The Eagles will head down I-95 to play the 3-10 Redskins at 1 p.m. Sunday in yet another probably-must-win game. They’ll be without a whole bunch of key players, including right tackle Lane Johnson and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. Can they win? Sure. Will they? Read on.
Here’s a breakdown of both teams heading into this NFC East matchup:
When the Eagles run
The Eagles, who likely will be without running back Jordan Howard (stinger) for a fifth straight game, also will be without Johnson, their Pro Bowl tackle who injured his ankle Monday night against the Giants. Johnson and right guard Brandon Brooks were a dominant run-blocking tandem, and Johnson’s absence is a blow. Since Howard got hurt, the focus of the offense has shifted heavily to the pass. The Eagles have a 32.9 run-play percentage in the last four games, compared with 45.1 in the first nine.
Rookie Miles Sanders had just 45 yards on 15 carries against the Giants, but he averaged 5.0 yards per carry in the two previous games, against Seattle and Miami. In his most meaningful work of the season, Boston Scott had 128 yards from scrimmage against the Giants, including 59 rushing yards on 10 carries. He had a big 25-yard run on the Eagles’ game-winning touchdown drive in overtime. Carson Wentz has 18 rushing first downs, most on quarterback sneaks.
The Redskins are 27th in run defense (134.8 yards per game) and 20th in opponent rush average (4.4). They gave up 174 yards Sunday to the Packers, including 134 yards on 16 carries to Aaron Jones.
When the Eagles throw
Carson Wentz notched only his sixth fourth-quarter comeback Monday night against the Giants. After completing 11 of his first 21 passes and averaging 4.7 yards per attempt, he finished strong, completing 22 of his final 29 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns.
The Eagles quarterback is operating with a patchwork receiving corps. His top three wideouts are either on IR or unable to play. That leaves tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert and rookie wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (eight catches) and Greg Ward (11 catches), who was on the practice squad a month ago.
Ertz is Wentz’s go-to guy. He has 79 catches, the most by any tight end in the league. In the last five games, he was targeted 55 times and had 42 catches for 403 yards and four TDs. But he will be the Redskins’ primary focus.
The Redskins held Aaron Rodgers to 195 yards and one touchdown last week and sacked him four times. With Johnson out, Halapoulivaati Vaitai will start at RT. He’s not Johnson, but if he could handle replacing Jason Peter at LT during their Super Bowl run two years ago, he can handle this. Washington is seventh in the league in sacks with 40, including 17 in their last three games.
When the Redskins run
Washington placed running back Derrius Guice (knee) on injured reserve this week, which means 34-year-old Adrian Peterson will be their primary ballcarrier.
Peterson doesn’t have the speed to get outside anymore, but he’s still a dangerous between-the-tackles runner who can make you pay for the slightest gap mistake. He’s averaging 4.3 yards per carry and had 76 yards on 20 carries last week against Green Bay. In Washington’s last four games, he averaged 4.4 yards per carry.
Since Jay Gruden was fired after five games and replaced by Bill Callahan, the Redskins have become much more run-dependent. In eight games under Callahan, they’ve run the ball on first down 122 times and thrown it 66. The Redskins rushed for 248 yards two weeks ago in their win over Carolina.
The Eagles are third in run defense (75.5 yards per game) and seventh in opponent rush average (4.0). They held the Redskins to 28 yards on 13 carries in Week 1. Just one of their last five opponents ran the ball more than 22 times.
When the Redskins throw
Rookie Dwayne Haskins, who will make just his sixth NFL start, still is in the deer-in-headlights stage of his development. He has a 61.2 passer rating and a 55.0 completion percentage. He has thrown just three touchdown passes and seven interceptions in 160 pass attempts and been sacked 22 times. Fourteen of those 22 sacks, which are the second most in the NFL over the last five games, came on third down.
Haskins has a 47.9 completion percentage on third down. The Redskins have converted just 30.1% of their third-down opportunities in Haskins’ five starts.
Rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin is the Redskins’ one legitimate deep threat. He’s averaging 15.3 yards per catch. In Washington’s Week 1 loss to the Eagles, he had five catches for 125 passes and a TD. Running back Chris Thompson is a third-down weapon who can do damage in space.
The returns of cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby seemed to stabilize the Eagles’ pass defense initially. But they took some hits the last two weeks. Darby was targeted 13 times in the last two games and gave up nine catches for 256 yards and three touchdowns. The Eagles have only two interceptions in the last six games. They’ll need to get consistent pressure on Haskins and force him into mistakes.
Jake Elliott was the last perfect field-goal kicker in the league, hitting his first 16 attempts. But he has missed two of his last four — a 49-yarder against Miami and a 47-yarder Monday night against the Giants. His 90.0 field-goal percentage still is the fifth best in the league.
Punter Cam Johnston is sixth in gross average (47.1) and fifth in net (42.8). He put five of eight punts inside the 20 against the Giants. The Eagles are 14th in punt coverage (6.7). In their last four games, they held opponents to 5.4 yards per return.
Punt returner Greg Ward has sure hands and has played it conservatively as far as fielding difficult balls. He has returned just 4 of 15 punts since taking over as the primary returner. He’ll likely get some return opportunities Sunday.
Redskins Punter Tress Way has the league’s second-best net average (43.6), but he has had more than half of his punts returned. Washington is 31st in punt coverage (10.1). Kicker Dustin Hopkins has made 20 of 25 field-goal attempts. He’s 7-for-10 from 40-plus-yards. Punt returner Trey Quinn missed last week’s game against Green Bay with a concussion. He was replaced by Steven Sims.
Interim coach Bill Callahan has the Redskins playing hard. They’ve won two of their last three games and played the 10-3 Packers tough in Lambeau last week. The Eagles, on the other hand, are spiraling. They’ve lost three of their last four and needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Giants. There’s also the short-week thing.
Eagles 20, Redskins 17
Eagles RBs Miles Sanders and Boston Scott vs. Redskins front seven: Sanders and Scott combined for 197 yards from scrimmage against the Giants. They need to be impactful in both the run and pass game against a Redskins defense that is 27th in run defense. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Eagles defensive front seven vs. Redskins RB Adrian Peterson: With Derrius Guice on injured reserve, the 34-year-old Peterson will be the bell cow. The Eagles are third in the league in run defense. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Eagles CB Ronald Darby vs. Redskins WR Terry McLaurin. McLaurin lit up the Eagles in Week 1. Darby’s confidence has taken some shots the last two weeks. He’ll need to keep the speedy McLaurin in front of him. ADVANTAGE: Even
Keys to the game
Make hay on third down. The Giants were just 2-for-12 against the Eagles on third down. Haskins has a 47.9 completion percentage and been sacked 14 times on third down in his five starts. Jim Schwartz’s defense will need to be able to get off the field.
Run the ball. The Eagles are missing their top three wideouts and still have a pathetic 32.9 run-play percentage in the last four games. They’ll face a defense that is good against the pass but gave up 134 rushing yards to the Packers’ Aaron Jones last week. Don’t make it rocket science, Doug. Hand the ball off to Sanders and Scott.
Get the ball out. Wentz got the ball out fast during his fourth-quarter/overtime reversal of fortune Monday night, often on screens and flares. With Lane Johnson out, that needs to be an even bigger priority. He can’t afford to sit in the pocket and wait a Redskins’ pass rusher to knock the ball out of his hands.