1. There has been a lot of talk this week about the Chiefs providing a blueprint for stopping the Chip Kelly offense. I just don’t see it that way. Kansas City slowed the Eagles down because it had talented players, and the Birds helped out by making too many mistakes (Jason Kelce’s snap, Damaris Johnson’s fumble, Michael Vick’s interceptions, etc.). In reality, the Chargers used a similar defensive strategy the week before, but they didn’t have the players, and Vick had a career passing game. The Chiefs dominated up front and had corners who could cover one-on-one. Just not sure other teams the Eagles face will have the personnel to accomplish those things.
If you missed the first cheat sheet, click here.
Now, 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Chiefs’ offense.
1. Billy Davis and company used an effective blitz-heavy package to slow down Robert Griffin III and the Redskins in Week 1. But the Eagles’ D looked much more like the unit everyone was expecting going into the season last week against the Chargers. Philip Rivers completed 36 of 47 passes for 419 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked once, and the Chargers were 10-for-15 on third down, effectively keeping the Eagles’ offense off the field. Through two games, the Eagles’ defense ranks 29th, according to Football Outsiders. The Chiefs have been efficient, though not spectacular. Kansas City scored 17 points in a win against Dallas last week, and Andy Reid’s offense ranks 12th overall, per FO.
2. The Chargers’ game-plan was pretty simple: Get Rivers to the line of scrimmage early, force the defense to show its hand, audible into a play that works, and move the football.
“They’d get up, take a look, then come back, sometimes they checked, we checked, and then they checked again,” Chip Kelly explained. “I think when you’re playing a quarterback like Philip Rivers, I think basically they put the game in his hands and he was making a lot of checks at the line of scrimmage depending on the looks we were presenting. That’s what you get when you’re going against someone as talented as him. You’ve got to get lined up and you’ve got to play because you just can’t say they’re not going to run a play here. When they’re ready to run a play, you’ve got to be lined up ready to run a play.”
Davis believes strongly in disguising looks and confusing opposing quarterbacks. But the Chargers’ offense controlled the game by lining up early and dictating when the ball was snapped.
“There were times they checked, we checked, and then tried to give them a different look, and then he came back with a play,” Kelly continued. “You know, it becomes a‑cat‑and‑mouse‑game and you get going, but they’ve got to snap the ball at a certain point in time, and we’ve got to be lined up and ready to go. …We have to be prepared with a defense when he gets up on the ball, and then we’ve got to do a job of trying to give them a disguise and make sure that it’s not totally something that he’s going to see, and then we can rotate into some things. But sometimes your disguise ends up being a liability because you’re not close enough in coverage when you’re that far off.”
3. The crew at NBC’s NFL Turning Point did a great job of catching wide receiver Eddie Royal talking to coaches about a specific look the Eagles were showing. It came late in the third quarter. Royal noticed that safety Nate Allen was stationed about 11 yards directly behind Patrick Chung, who was playing slot corner. He raised his hand as if to say, “Chung’s blitzing here. You got me.”
That’s exactly what happened, but Trent Cole manhandled the left guard and forced Rivers to roll to his right where he dumped the ball off to Ronnie Brown. If Rivers had time, he would have had Royal open in the middle of the field.
But with 3:11 left in the game, on the Chargers’ final touchdown of the day, they got the same look.
The safety’s lined up directly behind the slot corner, who is going to blitz.
As soon as he gets the snap, Rivers knows it’s coming and unloads to Royal behind the line of scrimmage. You can see how far away Allen is. King Dunlap takes care of Allen, Royal jukes DeMeco Ryans, and the Chargers have a 15-yard score.
Davis wants the Eagles to be unpredictable on defense, but that didn’t happen last week.
4. So far in Reid’s offense, Alex Smith is completing 60 percent of his passes, but averaging just 5.7 yards per attempt. That ranks 29th among starting quarterbacks. Last week, the Eagles wanted to guard against the big play. But this week, there’s far less need to play their safeties deep. Per Pro Football Focus, just 4.3 percent of Smith’s throws have traveled 20 yards or more from the line of scrimmage. That’s 31st among starting quarterbacks. Smith will look to be efficient and control the tempo of the game, while keeping the Eagles’ offense off the field.
5. Up front, from left to right, the Chiefs have: Branden Albert, Jeff Allen, Rodney Hudson, Jon Asamoah and No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher. Albert will often get matched up against Trent Cole, who has exceeded expectations early on. Cole only dropped back into coverage three times last week, per PFF. Fletcher Cox leads the team with three QB hurries (coaches stats), but has been quiet overall. Isaac Sopoaga, Damion Square and Bennie Logan have been unimpressive at nose tackle. Same goes for Clifton Geathers at LDE. And Cedric Thornton has been OK. A lot of questions about Vinny Curry. My take? The Eagles don’t think he fits, and he won’t see the field unless someone is injured. We’ll find out about 90 minutes prior to kickoff (when inactives are announced) whether I’m right or not.
6. The Eagles have been blitz-heavy in each of the first two weeks. Against San Diego, Davis sent five or more pass-rushers at the QB 53.8 percent of the time. Rivers completed 76 percent of his attempts and averaged 8.4 yards per attempt against the blitz. But it must be noted that his numbers were even better when the Eagles didn’t send pressure (77.3 percent, 9.5 YPA). Alex Smith was not blitzed much through the first two games. He’s 9-for-11 for 73 yards against extra pressure and has been sacked twice, per Stats, Inc. While the Chiefs rely on a short-to-intermediate passing game, Smith doesn’t get rid of the ball as quickly as you might think. Per PFF, it takes him on average 2.76 seconds to make a decision (attempt a pass, run or get sacked). That ranks 20th in the NFL.
7. On the ground, the Chiefs feature Jamaal Charles. Ready for a stat that will blow your mind? Since 1920, among running backs who have had at least 300 carries, Charles has the highest yards-per-attempt average at 5.72, per Pro Football Reference. And last year, he piled up 1,509 yards while averaging 5.3 YPC. I know what you’re thinking: Good thing Andy won’t give him the ball! Charles is averaging 16 rushing attempts per game, 12th-most in the NFL and down slightly from last year’s mark (17.8).
8. Charles has also caught 11 balls, more than any other Chiefs player. The Eagles were a mess in coverage last week. Mychal Kendricks got worked over by Antonio Gates all game long. In the secondary, Cary Williams was called for three pass interference penalties. This week, the Eagles will get Bradley Fletcher back from a concussion. Fletcher played well in Week 1 against Washington. Brandon Boykin will go back to the slot full-time. The Chiefs’ top wide receiver is Dwayne Bowe. He’s got eight catches for 86 yards and a score through two games. Among Kansas City’s six players who have at least four catches, none has a yards-per-reception higher than 12.3.
9. At safety, the Eagles will once again go with Chung and Allen, but expect rookie Earl Wolff to once again rotate in. Last week, the Chargers killed the Eagles with in-breaking routes, and the safeties were slow to react and failed to provide adequate help all game long. There’s no need to be conservative against Kansas City. The Chiefs will also line up in the Pistol. It’s worth noting that the Pistol is not what Kelly and the Eagles run. It’s a formation where the quarterback sets up in shotgun, but is closer to the line of scrimmage (usually 4 yards). And the running back lines up directly behind the quarterback, instead of to one side or the other. Kansas City has hired Chris Ault as a consultant. Ault is credited as the creator of the Pistol from his time at Nevada. Matt Bowen has a good breakdown here of some of the new concepts the Chiefs are showing under Reid.
10. Brandon Graham has played just 21.6 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps through the first two games. …Casey Matthews saw some time at outside linebacker, backing up Connor Barwin vs. San Diego. …Derek Sarley has an excellent All-22 breakdown of the Eagles’ defensive woes on Philly.com. Also check out Tommy Lawlor’s always-informative detailed game review on IgglesBlitz.com.
1. Two weeks into the Chip Kelly experiment, the Eagles boast the NFL’s leading rusher, leading receiver and third-best offense, according to Football Outsiders. And the truth is, the Birds have left plenty of points on the field. But the Chiefs figure to present a bigger challenge defensively than either the Chargers or the Redskins. Kansas City is No. 1 in overall defense, per Football Outsiders, and has allowed 18 points through two weeks. Sure, they got to face the Jaguars in Week 1, but Kansas City held the Cowboys to a touchdown and three field goals last week.
