In Week 4, it’s not just one player that the Eagles will need to concern themselves with, but four: Namely, defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, and defensive ends Montez Sweat and Chase Young.
They are all first-round draft picks. They are all talented, and they will try to wreak havoc on the Eagles this Sunday when Washington visits Lincoln Financial Field at 1 p.m. in the Eagles’ first NFC East game this season.
In Week 10 last year, Washington wrecked the Eagles’ undefeated season with a 32-21 victory, when the Commanders entered the game as 11-point underdogs. In that game, Allen, Payne and Sweat were in on a combined six tackles (Young played in just three games in 2022, rehabbing from a torn ACL and ruptured patella tendon). This season, the quartet, with a healthy Young, has combined for 6.5 sacks.
When asked this week what he felt was the strength of the Commanders’ defense, which is currently ranked No. 14, two places behind the Eagles, Eagles’ offensive coordinator Brian Johnson said, “Obviously, that front four is as good as anybody in the NFL when you talk about [Commanders DT] Jonathan Allen and [Commanders DT Daron] Payne and [Commanders DE Montez] Sweat and [Commanders DE] Chase Young, all of those guys, they can wreak havoc. I think that’s something that obviously is going to be a huge focal point for us in the game is that matchup.
“We have to do a great job of trying to put our guys in the best possible. I know everybody is excited to get going on Sunday.”
How to offset the Commanders’ front is to run the ball right at them. Washington is ranked No. 22 against the run, allowing an average of 128.7 yards a game, and No. 27 overall by allowing an average of 4.8 yards a carry.
The Eagles are currently No. 2 in the NFL in rushing, averaging 185.7 yards a game, averaging 4.9 yards a carry, which is No. 5 in the NFL.
This game will be the biggest test for second-year offensive lineman Cam Jurgens, who has done a very good job at right guard, stationed next to right tackle Lane Johnson. Allen is listed at 300 pounds and Payne is 320. They are large and mobile. Jurgens is generously listed at 6-3, 303, though he could be lighter.
Jurgens will no doubt get help inside from center Jason Kelce to his left and Johnson. But the Eagles may need added help to protect quarterback Jalen Hurts. Running at the teeth of the Commanders’ strength, as the Eagles did in handling Micah Parsons last year, appears to be the most effective way.
In the Buffalo’s 37-3 blowout of the Commanders last week, the Bills rushed for a season-high 168 yards, averaging 5.1 yards on 33 carries. It’s a blueprint the Eagles could use again, considering the way they have been pushing around opposing defensive lines, creating room for D’Andre Swift to rush for 308 yards in two games, which is second in the NFL behind only San Francisco’s Christian McCaffrey’s league-leading 353.
Joseph Santoliquito is a hall of fame, award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.