For the first time since 2016, the Eagles won’t be participating in the playoffs. For the first time since 2015, the Washington Football Team can make it to the postseason if it can beat the Eagles on Sunday at the Linc.
This is a difficult game to break down since the Eagles likely will limit the playing time of many of their starters and veterans so that they can get a look at many of their younger players and backups. But that’s why they pay us the big bucks.
When Eagles run the ball
The Eagles’ ground game has gotten a huge boost from Jalen Hurts. In the first 12 games, the Eagles averaged 116.2 yards per game on the ground and 5.0 yards per carry. In Hurts’ three starts, they’ve averaged 171.3 yards per game and 5.5 per carry. Hurts is averaging 6.2 yards per carry the last three games, with 11 runs of 10 yards or more. The Eagles have 28 rushing first downs in the 14 quarters since Hurts replaced Carson Wentz. Hurts has 17 of them. In Hurts’ three starts, the Eagles are averaging 5.1 yards per carry on first down, including 6.8 by Hurts. Miles Sanders is the only player in the league with three runs of 70-plus yards. But since Week 4, he’s had just three games with more than 80 rushing yards.
With the Eagles eliminated from the playoffs, Doug Pederson likely will give Boston Scott and Jordan Howard more work Sunday. Scott has just 17 rushing attempts in the last seven games, though he’s averaging 7.4 yards per carry on those 17 attempts. Howard has played in just two games since being signed to the Eagles’ practice squad in late November. Washington is 12th in run defense (112.5 and opponent rush average (4.2), but has struggled against teams with running quarterbacks. Arizona rushed for 160 yards against them, including 67 yards and two TDs by Kyler Murray. Seattle had 181, including 52 on six carries by Russell Wilson. And Baltimore rushed for 144 yards against Washington, including 53 and a TD by Lamar Jackson.
When Eagles throw the ball
Hurts has an impressive 123.5 passer rating in the first half in his three starts, including five touchdown passes and no interceptions. But he hasn’t done nearly as well in the second half. Hurts has a 48.3 completion percentage and a 6.1 yards-per-attempt average in the final two quarters of his three starts. Seven of his nine sacks also have come after intermission. The Eagles’ wide receivers, who have been largely unproductive this season, have played much better with Hurts at quarterback. They combined for 441 receiving yards and four touchdowns in the last two games. Averaged 11.0 yards per target. In the previous five games, they combined for 384 yards and two TDs and averaged a puny 5.0 yards per target. With neither Alshon Jeffery nor DeSean Jackson expected back next season, Pederson probably will sit them or at least limit their playing time Sunday and play more of his younger wideouts, including fourth-round rookie John Hightower, who has been inactive the last three weeks. In the Eagles’ Week 1 collapse against Washington, Wentz completed 14 of his first 18 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns as the Eagles jumped to a 17-0 lead. But he completed just 10 of his 24 passes for 88 yards and two interceptions and was sacked eight times. Washington has only allowed 21 touchdown passes, which is the fourth fewest in the league. Their 44 sacks are just two fewer than the Eagles have, and their 14 interceptions are the 10th most in the league.
When Washington runs the ball
Washington is 26th in rushing (100.5) and rush average (4.0). Antonio Gibson played in Sunday’s loss to Carolina after missing the previous two games with a turf toe injury. He had 61 yards on 10 carries against the Panthers. Gibson, who was used primarily as a slot receiver in college, is big. He’s 6-feet and 228 pounds, but has 4.39 speed. He leads Washington in rushing with 720 yards and 11 touchdowns, and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He’s also a dangerous screen weapon in the passing game. Gibson has a pair of 100-yard rushing performances this season, both against the Cowboys’ league-worst run defense. The Eagles held him to 36 yards on nine carries in Week 1. Washington isn’t particularly committed to the run. They’re 25th in rushing attempts (24.9 per game) but may rely on the run a little more than usual Sunday to take some of the heat off of their quarterback, probably Alex Smith, who is expected back Sunday after missing the last two games with a calf strain. The Eagles are 24th in run defense (127.3) but 11th in opponent rush average (4.2). They struggled against the Cowboys last week after six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox suffered a stinger early the game. Cox has kept blockers off the linebackers. But with him out, Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 78 yards in the second half against the Eagles. Seven of his 11 second-half carries gained five yards or more.
