When the Eagles run
The Eagles' rushing offense has gone through a two-week spell averaging 3.1 yards per carry. One of their worst rushing games of the season came in the first meeting against Washington, when the Eagles rushed for only 54 yards. The offensive line was in shambles that afternoon and is improved now. But the Eagles must play better than they have in recent weeks, and they also must play with a lead and accumulate more plays. The Eagles have averaged 21.5 carries during the last two games after averaging 38 carries in the previous three.
LeSean McCoy averaged 4 yards per carry Sunday and has rushed for only four touchdowns this season. All three rushing touchdowns against Dallas came from other Eagles running backs. Pay attention to whether the Eagles continue going to Chris Polk and Darren Sproles near the goal line. Both players figure to be a part of the Eagles offense, but McCoy is still the primary rusher.
The Redskins have the No. 7 rushing defense in the NFL, holding opponents to 101 yards per game. Their top tackler is linebacker Keenan Robinson, although he has been limited by a knee injury. Defensive end Jason Hatcher is a productive player; a knee injury could keep him out Saturday. Rookie Trent Murphy has played well at outside linebacker.
When the Eagles pass
The Eagles moved the ball through the air against the Cowboys, but they were still not efficient enough. Quarterback Mark Sanchez is the starter again and must limit his turnovers after throwing two interceptions against Dallas. It will help that he's going against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL.
The Redskins are ranked 17th against the pass at 237.9 yards allowed per game, although they are No. 31 in passing touchdowns allowed and No. 30 in yards per attempt. So, Sanchez should be able to move the ball against the Skins if he does not throw the ball to them.
Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin thrived in his last game against Washington, catching eight passes for 154 yards and one touchdown. The Eagles are not getting enough production from Riley Cooper, who is supposed to complement Maclin. No. 3 receiver Jordan Matthews is having a strong season and played well in the first meeting with Washington.
The Redskins' starting cornerbacks are Bashaud Breeland and David Amerson. Breeland, a rookie fourth-round pick, will be tasked with staying with Maclin. Slot cornerback E.J. Biggers will likely draw Matthews again. The pass rush is hurt by the loss of Brian Orakpo. The Skins still have Ryan Kerrigan (12 1/2 sacks) rushing from the left side, presenting a major challenge. The potential absence of Hatcher would hurt them.
When the Redskins run
Washington is ranked 20th in the NFL at 106.2 yards per game. Top running back Alfred Morris has 948 yards and could crack the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season. Morris has struggled in recent weeks, failing to top 4 yards per carry in the last three games after a positive stretch in November. Morris was held to 77 rushing yards in the first game against the Eagles.
Washington likes to use stretch running plays, which will be a point of emphasis for the Eagles. They also must account for quarterback Robert Griffin III, who looked more mobile against the Giants after sitting on the bench. Redskins center Kory Lichtensteiger is having a solid season, and Trent Williams is one of the NFL's top young left tackles.
The Eagles' rushing defense has been a strength this season. They did a nice job in the last two games against two of the NFL's best running backs, with Fletcher Cox continuing to excel. Brandon Graham has played well against the run and will see a jump in playing time with Trent Cole out. Linebackers Connor Barwin and Mychal Kendricks will be key in making sure Griffin doesn't have a big game on the ground.
When the Redskins pass
The Redskins threw for 427 yards against the Eagles in the Week 3 meeting, which is the most the Eagles have allowed this season. That came with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, and the offense has not been the same with Griffin. Washington still has the 10th-ranked passing offense in the NFL at 252.4 yards per game, and its best chance of beating the Eagles is with big plays through the air.
The Eagles must be cognizant of old friend DeSean Jackson, who leads the NFL with 10 catches of 40 or more yards this season. Jackson has been slowed by a shin injury in recent weeks, but when healthy, he can stretch defenses. He has 957 yards this season, including 117 yards in the first meeting. Jackson beat the Eagles secondary for an 81-yard touchdown. The Redskins have not received the same type of production from Pierre Garcon, who has 62 catches for 638 yards after a standout 2013 campaign. Tight end Jordan Reed, who missed the first game, also can create mismatches. Williams is their top offensive lineman, but he's playing with an injured shoulder. Redskins quarterbacks have been sacked 53 times this season, the second-highest total in the NFL.
The Eagles' pass defense will be under the microscope after Bradley Fletcher allowed three touchdowns to Dez Bryant. Fletcher will likely be on Garcon. Cary Williams will be on Jackson. The safeties also will play a major role. Graham will have more chances to rush the passer. But the Eagles lack depth behind him. First-round pick Marcus Smith could see action. Barwin has 14 1/2 sacks this season, and situational pass-rusher Vinny Curry needs one sack to reach his goal of 10.
The Eagles special teams had a gaffe Sunday and must recover against Washington. They scored on a kick return in the first meeting, and the Redskins also have allowed a punt-return touchdown this season. The Eagles have the top return units in the league. Kicker Cody Parkey and punter Donnie Jones are having strong seasons. Redskins returner Andre Roberts has not been able to break a big return on kickoffs or punts.
The two teams enter Saturday in different places, with the game more meaningful to the Eagles. "We need wins, and they're a team trying to finish the season out," McCoy said. "You play hard, but you probably have your flights already scheduled." Griffin's return to the starting lineup adds intrigue to the game. The teams combined for six personal fouls and two ejections in the first meeting, so there could be bad blood. Both teams are playing with one fewer day of rest than usual. The Eagles have not lost to a team with a losing record this season. Chip Kelly is 3-0 against Washington.
Zach Berman: Eagles 34, Redskins 24