Five straight losses, a quintet of heartbreaking, gut-wrenching and soul crushing defeats.
The Philadelphia Eagles will have to put the burden of their past against the Washington Redskins behind them on Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field, but Carson Wentz will be having a lot more weapons to play with and Ryan Kerrigan won’t be salivating at a matchup towards Halipoulivaati Vaitai or Matt Tobin.
Will things be different this time around in a critical season opener for the Birds?
RELATED: Expect a Balanced Eagles’ Defensive End Rotation this Season
EAGLES PASSING GAME VS. REDSKINS PASS DEFENSE (Stats from 2016)
PHI- 79.2 Passer Rating (27/32), 224 YPG (24/32)
WAS- 91.1 Passer Rating allowed (22/32), 258 YPG allowed (25/32)
Carson Wentz was sacked nine times in two meetings against the Redskins last season, five in Week 5 and four more in Week 14. The only other team to have at least four sacks against the Birds were the Green Bay Packers. Ryan Kerrigan recorded 3 1/2 of his 11 sacks against the Birds, including 2 1/2 against rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai making his first NFL start. Matt Tobin allowed the game-ending, strip-sack to Kerrigan in Week 14. As long as Lane Johnson doesn’t do anything stupid from now until Sunday, he’ll be on Kerrigan and that is a huge upgrade.
Josh Norman said Dez Bryant was “just a guy” and called Odell Beckham a “kid” during an interview with Bleacher Report in May, but didn’t take a shot at new Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. He did state that he had Jeffery already circled on his schedule.
Well, things have now come full circle.
The former Bear Jeffery caught five passes for 92 yards during a 41-21 loss against the Redskins and Norman last year, including a 37-yard reception. He hauled in six balls for 97 yards in a 31-24 defeat to Norman and the Carolina Panthers in 2014. According to Scott Barrett of Pro Football Focus, Jeffery’s three best routes are Norman’s three hardest to cover. Jeffery loved to run the fade and comeback combination while with the Bears.
Alshon Jeffery is almost the perfect counter for Norman. His three best routes are Josh Norman’s three worst routes! pic.twitter.com/14Qo3Q1QJf
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) June 4, 2017
You can make the argument that Norman is the top zone cornerback in the league, but when it comes to man-to-man coverage, there’s a drop-off. Whenever these two match up, Jeffery routinely gets inside positioning on Norman by beating his press at the line of scrimmage with hand-fighting. Jeffery leaps over top of Norman and uses his physical frame and strong hands to win the 50-50 fade and back-shoulder balls.
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden explained how tough of a matchup Jeffery is.
When we played him last year he had some big plays against us. We know what kind of threat he is. He has the speed to beat you vertically, but the strength to catch all the intermediate stuff and run after the catch. He is one of those all-around receivers you have to be aware of at all times.
It’s a sexy individual showdown that historically favors Jeffery. Norman did record a pair of interceptions during their duel last season, which just shows how much of an impact he can still make even if he’s being beaten most of the time. Norman got his hands underneath a Matt Barkley wobbler following heavy pressure on his first pick and didn’t bite on a Jeffery stutter-and-go before hauling in Barkley’s dreadful toss for his second.
Jeffery is obviously not the lone weapon Wentz possesses. Torrey Smith signed during the offseason and caught a 50-yard bomb from Wentz in Week 3 of the preseason against the Miami Dolphins, Zach Ertz despite all the scrutiny is a threat as a receiver even if he doesn’t move forwards after catching it, fourth-round rookie Mack Hollins flashed and any help from new slot receiver Nelson Agholor is a plus. These “weapons” were non-existent last year, which would’ve helped against a Redskins defense that ranked 28th in total yards allowed and dead last in third-down conversions yielded.
So if Lane Johnson can handle Kerrigan, that should give Wentz and company enough time to unleash on a vulnerable secondary, which is currently scrambling to adjust their safety situation with the sudden retirement of last year’s second-round pick Su’a Cravens. Fans in Washington are furious for his decision to abruptly walk away from the game one week before a critical opener against a divisional opponent. Hard-hitting D.J. Swearinger will remain one starting safety, the other will be occupied by Deshazor Everett, who injured Darren Sproles last year following a punt when he launched himself at Sproles’ head. Everett apologized for the shot afterwards. Beshaud Breeland starts opposite of Norman and Quinton Dunbar is a solid nickel corner.
EAGLES RUNNING GAME VS. REDSKINS RUN DEFENSE (Stats from 2016)
PHI- 4.1 YPC (18/32), 113.3 YPG (11/32)
WAS- 4.5 YPC allowed (27/32), 119.8 YPG allowed (24/32)
The Eagles indeed kept five running backs and we’ll be seeing less of LeGarrette Blount running along the perimeter, which infuriated the Philadelphia fanbase and made them reminisce of the Chip Kelly and DeMarco Murray fiasco during the preseason. The number of Blount’s touches will be dictated upon whether the Eagles are playing with a lead in the fourth quarter. The rumbling 250-pound bowling ball averages 4.7 yards per carry in the final frame, up from his 4.4 career mark. With Blount working the interior, Wendell Smallwood will be galloping along the perimeter and Darren Sproles running routes out of the backfield and in the slot.
