By Matt Szczypiorski, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
We’ve made it. Eagles football is finally back, and while it may look a little different with fans in the stands an unlikely scenario for this season, all that means is more people will join me in screaming at their televisions.
Oh how I’ve missed Zach Ertz’s inability to break tackles, Nathan Gerry getting juked out of his cleats, and the Eagles secondary getting burnt to a crisp.
And don’t you fret Eagles fans! We get to see the majesty that is Jason Peters’ half-second too early false starts for at least one more season. I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
1st and 15 all 2020. pic.twitter.com/zEByTUAphn— Victor Williams (@ThePhillyPod) August 27, 2020
For the third time in four seasons, the Eagles opening day game will be against the Washington Re-- ...I mean Football Team. As we all know by now, after many years of outside pressure, the Washington franchise was finally forced to change their nickname by the league.
They clearly had the creative juices flowing when they came up with this name.
It begins here... pic.twitter.com/CHCCZ64W81— Washington Football Team (@WashingtonNFL) July 23, 2020
My oh my, the things I would sacrifice to have been a fly on the wall in that meeting.
All joking aside, the Eagles and Washington have played in some really close contests over the past few years. Despite the narrow margins, the Eagles have come out on top in each of the last six meetings. Many of those games have provided some great memories for Philly fans.
Doug Pederson will be coaching against Ron Rivera, who will be making his head coaching debut for Washington (prayers to him, as he was recently diagnosed with cancer). The Eagles enter Sunday afternoon’s game in Landover as 5.5 point favorites.
Philadelphia Offense vs. Washington Defense
The Eagles offense opens the 2020 season with significantly less hype around it than years past. There were no splashy free agent additions or trade acquisitions on the offensive side. The only significant addition was first round pick Jalen Reagor.
Aside from that, the most notable news about the Eagles offense coming into Sunday is more about who they’ve already lost than who they’ve gained. Starting offensive lineman Brandon Brooks and Andre Dillard will each miss the entire season with injuries. Receiver Alshon Jeffery has made his way off of the PUP list, but has not practiced yet this week, so he will likely miss the opener.
The aforementioned Reagor was supposed to miss the first couple weeks of the season due to a shoulder injury suffered in a scrimmage. However, Reagor did something completely foreign to Eagles fans and fought his way back from injury in enough time that it looks likely he won’t miss any game time.
#Eagles HC Doug Pederson said they ramped up WR Jalen Reagor's workload this week to see how he'd respond. They'll watch him over the next 48 hours but they expect some good things. Reagor looks on track to make his debut #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/dDaApLC2fm— 4th and JAWN (@4thandJawn) September 11, 2020
As for the rest of the offense, Mr. Carson Wentz is back in action as the starting quarterback. To the surprise of no one, he remains the best option out of the Eagles quarterback factory. He will look to build off of his extremely under-appreciated season last year, as he will (hopefully) have some real receivers to toss the ball to.
Speaking of those receivers, the Eagles finally have some speed at the position for the first time since DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin were youngsters. Jackson is currently the lone veteran of the group and will be the #1 receiver on the team. Fingers crossed that he will play more than one (1) game this season.
It’s worth noting that the one game Jackson did play last season, he torched the Washington secondary for 150 yards and two touchdowns that were each over 50 yards.
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who apparently looked good in camp, has an opportunity to bounce back from a horrid rookie season and live up to his second-round pick potential. Speedy rookie receiver John Hightower will also be set to make his debut, though it is unclear how much time he will see.
Meanwhile, the king of the Eagles 2019 practice squad, Greg Ward, will likely see a lot of time at slot receiver on Sunday. Based on his production in the final four games of last season, I’m excited to see if he can translate his late season success to this season in a more expanded role.
At running back, the Eagles will start second year player Miles Sanders. In his rookie season last year, Sanders accumulated over 1300 total yards as he proved he was a threat to run and catch passes out of the backfield. In the Eagles last matchup with Washington, Sanders had a career high 122 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
While Sanders, of course, is nursing an injury and is questionable, he should be good to go on Sunday as he participated in Friday’s practice. Furthermore, look for Philadelphia folk legend and minority owner of the New York Football Giants, Boston Scott, to fill the Darren Sproles role of recent years.
As for Washington’s defense, the clear strength of this unit is the young defensive line. Anchored by second overall pick Chase Young, the Eagles makeshift offensive line will have their work cut out for them. I am fully preparing myself for Young to make his presence felt and have his first career sack on Sunday, and you should too.
