For the third time in four years, the Philadelphia Eagles are kicking off their regular season schedule with a game against the Washington Football Team. Let’s run through some of the most important things to watch on Sunday as the Birds try to start out 1-0 once again.
1 - The COVID-19 NFL
There will be no fans in the stands at FedEx Field. And despite playing on the road, that’s a disadvantage for the Eagles since a sea of midnight green usually washes over the stadium in Landover, Maryland.
Instead, the Eagles and the Football Team alike will be dealing with whatever artificial crowd noise is being played through the speakers. It’s to be determined how that sounds while watching the broadcast at home. The only NFL game we’ve seen so far was the one hosted by the Kansas City Chiefs, who were allowed to have some fans in attendance.
We’ve known it’s coming so it’s not a shock but it really is going to be strange to see the Eagles playing in an empty stadium.
2 - Offensive line issues on both sides
With Lane Johnson questionable to play, the Eagles might be forced to use the following offensive line configuration:
Left tackle — Jason Peters
Left guard — Isaac Seumalo
Center — Jason Kelce
Right guard — Nate Herbig
Right tackle — Matt Pryor
The right side is an obvious concern there. Herbig, who turned 22 in July, has never made a start. I saw him get straight up whooped a number of times in camp. Pryor has tackle size but lacks ideal athleticism and is probably a better fit at guard. The Eagles could opt to throw Jack Driscoll into the mix but he’s a Day 3 rookie. Anyone happen to remember how Halapoulivaati Vaitai looked in his first NFL action against Ryan Kerrigan? Oh, no reason.
Maybe Johnson will be able to play. But even if that’s the case, one has to figure he’s not going to be 100%. He was limited in practice all week while still recovering from his August ankle surgery.
One shouldn’t even want to think about what happens if the Eagles suffer another offensive line injury. But it’s hard not to consider when Peters is prone to leaving the lineup; the 38-year-old has played 100% of the offensive snaps in just 17 of the team’s last 54 games. Including just six out of 17 in 2019. Ergo, we might actually see Jordan Mailata protecting Carson Wentz’s blindside at some point. Yikes!
It would be so fitting for the Eagles to finally improve at receiver only for the offensive line to fall apart.
But the Eagles aren’t the only team dealing with blocking issues heading into this matchup. Look at Washington’s starting offensive line:
Left tackle — Geron Christian
Left guard — Wes Martin
Center — Chase Roullier
Right guard — Brandon Scherff
Right tackle — Morgan Moses
I remember Christian getting straight up bullied when he had to play as a rookie. He might be better now than he was then but he still figures to be a weak point. The same goes for Martin, who graded 87th out of 89 guards by Pro Football Focus last year. Washington's left side could be as equally weak as the Eagles’ right side.
The feeling here is that it’ll be crucial for each team to get off to a fast start. I mean, duh, that’s always ideal and important. But unlike other teams who might be more equipped to erase a deficit, getting off to a bad start could be a death knell in this game. Forcing the other side to become one-dimensional and teeing off on their offensive line feels like the recipe for victory.
3 - Carson Wentz and DeSean Jackson picking up where the left off
Methinks some might be sleeping on Jackson’s potential impact. We all know he had a huge game against Washington in Week 1 last year with eight receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns. I fully expect Jackson to go off again in this one. Training camp reminded us that Wentz absolutely loves throwing to Jackson and it’s not hard to understand why: the 33-year-old receiver is always finding a way to get open. And not just on the deep patterns but really at any level of the field.
Jackson is likely drawing either Ronald Darby or Fabian Moreau with Kendall Fuller doubtful for Sunday’s matchup. Regardless, that’s a very exploitable matchup. No. 11 should be looking No. 10’s way early and often.
And beyond just the Wentz-Jackson connection picking up where it left off, I’m also referring to Wentz picking up where he left off. He was red hot down the stretch in 2019. It’d be real nice to see that carry over into 2020.
4 - Dwayne Haskins in Year 2
We all know Haskins’ rookie stats were bad: 58.6% completion percentage, 6.7 yards per attempt, seven touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a 76.1 passer rating.
We also know he played some of his best football against the Eagles in Week 15: 67.9% completion percentage, 9.3 yards per attempt, two touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 121.3 passer rating.
