Rams in Week 2.
4 - If you were a completely impartial and all-powerful third party, which player would you take from the Eagles and add to the Redskins to make Washington better? How about the other way – which Redskin would you transplant onto the Philadelphia squad to make the Eagles the best team they could be?
Grabbing a Philly player and putting him on the ‘Skins team isn’t a simple matter of grabbing the best player you’ve got. For example, I’m not gonna take Wentz, since the Redskins have Kirk Cousins in place with a full knowledge of the offense. To make this work, I want to get a very good player who is an immediate upgrade to the Redskin roster.
Without sifting through all the options I considered, I’ll get straight to the bottom line. Abracadabra… Fletcher Cox is a Redskin.
If you don’t know why, you’re not a football fan.
When it comes to gifting a player to the Eagles, two guys spring to mind for me: Chris Thompson to replace Darren Sproles, or Josh Norman to upgrade your pass defense.
A quick look at NFL.com team stats page tells me that the Eagles are ranked #3 in total offense, despite the loss of Sproles, but #29 in passing defense.
Decision made… Josh Norman is packing his bags and heading up the highway to Philly.
5 - Tell me how Washington's 2017 season ends.
I’d say the chances are 31/32 that the Redskin season ends with a loss.
At this point, it’s hard not to think of the Redskins as a playoff team in 2017. My not-so-bold prediction is that the NFC East sends two teams to the playoffs: the Redskins and the Eagles. The only real question in my mind is which team wins the division. I think the eventual division winner will be decided this Monday night.
- If the Redskins lose on Monday Night, then I think it’s inevitable that the Eagles will win the NFC East. The Eagles’ lead on the Redskins will be insurmountable, and I don’t think the Cowboys have the team needed to take the Eagles down this year. The ‘Skins would go as a wildcard team.
- If the Redskins win on Monday night, I think they will go on to win the NFC East, and the Eagles will get in as a wild card. I think the NFC East has two top-10 teams at the moment, and one of us will make some noise in the playoffs.
I think the best that the Redskins are likely to accomplish is to reach the NFC championship. A more likely outcome is a loss in the divisional round of the playoffs.
I’ll be deeply disappointed if the Redskins fail to finish the job, like they did last year, and finish out of the playoffs. I have the sense that the 2017 iteration of the Redskins is a lot tougher physically and mentally, and has deeper talent as well. I’m looking forward to the next ten weeks!
6 - What’s your feel for this game? The over/under is set at 48.5. Do you think it’s a high-scoring affair?
Redskins games have averaged 46 points per contest, while the Eagles are just under 48. Two Redskins games (including the opener with the Eagles) had exactly 47 points scored. The other three were 37, 49 and 50, so I expect a combined total on MNF of 45 to 48 points scored. I’m hoping that the Skins contribute at least 42 of those points.
The natural point for an over/under seems to be 47, so I’d probably bet the under based solely on the numbers.