Location: FedEx Field – Landover, Maryland
When: Sunday, September 10 th , 2017
Time: 1:00 PM ET
Guys, it’s finally here. The Eagles’ preseason is over, and the regular season opener is upon us. The Birds are flying to FedEx Field to take on division rival, the Washington Redskins. This is an absolutely huge game for the Eagles. Not only because it’s the season opener and the team wants to set a tone to start the year, but also because of how the Eagles have fared in the past against Washington (not well, mind you).
The grading scale grades teams based on their overall league rank in the four (4) following categories:
1) Points Per Game
2) Yards Per Game
3) Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA): This is a method of evaluating a team’s efficiency. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. You can read more about it here:
4) Weighted Offense/Defense: Weighted Offense/Defense is adjusted so that earlier games in the season become gradually less important. It better reflects how the team was playing at the end of the season.
REDSKINS 5-YEAR PROFILE
The Redskins, over the last five years, have been up, down, and seem to be heading back up again. We all remember their 2012 season, which, at the time, rookie QB Robert Griffin III exploded. As far as the last five years go, the ‘Skins earned their best overall grade of a ‘B-‘ that year. After that, the team went through turmoil and dysfunction at all levels of the organization for about two years, as shown by the above grades.
And then, in 2015, something changed – the Redskins elevated Kirk Cousins to starting quarterback. Even though their overall grades in ’15 and ’16 were roughly middle of the pack, take a closer look at their offensive grades over the last two years: 62.5, 85.2.
Offensively speaking, it seems as though Washington has found success over the last two seasons. Their overall grades aren’t quite representative of how well their offense has really played. That can’t be understated enough. With that said, it could be tough for them to completely replicate that offensive success in 2017 while losing WRs DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. The Redskins will now rely mainly on the WR trio of Pryor, Doctson, and Crowder.
Overall and offensively, over the last five years, Washington is trending in the right direction. Defensively speaking, well, they have played poorly during each of the last five years. The team invested heavily on the defensive side of the ball during the 2017 draft to address this, and we should see some contributions from them come Sunday.
As we discussed above, the Redskins’ are a team trending in the right direction. While nine and eight wins over the last two years aren’t exactly terrifying, the Eagles have experienced first-hand just how balanced and efficient the ‘Skins can play at times.
While completely different teams, the Eagles and Redskins are similar in that they are both bubble-playoff teams with something to prove. The Eagles, however, might have something more to prove, seeing as how Washington has won the last five matchups, and seven of the last 10 between the two teams. Playing at FedEx Field, the Eagles have lost four of their last five.
It’s safe to say the Eagles have struggled mightily against Washington in recent years. This will obviously be a huge game for both teams, but from a pure competitive standpoint, I think the Eagles have a little extra reason to come out of the gates with a chip on their shoulders come Sunday. They simply need to prove that the last five years of struggling against the Redskins are behind them.
2016 REPORT CARD: REDSKINS’ OFFENSE
Points Per Game: B-
Yards Per Game: A
Defense-adjusted Value Over Average: A-
Weighted Offense: A
Overall Offense: A-
Diving into the Redskins’ 85.2, ‘A-“ offensive grade last season, you can see they graded out near the top of the league in each category.
The thing about the Redskins is, they are going to be tough. End of story. Eagles’ players and fans know, and probably cringe when thinking about the way the ‘Skins have manhandled our beloved Birds. The good news is, while I do believe they will be tough, I do think their offense regresses some in 2017. Don’t get me wrong, I am someone who thinks Kirk is a top-notch franchise QB, but losing Jackson and Garcon is going to hurt their offense.
Sure, the addition of Pryor is nice on paper, and, probably will be nice in real life too, but let’s wait to see what they accomplish during the regular season. I think overall, even if the offense regressed a bit for the Redskins, I think their defense and overall grades do have a good chance to improve.
I’m interested to see how their first-round pick from a year ago, WR Josh Doctson, plays in a full game. Doctson was out for almost the entirety of last season, so it’s hard to know what the offense will look like with him playing a major role.
One skill player for the Redskins’ I’m not so excited about seeing is WR Jamison Crowder. The dude flat out ate up the Eagles’ secondary last season. Aaaaand before I start having flashbacks, I’m just going to be done talking about him.
