The Eagles will host the Redskins at 1 p.m. Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in the season opener. Here is a scouting report, including a prediction:
After finishing 30th in the NFL in overall rush average (3.9) and plunging from second to 25th in first-down rush average (4.1), the Eagles upgraded the running back position in the offseason, trading for ex-Bear Jordan Howard and selecting Miles Sanders in the second round of the draft. Howard led the NFL in first-down rush average as a rookie three years ago (5.7), but both his first down and overall rushing numbers have dropped the last two years. The Eagles think he’ll be much more productive running behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. Sanders has breakaway ability, as well as underrated inside power. At Penn State last year, he converted 26 of 27 situations of 2 yards or less. The Eagles had just 45 runs of 10 yards or more last year. They had 66 the year before. The Redskins were 17th in rushing yards allowed (116.3 per game) and 18th in opponent rush average (4.5) last year. They have a solid interior line duo in Jonathan Allen and nose tackle Da’Ron Payne. They also added safety Landon Collins, who should improve their run defense.
There are no questions about Carson Wentz’s ability. When he’s healthy, he is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He just needs to stay on the field. Wentz will be surrounded by one of the most talented receiving corps in the league. The Eagles added DeSean Jackson, still one of the league’s most feared deep threats at age 32, and 6-2, 225-pound second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside to a wide receiver corps that already had Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor. Then there’s tight end Zach Ertz, who is coming off a 116-catch season. And the Eagles hope to use their running backs much more in the passing game. Jackson has led the league in yards per catch in three of the last five seasons. His speed is expected to create more space underneath for Ertz and the Eagles’ other tight end, Dallas Goedert. The Redskins’ secondary was ranked 23rd by Pro Football Focus. They don’t have a lot on the back end beyond Collins and Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman. Their other starting CB, Fabian Moreau, broke up just four passes last season.
Running back Derrius Guice missed his entire rookie season with a torn ACL. The 5-11, 224-pounder will rotate with 34-year-old Adrian Peterson. Peterson finished eighth in the league in rushing last year with 1,042 yards, but he faded in the second half of the season. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry in the Redskins’ first seven games, but just 3.3 in the last nine. The left side of the Redskins line is a mess. Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams is a holdout. They signed former Giants first-round bust Ereck Flowers and have moved him inside to left guard. The Eagles run defense was inconsistent last year. They finished seventh in run defense (96.9 yards allowed per game), but that was only because teams averaged a league-low 20.7 rushing attempts per game against them. They finished 21st in opponent rush average (4.7). The Eagles brought back defensive end Vinny Curry, who is a solid run-defender. But there are questions at linebacker heading into the season.
Veteran Case Keenum had a career year with Minnesota in 2017, throwing 22 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions. But he wasn’t nearly as good last year in Denver with a much less talented cast around him, and he doesn’t have a much better cast around him in Washington. His best receiving weapons are tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis and third-down back Chris Thompson. They lost dangerous slot receiver Jamison Crowder to free agency (he signed with the Jets) and will replace him with 2018 seventh-round pick Trey Quinn. They also are hoping for a right-away contribution from third-round rookie Terry McLaurin. Up front, 36-year-old Donald Penn will fill in for Williams until/if he returns. Assuming defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and defensive end Derek Barnett are completely recovered from their injuries (neither played in the preseason), the Eagles have the makings of a fearsome pass rush, particularly inside, where defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will rotate Cox, Tim Jernigan, and newcomer Malik Jackson.
It’s probably nothing to worry about, but kicker Jake Elliott, who made 26 of 31 field goal attempts last year, was a bit inconsistent in the preseason, missing 40- and 41-yard attempts. Elliott finished seventh in touchback percentage last year (70.4). Punter Cameron Johnston had an outstanding rookie year. He finished third in gross average (a franchise-record 48.1 yards per attempt) and fourth in net average (42.7). Thirty-six-year-old Darren Sproles is back to handle the punt-return duties. In five seasons with the Eagles, he has averaged 12.1 yards per return. He missed 10 games last year with a hamstring injury and averaged just 8.3. Corey Clement likely will handle the kick-return duties, though he probably won’t get many opportunities Sunday against Redskins kicker Dustin Hopkins, who had the highest touchback percentage in the league (81.2). Hopkins has missed just 6 of 46 field-goal attempts over the last two years. Punter Tress Way finished ninth in net average (41.5) and put a league-high 41 punts inside the 20.
The Redskins have lost four in a row to the Eagles and have converted just 9 of 42 third-down opportunities in those four games. Their new quarterback, Case Keenum, finished 28th in third-down passing last year with the Broncos.
Eagles 27, Redskins 13
Eagles RDE Derek Barnett v. Redskins LT Donald Penn: Penn, who will start in place of holdout Trent Williams, is a three-time Pro Bowler. He’s a run-blocking mauler. But he’s 36 and missed 12 games last season with a groin injury. Barnett is coming off shoulder surgery. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Eagles WR DeSean Jackson v. Redskins CB Fabian Moreau: At 32, Jackson still is one of the most dangerous deep threats in the NFL. With Josh Norman expected to spend much of the game covering Alshon Jeffery, Moreau is going to have his hands full with Jackson. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Eagles RT Lane Johnson v. Redskins OLB Ryan Kerrigan: This battle almost always is worth the price of admission. Johnson, who has been slowed by a left knee injury this summer, didn’t give up a sack, hit, or hurry in two games against the Redskins last year. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Faster start. The Eagles scored a league-worst 41 points in the first quarter last season. That needs to change.
The DeSean effect. Jackson’s speed, and the impact it has on defenses creates space for the rest of the team’s receivers.
Getting in Case’s face. The Eagles’ interior pass rush is going to be a key to their defensive success this season.