The Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) are playing the Washington Football Team (6-7) at Lincoln Financial Field on Tuesday night (instead of Sunday because the NFL is dumb). In order to preview this Week 15 game, I reached out to our enemies over at Hogs Haven. The ardent Andrew York kindly took the time to answer my questions about this upcoming tilt. Let’s take a look at the answers. (Check out HH for my side of the exchange.) NOTE: This exchange took place last week.
1 - Can you take us through all of Washington’s injuries/COVID issues? To what extent are you concerned about those? Does Washington have enough to win without them?
There are lots of ways to answer this question and there are too many cases to go into each in detail, but I think this graphic of Washington’s Week 1 roster sums it up nicely (injured/sick players slashed through in red):
I’m writing this Wednesday night and no doubt there will be more additions as the week goes on. The roster was already starting to look thin due to regular, old-fashioned injuries, but now there has been an explosion of COVID cases in the last week. Washington has put 19 players on the reserve/COVID list in the last week, with 7 of them being added just Wednesday alone. The most notable Week 1 starters who will probably be unable to play Sunday include WR Terry McLaurin (Concussion), RB JD McKissick (Concussion), TE Logan Thomas (ACL), Center Chase Roullier (fractured fibula), DE Chase Young (ACL), DE Montez Sweat (COVID), DT Jonathan Allen (COVID), DT Matt Ioannidis (COVID), and CB Kendall Fuller (COVID), all of whom are very important to their respective sides of the ball.
I am concerned about these injuries/COVID cases to the maximum extent possible. Overcoming injury is one thing, but it is simply not possible to field a competitive team when you lose over a third of the roster to COVID in a single week and have to immediately sign that many replacements and put them on the field. Oh, and at the same time, all of these new players will need to be trained virtually, since the team is trying to prevent any further spread of the disease. I expect the team to look like a disorganized mess on Sunday, anything better would be a huge credit to the coaching staff.
2 - On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you that Taylor Heinicke is a franchise QB? What should Washington realistically be looking to do at QB in the offseason?
I would probably be at a 4: not likely, but still within the realm of possibility. It’s tough evaluating him fairly, because on the one hand, he’s 28 years old and has been in the NFL and XFL for several years, so he isn’t some rookie. On the other hand, he’s had very few opportunities in that time and even less playing time, so it’s not fair to treat him like a finished product. He’s also somewhat inconsistent. “Good Heinicke” flashes great ability to read the field, take what the defense gives him, and evade pressure and make plays with his legs. “Bad Heinicke” throws into triple coverage and throws inaccurate hospital balls that give the opposing defense a better chance than his receivers. He started the season playing as Good Heinicke against bad teams (Giants, Falcons) and Bad Heinicke against everyone else. Since the bye, he seemed to be more consistently playing like Good Heinicke, but regressed a bit against the Raiders and regressed a lot against the Cowboys, though even in that game he rallied in the 2nd half.
I’m going to keep somewhat of an open mind on Heinicke until the offseason, once we’ve seen him play a full season and seen how far he can take us. However, based on what I’ve seen so far, I think realistically Washington should be looking to trade for a high-quality veteran QB. If Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson became available and would accept a trade here, that would probably be our best bet to improve at the QB position. We can also draft a QB, but the draft is a crapshoot, this is likely to be a particularly bad crop of QB draft talent, and I think it’s likely that Heinicke would be better than any QB we’d get in the 2022 draft. If we aren’t able to trade for a high-quality veteran, I’d rather ride with Heinicke for another year and try to accumulate as much capital in the 2023 draft as possible. It all depends on the scouting evaluations though, and I’m no scout. If the scouts love one of the QBs in the 2022 draft, then we should take him if it doesn’t require too expensive of a trade up.
3 - What is Washington’s biggest strength? How should they be attacking the Eagles?
Washington’s biggest strength even right now is its run game. Our OL is mostly healthy and good at blocking the run and RB Antonio Gibson is a powerful rusher (when he isn’t fumbling the ball). However, the Eagles are also very good at defending the run, so that will be a bit of a strength on strength and I fear we may get gamescripted out of a committed rushing attack. I think our next best attack is a short-passing game that plays to Heinicke’s accuracy on short passes and plays more into the Eagles weakness in linebacker coverage and tendency to play soft coverage that allows short completions.
4 - What is Washington’s biggest weakness? What should the Eagles be looking to exploit?
Last week I would have said the key is pressuring Taylor Heinicke while containing him in the pocket to prevent him from running for a gain, since he seems more likely to turn into Bad Heinicke when pressured. That is still true, but with the mounting COVID cases, we have a lot more weaknesses on the roster to exploit. Honestly, at this point you can probably just stick to a traditional rushing attack, since almost our entire DL seems to be out with COVID.
5 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this season?
I expect the Eagles will win because I don’t think any team can be competitive with the number of players we’ll be missing this week. Hard to predict the score, but maybe something like 34 - 20. If Washington manages to keep the game competitive, it will speak well to their resiliency and coaching. Rest of season is also hard to predict because of the quickly-evolving nature of this COVID outbreak and the similar outbreaks that seem to be hitting a few other teams. Is this a particularly bad week or the start of an Omicron epidemic/cold-weather COVID surge? Last week I would have said I expect Washington to win the majority of our remaining games and clinch a wildcard spot, then maybe win a playoff game before getting eliminated. Now, I think we’ll be lucky to win half of our remaining games and the wildcard spot is looking less likely. We’ll see though, this team turned things around after the bye and could turn things around again if they can just get healthy.