6 - The dig route.
Alshon Jeffery made a number of catches in offseason practices while running dig routes AKA in routes (labeled as 6 on the route tree). It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Eagles utilize Jeffery that way as he’s matched up against Josh Norman this week. The dig is one of Jeffery’s best routes and it’s one that Norman struggles to cover.
On paper, Norman figures to struggle with Jeffery because the corner’s biggest weaknesses are Jeffery’s biggest strengths. We already saw Jeffery go off for five catches and 92 yards against Norman last season. And that was with Matt Barkley, currently a free agent, at quarterback.
Doug Pederson said the Eagles are expecting Norman to shadow Jeffery as the Eagles move their new No. 1 wide receiver around the formation. It could be a big day for Jeffery if he’s able to get on the same page with Wentz right out of the gate.
Sticking with Philadelphia’s offense, I also wanted to mention this could be a big game for Zach Ertz. The Eagles tight end has historically played well against Washington. In eight games against them, Ertz has 46 catches for 438 yards and one touchdown. The absence of Jordan Matthews figures to open up even more opportunities for Ertz in the underneath passing game.
102.9 - Kirk Cousins’ career passer rating against the Eagles.
Cousins always posts big numbers against the Birds. In five career games against Philly, Cousins has completed 63.6% of his attempts for 1,579 yards (8.1 yards per attempt), 12 touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 102.9 passer rating.
Part of the reason Cousins has had that success, though, is due to DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. Neither player is still with Washington after leaving in free agency this offseason. Last year, the two receivers combined for 214 targets, 135 receptions, 2046 yards, and seven touchdowns. That’s a lot of production to replace.
Washington is hoping free agent signing Terrelle Pryor and 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson can step up in the absence of their former receivers. Maybe they can, but it’s far from guaranteed. Including preseason games, Doctson has three career receptions combined. Pryor, meanwhile, actually had more drops than catches this summer.
Another factor in Cousins’ success has been Washington’s offensive line. Football Outsiders’ metrics ranked Washington second best in pass protection last season.
The Eagles haven’t been able to generate enough pressure on Cousins in the past. That could change now that Philadelphia has made a number of upgrades on their defensive line.
Connor Barwin is a great man but he was a liability against Washington last year. He looked a step slow when trying to set the edge. He also stood no chance of generating pressure while going up against Trent Williams. Now Washington’s left tackle will have to deal with the combination of Vinny Curry and Derek Barnett. On the other side of the line, Brandon Graham will likely be wreaking havoc. Chris Long showed he’s still got some juice during the preseason this year.
Then there’s the Eagles’ interior defensive line. Fletcher Cox is a beast. Tim Jernigan didn’t do much to generate buzz in the preseason but he looked good in practices. Jim Schwartz praised Jernigan for drawing blocking attention and opening up opportunities for his teammates in the preseason games. Behind Cox and Jernigan, there’s Beau Allen, Destiny Vaeao, and Elijah Qualls. Those are some quality rotational players who can contribute and help keep the starters fresh.
The feeling here is that the Eagles’ interior pressure could make life easier on the ends this season. By flushing quarterbacks out of the pocket, the Eagles will be forcing opposing throwers right in the way of oncoming pass rushers aligned in the wide nine.
Cousins should look a lot more mortal if/when the Eagles are generate more pressure than they have in the past.
54% - The amount of teams that make the playoffs after starting 1-0.
Contrast that number to the 25% of teams that make the playoffs after starting 0-1.
Is it too early to call Week 1 a must-win game? Yeah, it is.
But this is still a really important matchup. This game has the potential to set the tone for the season. It’s about time the Eagles end Washington’s winning streak dating back to September 2014. Washington just isn’t that good of a team to maintain a streak like that.
Another loss to Washington would be tough to suffer, especially with the Eagles traveling to Kansas City next week. The Chiefs, who looked really good by beating the Patriots on Thursday, will also have extra rest heading into that Week 2 game. Lose today, lose there, and suddenly the Eagles are at 0-2 heading into their Week 3 home opener against the Giants.
I think it’s fair to say we’re still waiting to see that signature win from Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz. Beating Washington in Week 1 would do a lot to boost everyone’s confidence in that duo.
The Eagles should be able to help this game. It won’t be easy, but it’s within reach. They just need to go out and earn it.