2. Offensively, the most encouraging sign for the Eagles might be that they’ve shown they can be productive in multiple ways. In Week 1, it was a heavy rushing attack behind LeSean McCoy, who has piled up 237 yards and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. San Diego moved a safety up for much of the game and challenged Michael Vick to hurt them through the air, which he did. Vick completed 64 percent of his passes, averaged 11.9 yards per attempt, threw two touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over. He looked like he knew where to go with the football all day long, made quick decisions and avoided big hits (except for that final drive in the fourth quarter). When given time, he’s generally an accurate quarterback, but Vick missed a few throws against the Chargers that could have led to an even bigger game. He leads the NFL in yards per attempt (10.34) and is third in passer rating (119.0).
3. McCoy and the Eagles’ rushing attack will be challenged by a talented front seven. The Chiefs run a 3-4 and have a tackling machine in Derrick Johnson at inside linebacker. Eagles offensive linemen have been outstanding at getting their hands on linebackers in the run game, but Johnson will be the best they’ve faced so far. At the other inside linebacker spot is a familiar name: Akeem Jordan. The former Eagle was active last week against the Cowboys, forcing a big fumble in the third quarter. The Chiefs limited DeMarco Murray to 25 yards on 12 carries. The previous week, Maurice Jones-Drew managed just 45 yards on 15 carries against them. McCoy will get plenty of touches, and Bryce Brown will provide him with breathers.
4. The Chiefs have a talented group up front. Dontari Poe’s stock rose during the combine, and he appears to be taking a nice leap forward in his second season. Poe is tied for third in the NFL with 3.5 sacks, and he played all 67 snaps last week against Dallas. Eagles center Jason Kelce is playing at a really high level, but he’ll be challenged with Poe lining up across from him all night long. Kelce had his right thumb wrapped after suffering an injury against the Chargers, but he’s listed as probable. Keep an eye on his snaps in the early going.
5. Elsewhere up front, the Chiefs go with defensive end Tyson Jackson, a former first-round pick (2009) and Mike DeVito, whom the team signed away from the New York Jets as a free agent. Evan Mathis played well against the Chargers, but Todd Herremans had issues. Communication, as always, will be critical. Bob Sutton, the Chiefs defensive coordinator, spent the past several years under Rex Ryan and is not afraid to dial up blitzes when he has the opponent in obvious passing situations. According to Pro Football Focus, the Chiefs blitzed Tony Romo on 19 of 46 dropbacks last week. He went 12-for-18 for 108 yards and was sacked once in those situations.
6. Kansas City has impressive rush linebackers too. Tamba Hali, the Penn State product, had 35.5 sacks from 2010 to 2012. He has rushed 77 percent of the time and dropped 23 percent of the time on passing downs this season, per PFF. Hali will most often line up against Jason Peters, who has played well the first two games. On the other side, Justin Houston had 10 sacks and made the Pro Bowl last year. On the season, he’s rushed the passer 61 percent of the time and dropped 39 percent of the time. Houston already has three sacks in two games and will often get lined up against Lane Johnson. The rookie had a critical penalty last week and allowed a hit on Vick that caused hm to overthrow a wide-open DeSean Jackson deep. Overall, Johnson looks good, but he’s had his share of rookie mistakes, which is to be expected.
7. Jackson leads the NFL with 297 receiving yards, and Kelly is doing a remarkable job of maximizing the wide receiver’s ability in this scheme (All-22 breakdown here). Jackson said earlier this week that he’s expecting the Chiefs to play man coverage against him quite a bit. But that might depend on who Kansas City has healthy. The Chiefs’ top corner, Brandon Flowers, is questionable with a knee injury. At the other spot, Kansas City signed Sean Smith in the offseason. At 6-3, 218, he’s one of the bigger corners in the league. Last week, Tony Romo completed 30 of 42 attempts (71.4 percent) against the Chiefs. Nine of those completions (and 141 of his 298 yards) were to Dez Bryant, who looked un-guardable for much of the game.
8. At safety, the Chiefs go with Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis. Berry, the No. 5 overall pick in 2010, is a two-time Pro Bowler. Lewis has 37 starts under his belt. The Chiefs will show some “big nickel” looks too, playing with three safeties. They’ve got former Eagle Quintin Demps and Husain Abdullah on the roster. The Chiefs limited Jason Witten to three catches for 12 yards. Brent Celek was shut out last week, but rookie Zach Ertz had a pair of catches for 58 yards. Despite all the talk about using 2-TE sets under Kelly, the Eagles had just one tight end on the field for 81 percent of their snaps last week.
9. Special teams has been a major difference for the Eagles this year. The offense, on average, is starting drives at its own 30.92 yard line, per Football Outsiders. That’s sixth-best in the NFL. Last year, they started at their own 25.19, which ranked 27th. Turnovers on defense have helped too. The Eagles have five takeaways and are a +3 in turnover differential. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are a +4. They are one of two teams (Tennessee) that has yet to turn the ball over this season.
10. The Eagles used the read-option nine times for 54 yards last week. In Week 1, they used it 49 times. …The Eagles have scored touchdowns on three of six red-zone possessions. …The Chiefs have the second-fewest penalty yards through two games. The Eagles have the eighth-most. …The Chiefs have nine sacks, tops in the NFL. …The Eagles are 3.5-point favorites, according to Bovada. The over/under is 51.
If you missed the first cheat sheet, click here. Below are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Chargers’ offense.
1. Going into the opener, the question was: Would Billy Davis stick with a more traditional 3-4? Or would he run more of a 4-3 under? For Week 1, at least, it looked like the former.
You see the three defensive linemen are head-up on the tackles and center, respectively. There were multiple looks, especially in nickel, as we pointed out early in the week. But overall, it was a base 3-4. For explanations on the differences, click here.
2. The Eagles face a different style of offense this week with Philip Rivers and the Chargers, so this will be a good way to gauge how much Davis plans on changing his scheme on a weekly basis. Rivers completed just 14 of 29 passes against Houston; only Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert had a worse completion percentage in Week 1. The 31-year-old has not looked like the same player who went to four Pro Bowls. He’s thrown 36 interceptions in his last 33 starts.
The Eagles, meanwhile, will be without cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who suffered a concussion in Week 1. Brandon Boykin is expected to start on the outside opposite Cary Williams. In nickel looks, Boykin could move inside, and Brandon Hughes could enter the game. The Eagles’ other option is to have Hughes play on the outside from the get-go. Or they could keep Boykin out there and move either Patrick Chung or Jordan Poyer inside.
3. One goal with Rivers under new head coach Mike McCoy seems to be to get the ball out quickly. Rivers lacks mobility and really struggles against pressure. According to Football Outsiders, no QB had a bigger performance difference with and without pressure last season. Last week, Rivers got rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less on 68.8 percent of his attempts, according to Pro Football Focus. Only two quarterbacks had a higher percentage of those throws. The Eagles had a lot of success blitzing Robert Griffin III (All-22 breakdown here) last week. Rivers was 9-for-17 when the Texans blitzed him, but all four of his touchdown passes came against extra pressure. On his first touchdown, the Texans sent seven, and Rivers threw a beautiful corner route to Eddie Royal. Disguising pressure will once again be key.
4. From left to right, the Chargers’ offensive line is King Dunlap, Chad Rinehart, Nick Hardwick, Jeromey Clary and D.J. Fluker. Needless to say, this unit has struggled to protect Rivers. Dunlap has done well to stay in the league since the Eagles drafted him in the seventh round of the 2008 draft. He started 20 games for the Birds, including 13 last year. But he’s better suited for a backup role. Dunlap can hold his own in pass protection, but is a non-factor in the run game. Trent Cole was one of the best defenders on the field last week and should give Dunlap fits. Fletcher Cox had a couple nice moments late in Week 1 and will start at right defensive end.
5. Rinehart (LG) is considered a better run-blocker than pass-protector. Hardwick has started every game for the Chargers since 2010. Clary moves from tackle to guard after allowing a team-high 8.5 sacks and 18.5 blown pass blocks last year, according to Football Outsiders. And Fluker was the No. 11 overall pick in April’s draft. He played for Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland at Alabama and struggled Monday night against Houston. As a unit last year, the Chargers finished last in adjusted sack rate, per Football Outsiders.
6. Isaac Sopoaga (NT) and Cedric Thornton (LDE) will join Cox on the Eagles’ defensive line. Thornton played well vs. Washington. Bennie Logan and Damion Square rotated in at nose tackle and right defensive end. Clifton Geathers came in at LDE, and Vinny Curry was inactive. We’ll see if that rotation changes at all this week. The Eagles limited the Redskins to 74 yards rushing, and Alfred Morris averaged just 3.8 yards per carry.