Another interesting facet of the ‘Skins offense to keep an eye on is their running game. Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson have already shown the Redskins what they can do. Obviously, it goes without saying that the most interesting piece here is rookie runner, Samaje Perine. How will Washington divide up touches amongst the three of them? How will Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson’s roles be affected with the arrival of Perine?
Looking back on the Redskins’ offensive and Eagles’ defensive grades from 2016 – daaaaang, are these teams close! Both units earned a 65.6 grade (Redskins in PPG and Eagles in PPG Allowed) – a stat that, in his most recent press conference, Eagles’ Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz said was the most important in his mind. The Eagles defense certainly looks to be improved this year so I like their chances in Washington against an offense that should come back down to Earth this season.
However, based on last season and the previous few seasons before that, and out of respect to their success against Philly, I am going to give the edge in this matchup to the Redskins. The thing is, the matchup between the Redskins’ offense and Eagles’ defense is so close, that, it really won’t take much to swing it in favor of the Eagles. Heck, it could very well already be.
2016 REPORT CARD: REDSKINS’ DEFENSE
Points Per Game (Allowed): C-
Yards Per Game (Allowed): F
Defense-adjusted Value Over Average: D
Weighted Defense: D-
Overall Defense: D
This is where the Redskins, at least theoretically, would like to HAVE TO see the most improvement. They spent their first three picks in 2017 on defense: Rd. 1: Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama; Rd. 2: Ryan Anderson, LB, Alabama; Rd.3: Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA.
Not that all three of those guys have to be starters by the end of this year, but, the team wouldn’t have drafted them so high if they didn’t think they could contribute in a year or two. We will be seeing these young guys in the mix before too long.
Another nice addition for the ‘Skins defensive unit was safety DJ Swearinger. He played terrific last season in Arizona and should be an immediate upgrade to their secondary. However, he will have some slack to pick up for a few weeks with fellow Redskins’ safety, Su’a Cravens, being placed on the Non-Football Exempt List.
Overall, it was a pretty poor showing for both of these units last season. With that said, while I think the Redskins’ offense vs. Eagles’ defense matchup will be much closer, I think the Eagles could potentially win this game with their improved offense.
There has been talk lately that CB Josh Norman will potentially shadow Alshon Jeffery throughout the game on Sunday. Although Norman is elite, I’m really not concerned by this. If that is the case, Alshon will win some battles, as I’m sure Norman will too – but after Norman, the Redskins aren’t particularly deep at corner. Breeland didn’t play well last season, and the Eagles will have plenty of options on offense to keep the Redskins guessing.
REDSKINS’ SPIDER GRAPH (2016)
This spider graph provides a further in-depth look at where the Redskins were successful last year, and where they more than likely tried to improve at during the offseason. Pretty easy to see that these two teams were very different last season.
Washington more or less dominated on offense last season with their balance and efficiency. Although impressive, like I mentioned above, it’s going to be hard for them to replicate that offensive showing. Unless their defense drastically improves, the Redskins will more than likely find themselves hovering around 7/8/9 wins once again.
On the other hand, with the promise the Eagles showed last year, combined with the additions they’ve made in the draft and throughout the offseason, I think this team is pointing upward, even more so than the Redskins. Obviously, we are all anxious to see Carson take that next step as a 2nd year QB. Additionally, I’m anxious to see just how dominant the pass rush can be, along with seeing whether or not we finally have some consistency at the corner spot.
SPOTLIGHT: THE QB’s
People can say what they want about Kirk Cousins, but his first two years in the league have been extremely impressive. He and Wentz were both among QBs with the most attempts last season, and you can see the difference between their play. Granted, Kirk probably had more to work with, and Carson was just a rookie last season, but I think the edge has to be given to Cousins. He is 4-1 against the Eagles in his career and has quietly been one of the best QBs in the league over the last two years.
This isn’t to say that Kirk is flat out the better quarterback. I mean, when discussing last year, he was, but I think we all understand the type of potential Carson showed as a rookie. What kind of step is he going to take this year?
I keep reading all of these articles containing similar notions such as: “No more excuses for Carson, the Eagles went out and got him weapons and now he has to perform.” Well, that’s true; the Eagles are certainly hoping for a big leap from Carson in year two. While I know this is the NFL and there is no such thing as patience, do we really expect Carson to be a finished product this year? It is going to take him some time. I think Carson is well beyond his years in terms of his mental capacity for the game, and his ability to quickly diagnose plays, but, let’s be realistic here – Carson needs a couple more years. He is firmly locked in as the face of the franchise and we as Eagles’ fans need to give this kid some time.
