Five on the Redskins
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Things are starting to get real for a Philadelphia Eagles team facing some adversity for the first time during the 2016 season.
A stiff one-two combination starting with a tough one-point loss in Detroit followed by the other shoe dropping with the Lane Johnson suspension has Philadelphia facing the crossroads as it prepares to head south on I-95 to face off with the suddenly streaking Washington Redskins in a key NFC East matchup.
Here are five things you should know about the 3-2 ‘Skins entering Sunday's game:
NO KISSING COUSINS
Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins has piled up the passing yardage in his three career matchups with the Eagles, averaging a gaudy 360.7 passing yards per game (his most against any single opponent) and throwing eight touchdowns and only one interception.
Obviously, that will have to change if the Eagles plan of escaping Landover ahead of the Redskins in the standings.
“He doesn't really favor one guy or the other,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said of Cousins. “ (He) moves the ball around to a lot of different players. He has enough arm strength to attack the whole field. He can throw the ball deep over the top and that fits DeSean Jackson. ...He’s a challenge for us.”
Jay Gruden has plenty of playmakers at his disposal, including former Eagles speedster Jackson and stud tight end Jordan Reed, and he’s been using them very effectively.
Through the first five weeks of the season, the Redskins are producing at a near franchise-record pace, amassing 5.98 yards-per-play, slightly behind the 6.17 standard of the 2012 team.
“That's a good offensive skill group,” Schwartz said. “[They have a] heavy running back (Matt Jones) that can make yards in between the tackles. He runs through contact. Complementary back in (Chris) Thompson that's good on the perimeter. One of the marquee tight ends in the NFL (Reed). Their leading receiver can play down the field, can make plays short, plays like a wide receiver.
“Then a lot of different kinds of wide receivers. I didn't know a lot about (Jamison) Crowder just because he was a rookie last year and not being in this division. But that guy is a good player in the slot. Makes a lot of plays. He is a key part of their third-down offense. We all know Jackson and his ability to make a big play. Then Pierre Garcon sometimes gets overlooked in that crowd. But he is another guy that can move the chains, can make plays, can run after the catch....Everybody is going to have to do their part across the board. In some ways, a little bit like Pittsburgh. They have a lot of different receivers, a lot of different body types, a lot of different guys to use in a lot of different ways.”
When you average almost 6.0 yards per offensive play, three-and-outs aren’t going to be much of a problem and that’s held true for the Redskins. Through their first 53 offensive possessions of the 2016 season, Washington has only four three-and-outs. The impressive 7.5 percent rate is tops in the NFL.
En route to every single one of their practices, the Redskins pass two tackling dummies with footballs attached to their arms via velcro. Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry encourages his defenders to knock the balls loose before they hit the field in order to put the idea of forcing fumbles in their minds.
And it has worked. Washington has forced at least one fumble in 11 straight games dating back to last season and its 29 forced fumbles since the start of the 2015 season is the most in the NFL over that span.
The obvious spot to watch is veteran Ryan Kerrigan against Eagles rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
“I expect him to play well and I expect him after the game to say, ‘This was easier than I thought it was going to be,’” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said of Vaitai. “Not that it's not going to be tough; it's going to be a fight. But I think he's going to say, ‘Yeah, I belong.’”
THAT STAR POWER
The Redskins have real stars on both sides of the ball in Reed and cornerback Josh Norman. Reed, however, is currently in the concussion protocol and Gruden has claimed Washington will be taking the “cautious approach” with the athletic pass catcher, who already has 33 catches for 316 yards and two touchdowns this season.
"He just had some symptoms, it doesn't mean it is" a concussion, Gruden said. "We just want to make sure we take the right steps."
On defense All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman is capable of shutting down one side of the field against an Eagles’ receiving corps that remains a sore spot for the team.
“Norman is a great corner,” Reich admitted. “He’s got great vision and great instincts. He’s got some length and good ball skills. Again, I think for Carson (Wentz), (when facing) guys of that caliber, you look forward to going against the great ones. You really do.”
973espn.com Prediction: It becomes a lot easier for the Eagles if Reed is not on the field so that’s something to keep an eye on as the week progresses. If the tight end is out there, it then becomes about making the Redskins one-dimensional and the best way to do that is to get an early lead and then stop Jones and the running game. My guess is the Eagles struggle a bit with all the Washington weapons, Redskins 27, Eagles 21.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen