Five on the ‘Skins
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - You can't really talk about the latest incarnation of the Eagles-Redskins rivalry until you know if there is going to be a game as Hurricane Joaquin continues to threaten the entire Mid-Atlantic region.
Joaquin strengthened early Thursday, turning into a Category 3 storm as the eye of the storm sat about 80 miles southeast of San Salvador Island. The current forecast models threatened historic rainfall and potential flooding whether the storm makes landfall or not.
Most of the forecast models are sparing the East Coast entirely and predicting more of an easterly track up the Atlantic Ocean off the coast but even the best-case scenario has parts of Maryland getting drenched this weekend.
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In this era of safety first, it's entirely conceivable that the NFL decides to postpone things at the first sign of significant trouble with Nov. 1, Week 8 of the season a possible landing spot because that is the bye week for both Philadelphia and Washington. However, losing the bye isn't something the NFLPA would take lightly so a move back a day or two to Monday or Tuesday would be the far more likely logistical plan.
"There's been nothing told to us regarding potential changes for Sunday due to the weather," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said before practice Thursday. "We are preparing like we are going to play Sunday at 1."
ROCK YOU LIKE A HURRICANE
Whether you like his coaching style or not, Kelly's wit is as sharp as ever and he started Thursday's practice session with "Rock You Like a Hurricane" by The Scorpions. No matter what Sheena Parveen, Kate Bilo or Kathy Orr tell you over the next few days, it's pretty likely that it's going to be rainy in Landover so the running game figures to be important.
Obviously that aspect of the offense has been an issue for the Eagles this season and the DeMarco Murray/Ryan Mathews debate may be a moot one, at least this week. The Redskins have held each of their first three opponents this season to fewer than 85 rushing yards with the main impediment being 335-pound former Temple star Terrance Knighton.
"Pot Roast" came back to the East Coast from Denver in the offseason and has turned the Washington front into a very stout group, which also includes a top interior rusher in Jason Hatcher, and three capable edge rushers led by the always underrated Ryan Kerrigan and rookie Preston Smith.
So far Philadelphia's opposition has been giving the undersized Jason Kelce fits by putting a big body on his nose and Knighton may be the biggest body the struggling center sees all season as Washington attempts to hold an opponent under 85 again, something they haven't done in four consecutive games since 1989.
The Birds showed little signs of life against the Jets with Mathews as the bell cow instead of Murray but the raw numbers are still poor as Philadelphia is 30th in a 32-team league in rushing with just 193 yards on 72 attempts, a disastrous 2.7 yards per carry.
"They are second-ranked defense in the NFL right now, they can stop the run with their guys up front; they are gigantic up front," Kelly said. "I think Knighton may be the biggest inside guy in the league right now. They’ve got another real talented guy in Hatcher, who has been, whether we played against him in Dallas or Washington, he's a guy we have great respect for. He's a tremendous inside defensive lineman in this league."
Conversely, the Redskins running back duo of Alfred Morris and rookie Matt Jones has been very productive so far, combining for 388 rushing yards on 85 carries through three games.
"They function the same way," Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said of MoJo. "They are big, strong, downhill, break-the-tackle runners. They have the ability to go, but they really are downhill. They run the stretch game. They have added to their run game because (offensive line coach Bill) Callahan is over there, and they are really committed to the run game and it showed in the first three games. In the Giants game, they had to get away from it a little bit. I don't think they wanted to. But those two runners are solid, downhill tackle breakers."
Morris (199) and Jones (189) became only the fourth Washington duo since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger to open a season with each player having accrued 185 or more rushing yards through three games and overall the Redskins are fourth in the NFL in rushing with 143.7 yards per game.
"It’s real strong. They have really committed to (the running game)," Davis continued. "You can tell. It’s like how Dallas was committed to it last year. The Washington Redskins are committed to their run game. There's only one game, like I said, the Giants game, that they had to back off because of the score. But they are going to run the ball, and they are going to run it with a good variety of types of runs. There's not one type of run they come at you with. They are very committed to it and they are doing a good job of it."
