By Kevin McGuire
Despite having a losing record following yet another national embarrassment, the Philadelphia Eagles can climb back into the driver’s seat of the NFC East this weekend against division rival Washington. The Eagles fell to Washington down I-95 earlier in the season, making this a revenge situation for the Birds. Do these Eagles have what it takes to score revenge and put themselves in a position to win the division and grab a playoff spot next week on the road? First thing’s first, and that is beating Washington.
At 7-7, the Washington Redskins are somehow sitting atop the NFC East in sole possession of first place of the division. Yes, the NFC East stinks, but thanks to a two-game winning streak it is Washington currently residing in first place. Washington already handed the Eagles one loss this season as well, winning 23-20 back in the fourth game of the season. Kirk Cousins tossed a short touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon with 26 seconds remaining for the win.
Washington on Offense
Washington still is not doing much extremely well on offense, but they are playing with a renewed sense of confidence if nothing else. Coming into the week, Washington ranks 15th in the NFL in passing yards with an average of 246.6 yards per game. Washington also ranks 16th in the NFL in scoring with an average of 22.6 points per game. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown for at least 300 yards in each of the last two games and three of the last four.
Jordan Reed has been the top wide receiver for Washington this season with 778 receiving yards and a team-leading nine touchdowns. Former Eagle DeSean Jackson should figure to be a key player as he looks to light up the Eagles secondary for some big gains, and possibly big scores. Jackson missed the earlier meeting between the two NFC East rivals, and you know he will want to have a big game to secure the NFC East in Philadelphia. Washington can do damage through the air, but to really take the Eagles out of the game it might be wise to stick to the ground and let Alfred Morris carry the football. The Eagles have been prone to giving up yards on the ground, and the inability to tackle is a big concern for Philadelphia. This is an area that could allow Washington to create an advantage.
Washington on Defense
Not that the Eagles have a special defense, but Washington’s is not much to write home about either. Entering the week, Washington ranks 25th in total defense, allowing 370.0 yards per game (Philadelphia ranks 29th, allowing 393.3 YPG). Basically, do not expect either defense to maintain control in this one. Washington has taken the football away from their opponents 21 times this season, but just nine of those have come by interception. Last week against Buffalo, Washington allowed 452 yards of offense to the Bills and 21 first downs.
At this point in the season there is no defense too weak to cause problems for Philadelphia’s offense. With the eagles always seeming to scramble to find a rhythm on offense, even an average defense like Washington’s can turn in a solid effort. Washington has just 24 sacks this season, but look for them to find a way to bring pressure on Sam Bradford and knock him off balance as often as possible.
Washington’s Players to Watch
WR DeSean Jackson: Last week against the Buffalo Bills saw the former Eagles receiver catch six passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. The highlight was a 77-yard touchdown. Jackson caught six of the eight passes intended for him, and he should create problems for the Eagles secondary.
S Dashon Goldson: Goldson should be pretty active in the middle in the secondary. The nine-year veteran leads Washington with 100 tackles this season. Against the Eagles receivers, Goldson should be looked to to break up some plays over the middle.
Any time DeSean Jackson gets a chance to return to Philadelphia, you know the tension is going to be ramped up a bit. In his first game back in Philadelphia last season, the tempers flared with some pushing and shoving. It remains to be seen if that same level of animosity will be there this week with these Eagles having the look of a team that has half checked out on the season. Whatever the case, Chip Kelly has his work cut out for him with the NFC East still on the line, for better or for worse. Containing Jackson will be key, but the defense simply has to figure out how to play fundamental football. Any time that is on your to-do list in Week 16 of the NFL season, things are not likely going well.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.