After two weeks of facing teams in the AFC, the Eagles first match against an NFC opponent is a division foe. The Washington Redskins pay a visit to Philadelphia marred with injury, but coming off a strong win against Jacksonville.
The Eagles two wins this season are based on two excellent second-half performances that ended in comebacks. The Redskins rebounded from a shaky season debut to destroy the Jaguars in Week 2.
For the Eagles, the first test of the season was passed when they rallied against a playoff team and won. Playoff team or not, division rivals are always difficult.
Here are this week’s six keys to the game.
Eagles run defense vs. Alfred Morris – The Eagles lost Mychal Kendricks during the fourth quarter of a win against the Colts. Up until then, they were letting Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson run all over the place with ease. Alfred Morris presents a different challenge. With the Redskins playing with one starting wide receiver limited and their top tight end out for Sunday, Morris figures to be a go-to guy. But the Eagles also have Emmanual Acho and Casey Matthews seeing more action. Without Kendricks, the challenge is stopping Morris, who will be used a ton.
Strong first half – This one is obvious, but it really goes deeper than just playing better in the first half. Improved performance is a must, but for the Eagles to really convince people that the first two weeks were just an anomaly, a quick score is needed. The Eagles jumped out to a 3-0 lead in Indy before surrendering 17 of the next 20 points. That doesn’t instill confidence. A confident bunch will find a way to not only score first, but put the game out of reach early.
Eagles running backs vs. Redskins rush defense – It’s clear the Eagles bring a dynamic duo out of the backfield. And so far this season, it has been Darren Sproles, not LeSean McCoy, stealing the spotlight. McCoy is due for a big game and Sproles is clearly not slowing down at all. They could be a force. But the Redskins bring in a run defense that has allowed an average of 70 yards per game this season, good for fourth in the NFL. That said, their two opponents this season were the Texans and Jaguars. This is certainly a step up.
Eagles pass offense vs. Redskins pass defense – Just as Sproles has taken the spotlight from McCoy, he’s pretty much stolen it from the entire offense. We’ve yet to see the Eagles passing game look as smooth and fine-tuned as it was at the end of the 2013 season. The Redskins have the third-best pass defense in football this year and leads the NFL with 10 sacks, including four by Ryan Kerrigan. Nick Foles certainly can’t hold onto the ball for long with those numbers. But several Eagles, including Foles, are due to break out of slow starts. Much like a season ago, it could be an air raid on the Redskins secondary.
Forget DeSean – All week, it’s been about the return of DeSean Jackson, and yes, that will be the headline as the teams take the field. But as soon as the opening kickoff commences, that can no longer be the focus. The Eagles don’t seem worried about it, but it is all the talk at the moment. Ignoring the hype is important and the best teams are able to do it well.
Chip Kelly vs. Jay Gruden – The first half didn’t look so good, but when Chip Kelly faced Gus Bradley and the Jaguars, Jacksonville was too worn and tired to keep up with Kelly’s tricks to the trade. Jay Gruden is one of the rookie coaches in the NFL this season and will try to run with Kelly’s bunch. Of course, Gruden has already admitted he’s scared of the Eagles running game. There’s plenty more where that came from.
Kevin Durso is a contributor for Eagledelphia. Follow him on Twitter @KDursoPhilsNet.