San Diego does not have a potent rushing attack. Ryan Mathews has been a disappointment since the Chargers selected him No. 12 overall back in 2010. He’s battled injury problems and averaged just 10.7 games per season in the last three. And when he’s been on the field, he hasn’t been effective, averaging 3.8 YPC in his last 13 games. Ronnie Brown actually played more snaps than Mathews last week, per PFF. He averaged 3.2 YPC in one disastrous season with the Eagles, but has averaged 4.8 on 51 carries with San Diego.
7. Rivers doesn’t have a lot of weapons in the passing game. Vincent Jackson signed with Tampa before last season. And Danario Alexander tore his ACL earlier this summer. Veteran Malcolm Floyd led the team in catches (56) and yards (814) last year. He had 15 catches of 20+ yards and presents a matchup problem at 6-foot-5. Floyd had just one grab last week, but it was a 47-yarder. The ball skills of the Eagles’ defensive backs will be tested against Floyd. Last week, safety Patrick Chung did not look good in that aspect on a late Redskins touchdown.
8. Vincent Brown was a third-round pick in 2011. He missed all of last year with a foot injury and had two catches for 13 yards in Week 1. Royal will line up a lot in the slot. He was the only Chargers wide receiver with more than two catches last week. Royal had a pair of red-zone touchdowns and also drew a 21-yard pass interference penalty. For the Eagles, Cary Williams played well in his debut, finishing with a sack and an impressive interception near the sideline. Boykin lined up in a variety of spots, and that could continue this week.
9. Tight end Antonio Gates is not the weapon he once was, but he’s still scored seven touchdowns or more in each of the last nine seasons. Gates was the Chargers’ leading receiver in Week 1 with 49 yards. DeMeco Ryans played well vs. Washington, and Mychal Kendricks was all over the place, finishing with 10 tackles (one for loss) and a pair of QB hits. Davis used him as a blitzer, as a traditional inside ‘backer and even as a free safety. Look for Kendricks’ versatility to be highlighted all season long.
10. Look for the Chargers to throw to their running backs quite a bit. Mathews beat a linebacker on a wheel route for a touchdown last week. Danny Woodhead will see some targets on third down. …Six different Eagles – Ryans, Kendricks, Williams, Cole, Barwin and Cox – got hits on the quarterback last week. …Barwin will line up in a variety of places in the Eagles’ nickel package. He played well in his debut. …Nate Allen will start at safety alongside Chung. He didn’t appear to have any breakdowns last week. Rookie Earl Wolff will likely rotate in.
Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ offense matches up with the Chargers’ defense.
1. In front of a national audience, Chip Kelly’s squad put up 33 points against the Redskins, using a devastating rushing attack and a blistering tempo in the first half. The Eagles ran 77 plays and piled up 26 first downs. Their 49 rushing attempts and 263 yards on the ground were both league-highs. Now the question is: What will Kelly do for an encore? San Diego gave up 449 yards (fifth-most) to the Texans in last week’s 31-28 loss. The Chargers played late Monday night, blew a 28-7 lead, had the defense on the field for 75 snaps and now will travel across the country for a 1 p.m. EST kickoff. The Eagles are 7.5-point favorites, according to Bovada.
2. One takeaway from watching the coaches tape this week (all our breakdowns are right here) was that the Eagles left plenty of points on the field. The Eagles are an option offense, and it’s going to take some time for Michael Vick to perfect his reads and decision-making. He did a good job for the most part, but this will be a process. Vick also missed on some throws early that he usually makes, and while the offensive line played well, there were still some breakdowns throughout. If the coaches thought the players were feeling a little too good about themselves this week, they had plenty of errors to point out and correct in the film room.
3. The word of the week has been sustainability. As Tim and I discussed on our radio show Thursday night (podcast here), there are two aspects to the discussion. One is the scheme/tempo, and the other is injuries. I think the scheme is sound, and I think Kelly will adjust it throughout the course of the year. I think the tempo is achievable too. The Eagles aren’t the only team that wants to play fast. And this isn’t something Kelly decided on haphazardly a couple weeks ago. He’s been preparing to be an up-tempo team since the day he was named the head coach.
