The Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) are playing the Washington Football Team (6-9) at FedEx Field on Sunday. In order to preview this Week 17 game, I reached out to our enemies over at Hogs Haven. The astute Andrew York kindly took the time to answer my questions about this upcoming tilt. Let’s take a look at the answers. (Don’t forget to check out HH for my side of the exchange.)
1 - After losing to the Eagles in Week 15, WFT got absolutely destroyed by Dallas. To what extent do you believe in them bouncing back against Philly this weekend? Anything that inspires confidence?
Well, the biggest thing to inspire confidence is getting most of our players back from COVID/reserve. We were still down quite a few players against Dallas, including our entire starting LB group. As I write this Wednesday night, we have returned 26 players from COVID/reserve and only have 5 still on COVID/reserve. A full week of practice ought to help too, even if many of the team meetings are virtual due to the enhanced COVID protocols the team is in.
There was another incident that cast a shadow over the team last week, which was a tragic car accident involving backup safety Deshazor Everett on Thursday night. Everett lost control of his car while driving on a windy road, causing the car to roll over and collide with trees. Everett was seriously injured in the accident and his girlfriend, Olivia Peters, was killed. This was obviously a tragedy that goes beyond football, but it also affected the team pretty deeply. Everett has been with the team since 2015, has been a Team Captain representing special teams for the last 3 years, and is one of those low-key leaders that non-WFT fans probably haven’t heard of, but is actually an important person in the locker room and is close to many of the other players. That accident clearly weighed on the team going into the game, but now the players have had more time to process it.
In addition to those factors, I think it’s likely the team is going to be pissed off after getting humiliated in primetime last week. I think they will come out very motivated to play and prove that they aren’t as terrible as they looked last week. Will that be enough? Probably not, but we’ll see. I think this game could go either way, though I still think it’s more likely that the Eagles win.
2 - Ron Rivera said: “Will we play Kyle [Allen]? Probably. But we’re going to stick with Taylor [Heinicke] for now.” What the heck does this mean? What do you make of how WFT is handling their QB situation?
Hard to know for sure, but I think Ron is saying Heinicke is still the presumed starter, but Ron is ready to bring in Kyle Allen if Heinicke shows signs of struggling like he has in the last 2 games. It also might mean there are specific plays where they might want to replace Heinicke with Allen to take advantage of Allen’s arm strength. There are certain throws Heinicke just seems unable to make due to his weak arm, so it might make sense to bring in Allen for a few snaps in those situations, particularly if opposing defenses cheat closer to the line to take away the short passing game. It’s also possible that Ron is indicating that if the team loses this Sunday and the playoffs are out of reach, Kyle Allen will finish the season for us. That could be valuable for evaluating the entire offense with a different QB to see how things change and if certain players (particularly pass catchers) are able to do more. The team will have to make some important decisions regarding pass catchers entering their contract year or free agency this offseason, so having an additional data point with a different QB could help with those decisions.
I think the WFT is doing its best to make lemonade out of the lemon of a QB situation it has. It’s important to remember that the team’s intended starter at QB was Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he only survived 1.5 quarters of play in the regular season. Everything that has happened since then has been an attempt to make the best out of an unexpected situation. I’ve described Heinicke before as having Brett Favre’s mind in Colt McCoy’s body. Like Brett Favre (who happened to be Heinicke’s childhood hero), Heinicke has a gamer mindset and will do everything possible to keep his team in the game. He also loves going off-script and doing the unexpected. The problem is in the “Colt McCoy’s body” side of things, namely that he has a weak arm and has a tendency to ignore his limitations in an attempt to make the big play. He also tends to throw caution to the wind when the team is down by more than a score or he gets pressured early, leading to throws into double and triple coverage. His intangibles are through the roof though and it’s clear the players rally around him and want to play for him, so I can understand why the coaches went to him as the presumed starter.
However, as time has gone on, it’s become more clear Heinicke lacks the physical ability to execute the full offense and opposing teams have become better at gameplanning for him, bringing coverage closer to the line to deny the short passing game and using formations and spies to keep him confined to the pocket and deny his ability to make plays with his legs. Kyle Allen is more of a standard backup; not as much of a leader as Heinicke, but more able to execute a standard NFL offense and take the plays that are given to him. Since Heinicke seems to have really struggled and regressed in his last couple of games, I think it makes sense to give Heinicke the start to see if he rebounds, but be ready to pull him for Kyle Allen if it looks like he’s going to have another bad day. Either way, neither of these guys is likely to be the presumed starter long term.