When Washington throws the ball
With an opportunity to make the playoffs for the first time since 2015, Washington hopes to get Alex Smith back for this game. But that’s not a sure thing. Taylor Heinicke, who signed with the team four weeks ago, took the first-team reps at practice on Wednesday. Heinicke, an Old Dominion product, has just one career start. That was with Carolina in 2018. Dwayne Haskins, the team’s 2019 first-round pick, who started against Carolina but was replaced by Heinicke in the fourth quarter, was released earlier this week.
Smith has missed the last two games with a calf strain. Washington lost both games, scoring a total of 28 points. Smith, who came back from a career-threatening knee injury that caused him to miss the entire 2019 season, has won four of his five starts this season. He has a 66.1 completion percentage in those five starts but just three touchdowns and three interceptions. Washington is expected to be without its best wide receiver, Terry McLaurin, who missed the Carolina game with a high ankle sprain. McLaurin has a team-high 80 receptions for 1,078 yards and three touchdowns. With McLaurin sidelined, Smith/Heinicke figure to rely heavily on Gibson and the team’s other running back, J.D. McKissic, in the passing game as well as tight end Logan Thomas. Thomas has 69 receptions and five TDs, including one against the Eagles in Week 1. The Eagles’ front four is the engine of the defense. But Cox probably won’t play Sunday, and the status of defensive ends Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat, both of whom missed the Dallas game with injuries, is uncertain.
Jake Elliott is 27th in FG accuracy (career-low 73.7%). He’s made 14 of 19 attempts. Three of his misses were from 52-plus yards. But he also has missed 22- and 29-yarders. Washington PK Dustin Hopkins, is 25th in FG accuracy (career-low 78.1%). He’s 25-for-32, including 38-, 43- and 44-yard misses, but has made 11 of his last 12. Eagles P Cam Johnston has dropped to 13th in net average (40.9) after spending much of the season in the top 5. He had a punt blocked in the Arizona game two weeks ago and had a 17-yard blooper in Sunday’s loss to Dallas. Washington P Tress Way is third in net average (44.7). Jalen Reagor likely will get some more punt return opportunities Sunday since the Eagles are out of the playoff hunt. He had a 73-yard TD return against Green Bay earlier this month, but special teams coordinator Dave Fipp has preferred to use sure-handed Greg Ward. Washington is seventh in the league in punt coverage, holding opponents to 6.0 yards per return. Washington’s return teams aren’t very good. They are averaging just 5.4 yards on punt returns and 20.8 on kickoff returns.
Washington is playing for a spot in the postseason. The Eagles are playing for pride. That about covers it.
Eagles 27, Washington 17
Eagles LT Jordan Mailata and RT Matt Pryor vs. Washington DEs Chase Young, Montez Sweat and Ryan Kerrigan: Young, Sweat and Kerrigan have combined for 20 sacks. Mailata struggled last week against the Cowboys’ Randy Gregory, and Pryor struggles against, well, everybody.
Eagles LBs T.J. Edwards and Alex Singleton vs. Washington RBs Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic: With McLaurin not expected to play, Washington is going to be putting a bigger emphasis on the run, particularly if Fletcher Cox doesn’t play.
Eagles QB Jalen Hurts vs. Washington front seven: Hurts has averaged 6.2 yards per carry since replacing Wentz. He has 17 of the Eagles’ 28 rushing first downs in the last 14 quarters. Washington has struggled to contain running quarterbacks.
Keys to the game
No second-half letdown for Jalen. Hurts has a 123.5 passer rating in the first half of his three starts and a 53.7 rating in the second half. He’s averaging 9.9 yards per carry in the first half and 3.9 in the second half. He needs to react better to defensive adjustments.
Win the turnover battle. The Eagles had a minus-3 turnover differential in their Week 1 collapse against Washington. They are 29th in turnover differential (minus-9) and have won just four turnover battles all season. They’re 3-1 in those four games.
Enough with the self-inflicted wounds. The Eagles had 12 penalties in Sunday’s loss to Dallas. That’s their most since 2016. Eight were pre-snap infractions, including six – count ‘em, six – false starts. They were in Cowboys territory on eight of their 13 possessions and scored just 17 points because the penalties kept stalling drives.