As for injuries, I understand the basic premise that increasing the total number of plays in what is a brutal, violent, physically taxing sport should also increase the opportunities for injuries. But certainly Kelly has taken precautions with all the sports science initiatives, and Redskins linebacker London Fletcher had an interesting point this week during an NFL Network interview.
“One of the great things about Chip Kelly’s offense is because they spread you out so much, often times it’s not that physical type of football that you get play in and play out in the National Football League where the running backs are getting hit by multiple defenders or the quarterback’s being hit by multiple defenders, and receivers as well,” Fletcher said. “Most of the time it’s one-on-one tackles. It’s guys tackling guys in space, the sideline, things like that to protect them from being hit so much by multiple defenders.”
Kelly has made similar arguments and said this week his teams at Oregon were always the freshest at the end of the season. We’ll see if that rings true with the Eagles come December.
4. This week, the Eagles will face another 3-4 team in the Chargers. San Diego has some talented players in its front seven. Left defensive end Kendall Reyes was a second-round pick in 2012. Cam Thomas is a 330-pound nose tackle whose Twitter handle is @Baby_Zilla76. Corey Liuget was a first-round pick in 2011 and was second on the team with seven sacks last year. Rookie Kwame Geathers is the brother of Eagles defensive lineman Clifton. How is that brother vs. brother matchup not getting the same hype as Eli vs. Peyton?
While the Chargers are a base 3-4 team, they are multiple. And they even get a little Jim Washburn-y in certain passing situations.
Of course, even on 3rd-and-25, I’d expect Kelly to run the ball against the Wide-9. Just don’t think he’d be able to help himself.
5. Based on Week 1, the Chargers’ best pass-rusher is 33-year-old Dwight Freeney, who is in his first season away from Indianapolis. Freeney is technically listed as an outside linebacker, but he’s there to rush the passer. Per Pro Football Focus, Freeney dropped in coverage just three times on 41 passing downs last week. And he was effective too as a pass-rusher, piling up three QB hits to go along with half-a-sack. Freeney will get matched up quite a bit against Jason Peters. Peters had a couple minor stumbles here and there last week, playing for the first time since the end of the 2011 season, but overall, he looked good.
6. The Eagles’ issues in protection last week came on the right side. On one sack in the second quarter, they let Ryan Kerrigan rush freely.
“It was communication,” Lane Johnson said. “The line slid left. I was thinking that we were basing to the right so it’s just communication-based.”
Johnson was supposed to block Kerrigan. That still would have left unblocked rushers off the edge, but Vick had Bryce Brown in the flat. The truth is, he had him anyway, but a Redskins lineman got a hand up, so Vick wisely held on to the ball.
The good news for the Eagles is that overall, Johnson played really well. He was consistent throughout in the run game and flat-out dominating at times. There could be some communication hiccups in the early part of the season, but he’s showing all the tools to be a really good starting tackle.
7. The Chargers’ other outside linebacker is Jarret Johnson. He’s a solid run defender and more of a drop ‘backer, but is not a prolific pass-rusher. Johnson made an athletic play last week, batting a Matt Schaub pass that resulted in an interception. In 2012, Johnson rushed 57.5 percent of the time and dropped 42.5 percent of the time on passing downs, per PFF. The Chargers’ inside linebackers are Donald Butler and Bront Bird. Butler is in his third year as a starter. And Bird made his first career start last week. They’ll have to deal with an athletic Eagles offensive line that consistently got to the second level against Washington. Jason Kelce, specifically, was pulling and pancaking defenders, showing no ill effects from last year’s knee injury.
8. San Diego will have its hands full with LeSean McCoy after his 31-carry, 184-yard performance last week. McCoy played 67 snaps, per PFF, tied for second-most among all NFL running backs in Week 1. He had six more carries than any other back in the league. McCoy will still carry a heavy load, but don’t be surprised if Bryce Brown and even Chris Polk mix in more. Brown played 16 snaps last week. That number should increase in Week 2. The Chargers held Arian Foster to 3.2 YPC in Week 1.