Part of the improvement has been a significantly improved offensive line led by veteran left tackle Trent Williams and rookie top-10 pick Brandon Scherff although the unit took a hit when starting left guard Shawn Lauvao was placed on season-ending injured reserve with an ankle injury.
Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson did not practice on Wednesday and Redskins head coach Jay Gruden has downplayed the chances that the Ex-Eagle will be back in time to haunt his old team again. Jackson injured his hamstring Week 1 against Miami and was expected to sit for three to four weeks.
Last season after Kelly dumped Jackson off a career year, he lit up the Eagles with nine receptions for 243 yards (27.0 average) and one touchdown.
"We'll prepare for DeSean," Davis admitted. "I think he’s probably right on the verge of coming back and knowing DeSean, he will want to come back for this game, just to get back out there and help his teammates more than anything else."
Without D-Jack, the 'Skins, just like the Eagles, are far less explosive, and quarterback Kirk Cousins has been leaning heavily on tight end third-year tight end Jordan Reed, who leads the Washington in both receptions (19) and receiving yards (241), making this a tough matchup for inside linebackers Mychal Kendricks, who should be back from his hamstring issue, and rookie Jordan Hicks.
In fact, if Jackson is unavailable for the Redskins expect Davis to give Reed a heavy dose of Malcolm Jenkins.
"(Reed is) a match up that you have to deal with because he is a very gifted route runner and they are trying to give him the ball," Davis said. "He's a primary target on most downs."
RG3 now stands for Robert Griffin, third-sting quarterback.
The Redskins are usually battling Cleveland or Oakland for the mantle of the NFL's most dysfunctional team and little as changed this time around due to the soap opera at the quarterback position.
Gruden never liked Griffin's skill set for his offense but got his job by selling Daniel Snyder on the fact he could get the former Rookie of the Year back on the right track.
Instead it's been a disaster and Gruden has turned away from RG3 and hung his future inside the Beltway on Cousins, a streaky passer with a gunslinger mentality apt to turnovers.
Taking chances in this league is a fine line and one that needs to be traversed with care, instead of Cousins’ mentality of throwing it up and hoping for the best.
For all the criticism RG3 had received in D.C., Cousins now has 23 career interceptions, matching Griffin’s total despite the fact that the former No. 2 overall pick has about 600 more pass attempts. However, the Eagles understand just how hot Cousins can get at times because he threw for a career-high 427 yards at Lincoln Financial Field last season.
"Cousins is solid. Cousins is a great decision maker," Davis overstated. "I know he's thrown a lot of interceptions so far -- and some of those, I think there were just some individual breakdowns -- but as far as running and executing the offense, he efficiently gets his drop, gets his reads and makes his decision."
There is little doubt that Gruden’s real choice at the game’s most important position is not yet on his roster and, for the most part, Scot McCloughan agrees with that, although Gruden is probably not the guy the GM wants handing his own hand-picked answer.
Meanwhile, Snyder remains the wild card, ostensibly on board with shutting down the former face of the franchise despite the hefty price tag this season and the illogical one speeding down the pike. The third-string healthy scratch will make nearly $7 million this season and if he is still on the roster on the first day of the league year in ’16 he’s due $16 million guaranteed, a figure untenable for any backup.
And all of that means Gruden will never get the opportunity to create his own quarterback controversy because it’s obvious the coach doesn’t have the power to implement his vision. Coaches simply don’t keep scout-team safeties with hefty salaries who make their media duties more difficult on call but Gruden and McCloughan were forced to keep RG3 around.
And Griffin’s presence will remain a significant distraction moving forward and one sure to be brought up each time Cousins or backup Colt McCoy perform poorly.
This is a lost season for the Redskins and perhaps Snyder’s last attempt to save Griffin as a player with a redshirt year in the hopes the former Heisman Trophy winner can finally fully recover from the catastrophic knee injury that ended his brilliant rookie campaign.
So if you are looking for a good prop bet — take this one: Gruden will be out of the nation’s capital before RG3.
973espn.com prediction: Eagles 23, Redskins 17
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JFMcMullen.