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.
The Eagles were 1-7 on the road last season. The Eagles were 24th in the NFL in touchdown efficiency in the red zone last season. These are two top-of-the-line statistical areas where the Eagles must show improvement in 2017, or the playoffs will be nothing more than a just-out-of-hand thought.
On the road: Start fast and finish strong. The Eagles started fast in Detroit and fumbled the game away in the fourth quarter. They went toe to toe at Dallas until blowing the last six minutes of the contest in an overtime loss. They couldn’t convert a takeaway in New York and lost in agonizing fashion, after a lousy start to boot, to the Giants. They were terrible early at Washington, and then just bad the rest of the way.
So the task on the road is a tall one. Washington has five consecutive wins in this series. The Eagles haven’t won at FedEx Field since 2013 (Chip Kelly’s debut). The Redskins have two Eagles-killers in quarterback Kirk Cousins (4-1 record against Eagles as a starter, 12 touchdowns, 3 interceptions) and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (9 career sacks against the Eagles, including 3 last season).
“We have to hit Cousins, can’t give him time,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “He’s done well against us.”
“Kerrigan never stops. He’s got a great motor,” guard Brandon Brooks said. “He’s competing on every play.”
About the red zone: With LeGarrette Blount, who an estimate here will average about 10-12 touches a game, and a good offensive line, an improved quarterback in Carson Wentz, and a receiver in Alshon Jeffery who can go up and catch the ball at its highest point, the Eagles should be improved in the red zone. They must improve.
More thoughts on this game and the Eagles as they enter the regular season …
- Washington’s front seven is pretty darn good, led by Kerrigan and also featuring first-round draft pick defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, so the more prudent way to attack the Redskins might be in the passing game. Am I crazy to think the Eagles can get something done in the vertical passing game against Washington?
- I’m really interested to see what the Eagles do when they have nickel personnel on the field defensively. Jamison Crowder is a darting, terrific weapon for Cousins who had 67 receptions and 7 touchdowns last season for Washington. The big talk is Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson, and they are talented, but the real challenge is inside against Crowder and tight end Jordan Reed. The Eagles had no answers for either last year.
- Are the Eagles potentially great along the offensive line? With games at Washington and at Kansas City, we’re going to find out real fast, aren’t we?
- In the first quarter of the last three Eagles games at Washington, the Redskins have outscored the Eagles 23-7. So, yeah, getting off to a fast start is kind of important for the Eagles. They really will have trouble digging out of a deep ditch on the road in this opener.
- Do the Eagles have a better roster than last season? Absolutely. Will they have an improved record? No reason they shouldn’t. Let’s see how the team improves in key areas, including the road record and efficiency in the red zone, and in turnover differential and scoring in the fourth quarter.
- Why the concern about having eight offensive linemen on the roster? The Eagles have two linemen on the practice squad, Dillon Gordon and Josh Andrews, who were on the active roster last season. So if the Eagles need next-game help, they can just call up one or both of them. Dress seven, with one (likely Chance Warmack) inactive and play ball. Stefen Wisniewski can play either guard spot and center. Halapoulivaati Vaitai can back up at the tackle spots. Not a big deal at all.
- Running back Donnel Pumphrey and wide receiver Shelton Gibson are truly having the NFL version of a “redshirt” rookie season. Let’s see how much they improve during the course of the year and how they compete next summer. Both showed that they have a long, long way to go with the way they performed in the preseason.
- I’m interested to see how the Eagles handle the nickel personnel package this season. Crowder, Tyreek Hill in Kansas City and then New York’s Sterling Shephard are all very quick, shifty (although Shepard has more size) kind of receivers. Is Patrick Robinson going to get the call in nickel? Or newcomer Dexter McDougle, who gives the Eagles a better matchup against the smaller, quicker slot receivers (like Dallas’ Cole Beasley). Malcolm Jenkins is now freed up to help against a tight end like Jordan Reed, who is a handful.