Last season Washington ran the table for 7 straight victories after a 3-6 start. Finding themselves with the same record and another opportunity to turn the tables in the NFC East, they travel to Philadelphia where their rivals have lost 10 in a row at home.
There has been some banter about quarterback Robert Griffin III’s leadership, as well as the decision-making of the Shanahan coaching staff in the headlines. Well, they were all on the same page last week: the defense survived a goal-line stand to halt the visiting Chargers to a field goal, and that resulted with the ground and pound offense sealing the deal on the first drive of overtime.
Running back Alfred Morris has been relentless for a season and a half now, and that has opened things up for tight end Jordan Reed to breakout. With speed receiver Pierre Garcon, he’s explosive as ever with his only issue being durability. Those weapons surround the dual-threat quarterback that looks more comfortable with each week, however has been a victim of the sophomore slump.
The defense looks great on paper but it’s not holding its end of the bargain by ranking in the bottom 5. Sure, they have a strong linebacker core on paper: London Fletcher, Perry Riley, Brian Orakpo, and Ryan Kerrigan. The thing is, the front trio in the 3-4 defense isn’t getting any push on the line nor clogging the gaps. Then you look at the secondary that gets dissected with regularity. Although Deangelo Hall continues to play at a high level, he is a playmaker, not a shutdown cornerback. So far they give up the second most points per game while forfeiting the sixth most yardage.
This week presents the challenge to avenge week one’s home loss against Philly. They can return the favor if they get the running game going early, which includes RGIII using his legs to keep an underrated run defense honest. The usual gameplan won’t change: success on the ground lures a safety in the box that gives you one-on-one matchups off the play-action. Plus, when a defense finally believes they figured out a way to contain the big plays downfield, that’s where the running quarterback can break a defense’s back for a scrambling first down or touchdown. They need to control the ball, milk the clock, and keep Chip Kelly’s offense on the sidelines by wearing down a defense that gives up the second most yardage.
Speaking of the Eagles offense, they are spearheaded by LeSean McCoy. Shady was my preseasonchoice to win Offensive Player of the Year and he currently leads the league in rushing. Last week he led a 9-minute drive, impressively running out the clock to win at Green Bay. Some of his teammates were sprinkled in on the action in a group effort. Forget about him when they drop back to pass and he will get the ball in space, where he has been the best in the business with juke moves and cut backs.
Much of the talk however, has been about quarterback Nick Foles’ emergence in the expected absence of Michael Vick. I have to tell you, last year when he was drafted, I was posting in Eagles forums, clamoring for Foles to start day one, yes as a rookie. When Vick isn’t on your favorite team, it’s easy to fall in love with few-and-far between highlights and it’s exciting to watch because he makes not only his, but the other team both look good as well by committing a ridiculous amount of turnovers. And for the hundredth time, Foles plays in the mold and has the mobility comparable to Aaron Rodgers, just not at the elite level with a slightly slower 40-yard dash time.
The measurements tell part of the story. It’s a reach to say Vick is six feet tall, he struggled to look over his offensive line and throw across the middle. Now, insert a 6’6 gunslinger that takes care of the football. Understand that money is part of the reason Philadelphia tried to get as much out of Vick before his predictable injury. He’s probably played his last game which will no longer handcuff a franchise, and even if Foles isn’t the guy down the road at least they get a bigger sample size before a quarterback-heavy draft.
Oh and for the record, Coach Kelly’s offense works when his starting QB finishes the game. They are the best rushing team in the league and 4th in total yards.Dynamic receiver Desean Jackson is torching secondaries this season, that along with a change at the helm has thrusted Riley Cooper into the spotlight as of late.
Some things you might not know about the defense. They ranked 13th against the run and 8th in the redzone. The strategy of bending works now that they’re forcing turnovers. The cornerbacks are physical on the outside, and Brandon Boykin is looking like the best nickel cornerback in the game. The weakest link is at safety where they are very inexperienced. Demeco Ryans is leading verbally and by his performance up to this point. Last year’s draft is paying off in the defense: linebacker Mychal Kendricks has been active in the box, Fletcher Cox is anchoring the defensive line that has seen a drop off in Trent Cole. Brandon Graham has excelled in his limited role behind Cole, definitely should be playing more snaps.It was only a matter of time before Vinny Curry earned more playing time, he’s disruptive when healthy.
The Eagles play fast and score points, and might become well-rounded if they can keep putting teams away by controlling the clock like last week. If the defense keeps holding ground in the redzone, this could be one of those teams that you can’t beat by settling for field goals. I predicted Philadelphia to win the division and they have become the flavor of the week favorites. The have become a pick-your-poison team to defend, which means they should finally snap out of that home funk to take the division lead with Dallas on a bye. They would really be flying high by notching three straight W’s heading into a bye week of their own.
Prediction: Eagles 30, Redskins 24