As for the Washington secondary, it has improved a tad from last season. Landon Collins is still a phenomenal safety that will come up, play the run well and hit hard. Also, former friend of the program Ronald Darby will make his Washington debut at cornerback.
Based on what I’ve watched over the past two years, I hope that Wentz attacks whoever Darby is guarding. He isn’t the player the Eagles traded for three years ago, he has certainly lost a step. Look for the Eagles newly found speed at receiver to take advantage of that.
Philadelphia Defense vs. Washington Offense
As opposed to the Eagles offense, the defensive side of the ball will look drastically different than it has in years prior. While some big names like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham remain in their usual roles, equally big name Malcolm Jenkins is gone after the Eagles decided not to rework his contract.
Look I loved Malcolm Jenkins as much as the next guy but there is no way you can justify paying him the money he wanted at his age when the team just doesn’t have that kind of money. Pay for the player they are now and will be in the future, not for who they were.— Ski (@matt_ski15) March 17, 2020
The biggest splash the Eagles made over the offseason was acquiring top notch cornerback Darius Slay from the Detroit Lions. Let’s hope he plays better than the horrors of Eagles offseason’s past, Nnamdi Asomugha and Byron Maxwell. Avonte Maddox will start on the opposite side of Slay, and veteran free agent signing Nickell Robey-Coleman will man the slot corner position.
As for the rest of the secondary, safety Rodney McLeod is back. We know what to expect from him at this point, as he provides solid play all around. Meanwhile, Jalen Mills will move from cornerback to safety, taking over Jenkins’ old position. Mills is no Malcolm Jenkins, but he doesn’t have to be. Mills is supposedly more comfortable in that position than he was at corner. If you ever saw him try to guard a receiver who made a double move, that wasn’t a surprising statement.
Free agent defensive tackle Jason Hargrave will likely miss Sunday’s game with injuries to his hamstring and pectoral. Good to see that Hargrave is fitting into the Eagles culture nicely. His absence will pave the way for last year’s free agent addition on the defensive line, Malik Jackson, who played just half a game for the Eagles last year before suffering a season ending ankle injury.
The Eagles linebacking corps makes me more nervous than a turkey in November. Nathan Gerry being the most experienced guy of the group is not encouraging at all. While I think T.J. Edwards, projected starting middle linebacker, has a lot of upside, he struggled in pass coverage last season.
Due to the lack of linebacker depth, expect Jim Schwartz’s defense to play a lot of 4-2-5 looks, meaning there will be five defensive backs on the field and only two linebackers. I also hope to see rookie safety K’Von Wallace at some point, as he has made quick friends of Eagles fans on Twitter.
Y’all know I gotta represent the gang 💚🦅 https://t.co/sfMR1TcZ9k— #KMasterLock™$$ (@KVonWallace) May 26, 2020
The Washington offense resembles a team in a rebuild. They have some players with a lot of talent and potential, such as quarterback Dwayne Haskins and receiver Terry McLaurin. McLaurin abused the Eagles secondary last season, totaling 12 receptions, 255 yards, and 2 touchdowns in two games against the Birds. He is the main guy the Eagles need to focus on.
Washington has some question marks at running back, especially after the release of Adrian Peterson. J.D. McKissic is listed as the starter, though he has been more of a threat as a receiving option out of the backfield throughout his career. Don’t be surprised if rookie Antonio Gibson gets a lot of playing time in the backfield.
Finally, Washington’s offensive line is strong on the right side with guard Brandon Scherff and tackle Morgan Moses. However, everyone else on the offensive line is unproven for the most part, and the Eagles will have to capitalize on their advantage over that side of the line.
The key to this game is going to be in the trenches. I think both defensive lines are superior to each side's offensive line, especially given the Eagles injuries. Whichever o-line has the better performance will win this game.
With no preseason under any team’s belt and the Doug Pederson era Eagles being notorious for slow September starts, this game will be close. The Eagles need to take control of the game early, something they did not do in either matchup with Washington last year.
The Eagles score first on a field goal from Jake Elliott, but Washington gets the first touchdown of the game and will head into halftime with the lead.
Remaining true to form, the Eagles stage a second half comeback, as Wentz puts on his clutch jeans and takes over the game in the fourth quarter. The Eagles defense makes adjustments at half and dominates the Washington offense in the second half, as Avonte Maddox picks off Haskins and Derek Barnett forces a fumble.
Carson Wentz throws red zone touchdowns to Zach Ertz (no broken tackles necessary) and Miles Sanders while Jake Elliott goes a perfect 3-3 on field goals.
Eagles win 23-17.