Obviously, the Eagles want to be aggressive and build the team up now to take advantage of Carson’s rookie contract. Teams are much less likely to go on a Superbowl run after handing out a large portion of the team’s salary cap to a star QB.
My point being, we all want to win now. That’s obvious. If Carson gets to year 4 and 5 and pulls a Bortles – continuing to make the same mistakes that he did as a rookie – maybe then it’s time to panic. The one edge I think Carson has on Cousins is simply that his organization is completely, 100% behind him. They believe in him. Not to say the Redskins don’t believe in Kirk, because quite frankly, it would be absurd if they didn’t, but the tension between Cousins, the coaching staff, and the front office has been well publicized.
SPOTLIGHT: EAGLES’ CORNERS vs. REDSKINS WRs
Arguably, this could be the biggest positional difference on the Redskins’ roster in 2017. The team lost two great players in Desean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, but still look relatively dangerous at the position.
Pryor is coming off his best professional season as a WR, finishing with 77 grabs, just over 1,000 yards, and four TDs. He did this playing for the Browns…
On the other side, the Redskins will hope for a productive, and more importantly healthy season from 2nd year man Josh Doctson. Doctson has great size at 6’2”, and should present a matchup problem for the smaller Eagles’ corners.
The Redskins return Crowder to play in the slot. I don’t think I need to remind Eagles’ fans what he did to us last year. It wasn’t pretty. He is a quick-twitch guy, and I think, even with the size concerns they may have on the outside with Pryor and Doctson, that Crowder is the player the Eagles need to focus on most.
I didn’t mention possibly the best pass-catcher on the Redskins, but that’s because he plays tight end. Jordan Reed is a matchup nightmare against any team, so long as he is healthy and on the field. While he is a great player, and I’m sure he will make a few big catches on Sunday, the Eagles have one, if not the very best coverage LB in the NFL in Jordan Hicks.
On the edge, the Eagles signed CB Ronald Darby to immediately step in as the teams’ number one corner. He has shown in his short two-year NFL career that he is athletically gifted enough to stay step-for-step with the top WRs in the league. However, as we saw in the preseason, Darby does need to do a little better job of locating the ball in the air, and high pointing it once the opportunity to make a play is there.
At the other corner spot, the Eagles are excited about the second-year LSU product, Jalen Mills. He simply has the mindset that Jim Schwartz wants in a corner. He is confident enough to face anyone and everyone – Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., Dez Bryant, etc. The Green Goblin is a baller.
In the slot, the Eagles’ will more than likely start veteran, Patrick Robinson. Robinson was up and down throughout training camp, but since moving permanently to the slot, has once again showed signs of life. The Birds’ did bring in Dexter McDougle, and we will have to wait and see how the lineup shakes out if/when Sidney Jones returns to action this year.
Overall, the Eagles’ corners will benefit from their vicious pass rush, but the reciprocal has to hold true as well. If, like in games past, the corners can’t hold up long enough for the pass rush to get home, Kirk is going to have another hay day.
PRO FOOTBALL FOCUS MENTIONS:
Cameron Wake has been a force for a while pic.twitter.com/wXZmTtysEa
— PFF (@PFF) September 7, 2017
It's not all about sacks pic.twitter.com/nDDW269ryx
— PFF (@PFF) September 6, 2017
“It’s not all about sacks.” When talking about the Eagles’ defensive line, the media has never given Brandon Graham the attention he so rightfully deserves. We hear the hype on the youngster Barnett, and we all know about the dominance that Fletcher Cox brings to the table, but Graham is vital to the success of the Eagles’ defense, and to the Eagles’ success overall.
PFF picks for the opening week of the NFL season! pic.twitter.com/R2Qq9bpbZZ
— PFF (@PFF) September 7, 2017
It’s nice to see the experts from PFF giving the Eagles some love, with 6 out of 9 analysts picking them to win in Washington. While I think the Redskins on paper might have the advantage in this game, it certainly isn’t by much. Beating the ‘Skins in week one at their home field is going to be no easy task.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports