Eagles-Redskins predictions from The Inquirer's beat reporters:
Should the Eagles be as concerned about Robert Griffin III as Chip Kelly and some of the players made it seem?
Jeff McLane: If Griffin gets out of the pocket and has room then the Eagles should be concerned. I was at the Meadowlands for Sunday's Redskins-Giants game, and while the Giants eventually kept him in check, Griffin looked more comfortable running Jay Gruden's offense than he had previously. He also looked more mobile (he ran five times for 46 yards). The key for the Eagles defense, and particularly linebackers Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham and Mychal Kendricks, will be to keep Griffin in the pocket. His struggles there persist. If the Eagles' secondary can hold its coverage (I know, a big if), then Griffin will be forced to check to his second and third reads, something he hasn't done with much success.
So I expect the Redskins to go heavy on the ground with running back Alfred Morris and that stretch play they love to run. The Eagles did a solid job of limiting Morris (77 yards on 23 carries) in the first meeting and their run defense remains a strength. Fletcher Cox has blossomed into one of the best defensive ends in the NFL. Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan have been consistent run stoppers all season. The Redskins don't have a particularly strong offensive line, especially if left tackle Trent Williams (shoulder) can't play. If the line is asked to pass protect more than necessary, it could get ugly for Griffin, who was sacked seven times by the Giants. Barwin, Graham (who will start in place of the injured Trent Cole) and Vinny Curry are likely licking their chops.
Zach Berman: I admit I've always been more of a Griffin guy than others, but the results from the past two seasons are hard to argue against. The one thing that stood out to me this week was the way the coaches spoke about his running ability. I know what typical platitudes are, and these were more than you see most weeks. They spoke specifically about his athletic ability and how he looked different against the Giants.
"If you sleep on that guy, trust me, [reporters] will be sitting here after the game going, 'Boy, he went for a hundred yards against you, how did that happen?'" Chip Kelly said.
This isn't Russell Wilson. But I do believe Kelly when he says Griffin can still escape and hurt you in the open field. The Eagles need to do everything they can to make Griffin a pocket quarterback. Plus, Griffin and the Redskins are prone to sacks. The Eagles pass rush has been able to get to quarterbacks this season. They need to get to Griffin and be disciplined in their rush.
I don't think Griffin looks like the 2012 version on Saturday, but I do believe he will be better than the version that was benched earlier this season. It won't be enough, though.
If you're the Redskins, you have to stack the box and force Mark Sanchez to beat you, right?
McLane: Washington had success slowing the Eagles on the ground in the first game (54 yards on 24 carries), especially LeSean McCoy (19 rushes for 22 yards). But center Jason Kelce left with a groin injury and by the end of the game Todd Herremans was the only remaining regular on the offensive line. Defensive end Jason Hatcher and inside linebacker Keenan Robinson were big reasons why the Eagles never got much going, but both could be sidelined on Saturday. The Redskins still have Chris Baker and Jarvis Jenkins up front and outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy (cheap shot: drafted after Marcus Smith) have done a solid job on the edge. After getting torched on the ground in Kelly's first game last year (263 yards and a 5.4-yard average), Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has done a much better job of scheming to slow the Eagles run game (3.2-yard average in two games).
So Haslett may not need to bring the safety up as often. The Redskins secondary needs all the help it can get. Redskins corners Bashaud Breeland and David Amerson have been picked on all season. Safeties Ryan Clark and Phillip Thomas aren't much better. Sanchez should have opportunities downfield. He hasn't taken many chances of late (he attempted only two passes over 20 yards last week and both were incomplete). The Eagles have said defenses are taking away the deep ball, but Jeremy Maclin should be able to maneuvering underneath. He had arguably his best game of the season (eight catches for 154 yards and a touchdown) in the first game. If the line can protect Sanchez against a solid pass rush led by Kerrigan (12-1/2 sacks), and he continues to get the ball out quick, the Eagles offense should be able to move the ball
Berman: That seems to be the way to go. And if Sanchez can't move the ball on this defense, then the Eagles don't deserve to win the game. Washington has allowed the third most yards per catch of any team this season. They could not contain Maclin in that first game. Jordan Matthews also had a good day. I'd pay attention to that Matthews-E.J. Biggers matchup. He allowed two touchdowns last week. Sanchez has a comfort level with Matthews. This could be another good game for him.