We don’t know what Haskins will look like in Year 2. One would think the 23-year-old will take a step forward in his development. Maybe he’ll be able to get the ball out faster after ranking 25th in average time to throw as a rookie. Maybe he won’t take so many sacks.
Then again. it’s hard to see Haskins taking some kind of major leap forward when one examines his supporting cast. Seriously, just look at the Football Team’s depth chart. They have Logan Thomas starting at tight end. Dontrelle Inman, who is on his sixth team since 2017, is a starting wide receiver for them. Not to mention how Haskins had limited offseason reps to adjust to Washington’s new offensive scheme.
On paper, Haskins is one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league. It’ll be pretty concerning if he lights it up against the Eagles’ defense again.
5 - Jalen Reagor’s debut
Initial reports on Reagor’s shoulder injury suggested he wouldn’t be able to play until Week 2 at the earliest. But the No. 21 overall pick from the 2020 NFL Draft is ready to play after fully practicing on Thursday and Friday.
It’ll be interesting to see what his role looks like. Reagor was splitting first team reps with J.J. Arcega-Whiteside at the X receiver position in training camp. The Eagles might especially want to manage Reagor’s workload given how he’s coming off an injury.
Reagor wasn’t used much a vertical threat in camp despite the fact he possesses that speed. He was primarily effective going over the middle on slant routes. Will be interesting to see if that’s still the case in game action. Even if he’s not catching a deep bomb, Reagor could still be dangerous as a YAC weapon.
6 - Darius Slay vs. Scary Terry
BGN’s Michael Kist already wrote about this matchup so I recommend you read that. I’ll just reiterate that Slay being a legitimate No. 1 cornerback would go a long way for this defense.
Terry McLaurin had 10 receptions for 255 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles last year. They cannot let him dominate like that again. He’s the only wide receiver threat they have to seriously worry about. Even if the Eagles need to give Slay help at times, just figure it out. McLaurin cannot be allowed to break the game open.
7 - The Antonio Gibson experiment
Gibson was an intriguing prospect heading into the 2020 NFL Draft given how he was viewed as a receiver/running back hybrid. His efficiency number at Memphis were great! Gibson logged 19.0 yards per reception and 11.2 yards per rush attempt. He scored 14 touchdowns on just 77 total offensive college touches.
How Gibson translates to the NFL and fares in a larger role remains to be seen. The Football Team clearly felt encouraged enough by what they’ve seen to release Adrian Peterson. Washington is now expected to split backfield touches and Gibson will be in that group. Given how Chris Thompson used to give the Eagles trouble in the past, they better not sleep on Gibson’s explosive ability.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz gave his thoughts on Gibson earlier in the week.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the rookie they’re probably going to start at running back, Antonio Gibson. You don’t have any pre-season tape of this kid, so you got to go by his college tape when he was essentially a slot receiver. Your thoughts on him and the challenge that he and his receiving skills and speed present to your linebackers.
I wouldn’t necessarily think that he was just a slot receiver last year because he did get running back snaps. We did go back and watch the way he played last year at Memphis. He’s a little bit different than some of these other guys that have been that running back/wide receiver, because generally they might be a little bit on the lighter side and things like that.
This guy is 6 foot, 230 pound type guy with explosive straight line speed. We have to respect him whether he’s lined up at the running back position or lined up at a wide receiver position. And when he is in the open field, you know, we’re going to have to do a good job tackling and maybe even gang tackling, because we’re not talking about a 180-pound or 190-pound guy. We’re talking about a guy that’s probably around 230 pounds on Sunday and has the speed, if he can make you miss to go the distance, but also could use his power and try to run guys over.
So he’s a little bit different. But we would expect him to certainly have a big role, and we’re sort of just speculating on how they would use him. But we’ll figure it out on Sunday.
SOME MORE QUESTIONS
- How effective is Miles Sanders going to be after being limited in practice all week?
- Will the Eagles be caught off guard by unexpected looks from Washington’s new coaching staff, featuring head coach Ron Rivera?
- Will the Eagles’ offensive coaching changes manifest in the form of any new wrinkles? More Wentz out of the pocket?
- How is Jalen Mills going to handle the transition to safety?
- Does Jalen Hurts get any trick play snaps?