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What to watch in the Eagles-Washington season opener | Early Birds

The biggest storylines going into the Eagles season opener at Washington on Sunday.

Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. (7) passing under pressure from defensive end Chase Young during practice Aug. 31.
Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. (7) passing under pressure from defensive end Chase Young during practice Aug. 31.Read moreAlex Brandon / AP

Good morning, Eagles fans. Depending on when you’re reading this, we are roughly 48 hours from the kickoff of the Eagles' season at FedEx Field against the Washington Football Team. This is the last newsletter you’ll receive between now and then, so later we’ll go over the biggest things to watch in the first NFL action of the Eagles season.

Doug Pederson will meet with reporters via videoconference again Friday morning, and the team is set to practice around noon. We’ll get our first game-status injury report after practice, which will give us a glimpse at where players such as Miles Sanders, Lane Johnson, Derek Barnett, and Jalen Reagor are going into the game.

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Things to watch Sunday

1. Will the speed pay off? The Eagles prioritized speed at every turn, especially in the NFL draft, when they added three receivers with ample athleticism. If Jalen Reagor is able to overcome his shoulder injury and play, we’ll get our first look at whether this newfound band of burners on the perimeter is going to elevate an Eagles offense from the plodding, methodical ways of 2019. DeSean Jackson’s absence for most of the year cost the offense, which was in the bottom third of the league in explosive plays according to Sharp Football Stats. It will take longer than one game to get a definitive answer about the team’s philosophy change, but this will be the first look we get at how things are expected to work.

2. Sloppy play could be one of the biggest features of the season opener. Teams haven’t had OTAs or preseason games going into Week 1, so there’s bound to be some rust early. Players and coaches have predicted miscues, lower-scoring games, and just general sloppiness early in the season. The Eagles' defense was ahead of their offense for much of training camp, so I’d guess that defensive advantage could carry over to the first time the teams pop enemy pads.

3. Chase Young is making his NFL debut after Washington took the defensive end second in last April’s NFL draft. Washington doesn’t have swaths of talent at many spots, but its defensive line should be a bright spot with Young now in the fold. He had 16.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss last year for Ohio State and could be the next former Buckeyes pass rusher to make an immediate impact after Nick and Joey Bosa both earned defensive rookie-of-the-year honors after dominating in Columbus.

4. Darius Slay will get his first chance to show the Eagles what they got when they sent a third- and fifth-round pick to Detroit for the cornerback. The Eagles are hoping they have a true No. 1 corner capable of taking away opposing teams' best receivers. The first test will come against Terry McLaurin, who torched the Eagles twice last season as a rookie, catching 10 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns in their two meetings.

5. Can Carson Wentz finally recapture what made him one of the league’s best quarterbacks in 2017? Wentz has a new cast of playmakers with an emphasis on perimeter speed to complement the physical presence Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert pose in the middle of the field. Wentz finished last season on a high note, but has ground to make up if he wants to rejoin the top tier of QBs. He looked like an MVP in the season opener against Washington last year, throwing two touchdowns to Jackson. A hot start this Sunday would help his case.

6. Avonte Maddox is quietly one of the most important players on the Eagles defense. He’s starting as the outside corner opposite Slay, which should lead to extra targets if teams choose to avoid Slay. Maddox is undersized for the role at 5-foot-9, but the Eagles are confident he can overcome that with his quickness and leaping ability. He’ll get his first test against 6-4 Washington receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden, especially if Slay follows McLaurin.

7. Whether Dwayne Haskins will be a long-term solution at quarterback for Washington is unknown, but he’s the guy for the start of the season. Haskins has to overcome the shortcomings on Washington’s offensive line and the lack of weapons outside of McLaurin to prove himself a viable starter, but he’s got a strong arm and functional athleticism. He isn’t mentioned in the list of young quarterbacks with a chance to have a breakout year, but he could flip the script against the Eagles.

8. The Eagles defensive line is going to be relied upon heavily this season, especially the high-priced trio of defensive tackles. We might not get the first look at the group with Javon Hargrave active — the team’s big free-agent signing is dealing with a pectoral strain and a hamstring injury — but Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson are still a pairing that could, and should, dominate games.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Carson Wentz is entering his fifth season as Eagles quarterback, and Paul Domowitch explains how he’s grown into his leadership role, both on and off the field.

  2. Domowitch also offers up his weekly scouting report, previewing the key matchups and factors in Sunday’s game.

  3. In such an unpredictable season, David Murphy argues the continuity between Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz will be a major advantage for the Eagles this year.

  4. Zach Ertz said he’s growing frustrated with the contract negotiations between him and the Eagles, questioning whether the team wants him to finish his career in Philadelphia as badly as he does. Les Bowen has the story.

  5. In terms of containing the coronavirus, training camp was a success for the NFL. But bigger challenges and the risk of long-term health complications still loom heavy over the season, as Bowen details.

  6. Jalen Reagor was a full participant in practice Thursday despite having a shoulder injury that was expected to cost him a few weeks. Read about that and the rest of the Eagles' injury report here.

  7. Jason Peters has moved to left tackle, and now he’s been rewarded with a reworked contract, as Bowen writes.

  8. I and the rest of the Eagles beat-writing crew made our predictions for the NFL season. Who was our pick for the Super Bowl? Find out here.

  9. Marcus Hayes goes through the three most interesting questions going into the season opener, which include Jalen Hurts and Jason Peters.

  10. The Eagles' special teams had a track record of being one of the best in the league for a time. Domowitch explains why the team will need its special teams to be special again.

  11. DeSean Jackson spoke with reporters for the first time since he shared anti-Semitic views on social media. Bowen recaps what Jackson had to say about what he’s learned since the mistake.

  12. For the first time in 44 years, Merrill Reese won’t be at the Eagles game, because of coronavirus precautions. Domowitch caught up with the broadcaster about why he’s at peace with the circumstances.

  13. Looking for some action on the Eagles season? Ed Barkowitz has the best lines for Carson Wentz’s MVP odds and more.

  14. Rounding out the NFC East previews, Marc Narducci outlines the Cowboys ahead of their season opener.

From the mailbag

Are expectations too high given the state of our WRs? — from Brad (@DogfishBradford) on Twitter.

Good question, Brad. I’d say the most common prediction I’ve seen for the Eagles season is 9-7 or 10-6. I think those predictions are pretty accurate to where the team should be going into the year, and I’d actually argue the bigger concern is the offensive line rather than the wide receivers.

Wentz has proven he can make things happen with replacement-level receivers or even worse, especially considering he has Ertz, Goedert, and Sanders even when discounting the wideouts. Assuming they’re all healthy, you add Reagor and DeSean Jackson into that mix, and there’s a lot to work with. A resurgent JJ Arcega-Whiteside helps, too.

The thing I’d be far more worried about is this offensive front. Again, Wentz has overcome bad perimeter threats, but he has done so with at least two or three elite talents protecting him. This team is a Lane Johnson injury away from an instability up front that it hasn’t seen in many years.