The Eagles just need more plays, so it's going to be up to Sanchez to extend drives. The Eagles cannot expect to run 45-55 plays and win. It's easy to point to the third downs, but the problem is they face too many third-and-longs. Sanchez and the running game must do better on first and second downs to get into more manageable situations. And then, obviously, turnovers. That's not only on Sanchez. McCoy and Brent Celek have both had costly fumbles in recent weeks. If they cut out the turnovers and get into more manageable third downs, the Eagles can blow away a defense like this. And I expect the running game to be much better than the first meeting with a healthy offensive line.
Who is your stud and dud for the Eagles?
McLane: I like Graham's chances against an injured Williams. If he doesn't play, it's a mighty fall to the next man up. Graham will mostly rush from the right in Cole's spot, but he said he will likely get some opportunities when Barwin gets a rest. Smith, back to outside linebacker, will spell Graham when he moves over. It won't happen much, but there should be plenty of chances for Graham to get after Griffin. I'm forecasting two sacks.
As for a dud, I'll stay away from Bradley Fletcher (There's a rule on picking him two weeks in a row, correct?) and go with Andrew Gardner. I thought he performed better against the Cowboys than he had the week prior vs. the Seahawks (the difference in talent may have contributed). But Hatcher, if he plays, will be a tall test for the right guard. If not, Frank Kearse (three sacks) should also be a handful for Gardner.
Berman: I'm thinking on the same wavelength as you, but I'm looking at the other side. My stud will be Connor Barwin. I don't think right tackle Tom Compton will be able to contain Barwin, who has 14.5 sacks this season. Compton has allowed six sacks in the past five games. Barwin is relentless, and he's smart when facing mobile quarterbacks about not over-pursuing on the rush. I think Barwin continues his Pro Bowl bid on Saturday.
My dud is Nate Allen. Allen has had some good games this season, but he's the last line of defense against DeSean Jackson. That resulted in an 81-yard touchdown in the first meeting. I wouldn't be surprised if Jackson goes deep again.
I know some readers think we bring up Jackson too often, so let's remove any of the Jackson-Eagles soap opera history from this prediction. The Eagles have allowed 14 passing plays of 40 more yards, which is second most in the NFL. Jackson has ten 40+ catches this season, which is the most in the NFL. On the surface, that's a matchup to watch. Jackson is not always locked in – Gruden said he wants to see more from him – but he'll be ready for Saturday. And I pick Allen only because he's usually the deep safety, so he's the one who will be tasked with the help on the deep passes.
What's your prediction?
McLane: The Redskins nearly beat the Eagles back in September, but the team that will host the Birds on Saturday is a shell of that unit. They've lost six in a row, have a quarterback the coach clearly doesn't care much for and a bunch of players just playing out the string. Griffin has his talents, but he can get spooked in the pocket. The Eagles pass rush has been potent for most of the season and against this line I think they will dominate up front. Cox will push the pocket and Griffin will be bottled up with Barwin, Graham and Curry rushing from the edges. Jackson remains a deep threat and will likely bring his "A" game against his old team. But he's not 100 percent healthy and Griffin has struggled finding the explosive receiver.
Sanchez hasn't been great the last two weeks, but I think he rebounds and takes advantage of a porous secondary. I think the Eagles win, 30-17, live another day, and possibly more with the Colts a good bet (in my humble opinion) to beat the Cowboys the next day.
Berman: I won't overthink this. The Eagles are favored by more than a touchdown on the road, Washington has lost six consecutive games, and the Eagles have not lost to a team with a losing record this season. They're the better team and match up well. I actually expect this game to be less of a question than the first meeting in September. Maybe Griffin and/or Jackson can pull off big plays, which is what Gruden wants – he said the Redskins need those plays and not 15-play drives to score. But they won't have enough to beat the Eagles.
The offense has a bounce-back performance, the pass rush looks sharp, and the Eagles head back to Philadelphia with a 34-24 win. They watch that Cowboys-Colts game rooting for Andrew Luck (and T.Y. Hilton's health) on Sunday.