Philly, of course, kept both undrafted rookie Corey Clement and struggling fourth-rounder Donnel Pumphrey, who would’ve been cut had he not been traded up for in the fourth. He carried the ball 26 times for only 49 yards, a putrid 1.9 yards per carry. He tied Hollins for the team’s preseason receptions lead, but Hollins’ 13 catches went for 139 yards as opposed to Pumphrey’s 72. Clement on the other hand totaled 105 yards on 28 attempts and looks like the better back right now.
The game looks too fast for Pumphrey at the moment, and Eagles head coach Doug Pederson had a lot of plans for him. He had him lining up in the slot, with Sproles in pony packages and in the backfield during OTAs and Training Camp. That’s a lot to digest for a rookie. I wouldn’t give up on him yet, but he certainly has a long, long way to go.
The Redskins didn’t stop the run well last year and replaced the underrated Chris Baker with rookie 3-4 defensive end Jonathan Allen, a projected top-10 pick that fell to No. 19.
REDSKINS PASSING GAME VS. EAGLES PASS DEFENSE (Stats from 2016)
PHI- 85.7 Passer Rating allowed (11/32), 240 YPG allowed (13/32)
WAS- 97.4 Passer Rating (7/32), 297 YPG (2/32)
Kirk Cousins got slapped with the franchise tag for a second-straight year, again having to prove himself to earn that extension. With a hound of critics surrounding him last season, Cousins put up great stats, 4,917 yards with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, but faltered during a win-and-in Week 17 showdown against the New York Giants. He threw an interception with less than two minutes remaining in Giants territory, essentially sealing the eventual 20-10 New York victory.
I also believe he’s great aided by an exceptional offensive line, arguably a top five unit in the NFL and one that give Cousins a lot of time to throw. While the Redskins registered nine sacks against the Eagles last season, Philly put up just two against Washington. Trent Williams is arguably a top three tackle and boy it’d be fun to see what rookie first-round pick Derek Barnett can do against him if matched up one-on-one.
Cousins will have new pieces to play with after veterans Pierre Garcon and former Eagle DeSean Jackson decided to sign elsewhere. Washington brought in free agent Terrelle Pryor and hope that last year’s first-round pick Josh Doctson is fully healthy following an Achilles injury, landing him on IR early on in the season. Jackson was a huge thorn in the Eagles’ side after Chip Kelly inexplicably cut him. Thank god Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll have been replaced by Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills.
Jordan Reed, a walking injury waiting to happen, is actually set to play in this one and is also a thorn in the Eagles’ side. He wasn’t listed on the initial injury report released by the Redskins Wednesday after being nagged with a toe injury. He had nine receptions for 126 yards and two scores in a pivotal Week 16 matchup against the Birds in 2015. He basically didn’t play against the Eagles last year, missing the first game with a concussion and attempting to gut out the second one with a shoulder injury before departing with a single catch for 10 yards.
An X-factor for the Redskins will be shifty slot receiver Jamison Crowder. It appears as if Patrick Robinson is set to be the nickel cornerback and is a better fit there than the outside. He severely struggled during the early portion of Training Camp, but improved as the preseason went along.
REDSKINS RUNNING GAME VS. EAGLES RUN DEFENSE (Stats from 2016)
PHI- 4.1 YPC allowed (22/32), 100.9 YPG allowed (16/32)
WAS- 4.5 YPC (9/32), 106.0 YPG (21/32)
Washington doesn’t possess great running backs, but that great offensive line makes everything tick. Whether it be Rob Kelley or rookie Semaje Perine, the Redskins have made it work in the past. Chris Thompson is also a solid pass catcher out of the backfield and someone you can’t take your eye off of on third down. Philadelphia was average statistically in regards to run defense last season. Fat Rob put up 59 yards on five carries in the first meeting between the teams and churned out 63 and a score on 16 totes in the second.
It will not be six in a row for the Redskins, and Eagles fans will be singing Hail to the Gingers sometime late during Sunday afternoon. The addition of Alshon Jeffery and return of Lane Johnson will make the difference offensively. Nine sacks in two games is a ton to give up, I think the Eagles will do a better job of standing Wentz upright despite Johnson’s struggles during the preseason. I still think Cousins and the Redskins offense will be able to move the ball through the air primarily through Reed. Crowder is also someone to keep an eye on. I think Wentz leads the Eagles on a late field-goal drive and the defense will preserve the victory.
You can follow Adrian Fedkiw on Twitter (@AdrianFedkiw) and e-mail him at email@example.com. Subscribe to The Bitter Birds on YouTube here. Follow Philly Influencer on Twitter (@PHL_Influencer), Facebook and Instagram.