3 - Assuming they don’t make the playoffs (7% chance currently according to FiveThirtyEight), who is most to blame for WFT missing the postseason? (Obviously there have been injuries and COVID issues but I’m talking about what could be controlled.)
I would blame the defensive coaching for our slow starts, though it’s hard to say how much of that blame falls on Ron Rivera (a defensive head coach), DC Jack Del Rio (the fan-favorite person to blame for our defensive struggles), or the position coaches. Regardless, this is the second year under this coaching staff that the defense has had a slow start and routinely given up 30+ points in their first 6 games or so. This defense is too talented to perform that poorly, especially when most of the problems seem to be issues with communication and handing off assignments in zone coverage. Other teams have their defense ready to play week 1, there’s no reason we should be different. If the defense could have played as well week 1 as it did in our 4 wins since the bye, I’m confident we would have won our games against the Chargers and Saints this year. That would have given us a buffer to lose a few games due to COVID outbreaks later in the season. Instead, it seemed like they treated the first 6 weeks of the season like the preseason, leaving us in position to need to win out later in the season.
It’s also possible that with hindsight, people will blame Ron for not trading up for Justin Fields or Mac Jones, or not taking Davis Mills in the 2nd or 3rd round. All of those QBs were accessible to this team without trading the farm. Even before Fitzpatrick’s injury, it was clear that QB was a need and this was a very QB-deep draft. Completely punting on the position could be the biggest mistake.
4 - Let’s say the Eagles and Cowboys meet in a playoff game, as is currently projected to occur in the first round. Which team is the lesser of two evils for Washington fans and why?
Ah, the old “Hitler vs Satan” rooting dilemma. I think the answer to this question mostly depends on the age of the fan. Older fans who lived through the historic Redskins/Cowboys rivalries of the 80s and 90s will probably always see the Cowboys as the bigger evil/rival and always prefer to see them lose. “Dallas Week” is still up there with Christmas as a special time of year for those fans and there will never be an equivalent for facing Philly or NYC because neither can conjure the nostalgia of those golden years.
It’s a bit different for younger fans who didn’t experience those golden years for Washington. Younger fans still resent Dallas as being unjustifiably labelled “America’s Team” when it’s more accurately labelled “America’s Most Wanted” due to the numerous off-field problems of their players. Younger fans still get annoyed at how many former Cowboys players get hired as commentators by the media and how much the media hypes up the Cowboys every offseason only to see them fail in the postseason (though the latter is fun). But those fans don’t have as much reason to care about the rivalry because Washington hasn’t been a relevant part of that rivalry since the 90s. In addition, the Cowboys haven’t had much postseason success themselves since the 90s. I think younger fans consider the Eagles the bigger rival because they’ve had more recent postseason success. In addition, if we’re being honest, Philadelphia doesn’t have the best reputation for the behavior of their fans. The attack on Chief Zee is a particularly egregious example, but there are plenty of others.
For myself, I’d be rooting for the Eagles to beat the Cowboys in the 1st round of the playoffs if they get matched. I’d root this way primarily because I think the Eagles would be the least likely to advance further into the postseason and I wouldn’t want either team to have more playoff success than is necessary. I also think it would be hilarious for the Cowboys to win the division, have great statistical success through the season and get lauded by the media as a contender, then get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. It would just be very Cowboys of them to get all the hype and fold right away.
5 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are some of your expectations for this upcoming offseason?
I think the Eagles win, but I think it’s a close, hard-fought game. Maybe something like 24-21 in favor of the Eagles. I do think the WFT will rebound after being embarrassed in Dallas in primetime. If we don’t, it’s an indication the team has given up and is out of the control of the coaching staff. Last game, the Eagles OL owned our DL, but I’m expecting/hoping our DL can put up a better fight this time.
My main expectation for the upcoming offseason is that we land another QB, whether via trade or FA/draft. I think this will be Ron Rivera’s last chance to put his fingerprints on things.