9. Schaub shredded the Chargers’ secondary, completing 34 of 45 passes (75.6 percent) for 346 yards (7.7 YPA). When healthy, cornerback Derek Cox had some good moments with the Jaguars in his first four seasons in the league. He signed with the Chargers in the offseason and had a rough debut against Andre Johnson, who caught 12 balls for 146 yards. Shareece Wright, a third-round pick in 2011, mans the other spot. He made his first career start last week. At safety, the Chargers have Eric Weddle and Marcus Gilchrist. Weddle is easily the best defensive back on the roster and has started all but three games for the Chargers since 2008. He’ll set all over the place, including up near the line of scrimmage, helping against the run and blitzing as well.
For the Eagles, DeSean Jackson got off to a great start, catching seven balls for 104 yards and a touchdown against Washington. All of his receptions netted first downs. Given how well the Eagles ran the ball last week, don’t be surprised if opponents cheat their safeties up and try to force Vick to find receivers downfield. That could mean a big day for Jackson.
Riley Cooper played every snap last week, but is more of a blocker than a receiving threat in this offense. Brent Celek should have his opportunities, and the Eagles could feature more 2-TE sets. They were in ’12’ personnel for just eight plays last week.
10. The Chargers rushed five 32.6 percent of the time last year, third-most in the NFL, per Football Outsiders. …They blitzed Schaub 23 times, notching a pair of sacks and an interception. But Schaub completed 67 percent of his passes against the blitz, throwing two TDs and compiling a passer rating of 100.7, per Stats, Inc. …Don’t be surprised if some of the packaged plays and wrinkles we saw from Kelly last week disappear in Week 2. He knows the Chargers will be watching last week’s tape and will likely look to capitalize on that.
Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ offense matches up with the Redskins’ defense. If you missed the first cheat sheet, click here.
1. There’s been a lot of talk this week about how much Chip Kelly has shown in the preseason. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett told reporters he watched tape of 23 or 24 Oregon games, along with all of the Birds’ preseason contests.
“If they can do anything else, God bless ‘em,” Haslett said.
The guess here is that Haslett is on point. I’m not expecting any big reveal from Kelly on Monday night. I think you’ll see some zone-read, some three tight-end packages and plenty of run/pass packaged plays (all things we saw in the preseason). Will there be a few wrinkles here and there? Sure. But the foundation of this offense will be what Kelly and the Eagles practiced all summer long.
The one exception could be tempo. The Eagles went no-huddle for most of the preseason, but I could see them taking the pace to another level now that the real games are starting.
2. The Redskins ranked 17th in overall defense last year (14th against the pass, 22nd against the run), according to Football Outsiders. The Eagles will face a 3-4, heavy-blitzing scheme that gets a boost with the return of two-time Pro Bowler Brian Orakpo. Up front, the names are familiar. Nose tackle Barry Cofield is coming off a strong 2012 campaign where he led the team with 13 QB hits and ranked second with 19 hurries, per Football Outsiders. He injured his right hand in the preseason, but is expected to play. Veteran Stephen Bowen has started all 32 games for Washington the past two seasons. And Kedric Golston begins his eighth season with the team.
3. When the Eagles and Redskins first squared off last year, the Birds had Evan Mathis and Jake Scott at the two guard spots, along with Dallas Reynolds at center. This year, it’s Todd Herremans at right guard, Jason Kelce at center and Mathis once again at left guard. Kelce is one of the most valuable players on offense. He has Pro Bowl upside and is in charge of setting the protection pre-snap. The drop-off from Kelce to Julian Vandervelde (or another veteran the team could potentially sign) would be considerable.
Mathis has been the Eagles’ most consistent lineman the past two seasons. And then there’s Herremans. T-Mac has predicted that the soon-to-be 31-year-old could struggle in 2013. And he makes a reasonable argument. It’s been awhile (2011) since Herremans played at a high level, and that was at tackle. He’s now moving back inside where he had success earlier in his career. Herremans is coming off a foot injury and being counted on to not miss a beat. He’s got a track record with 100 starts under his belt. So if we’re going with the “back of the baseball card” theory, he should be fine. But I agree with Tim that Herremans is someone to keep an eye on early in the season.
4. The Eagles have a chance to boast one of the best sets of tackles in the NFL. First-round pick Lane Johnson looked like a beast in the run game during the preseason and was OK in pass protection. Coming off an Achilles’ injury, Jason Peters only played in one preseason game. He looked a little rusty in the run game, but was outstanding in pass pro. Peters sounds motivated and hungry to prove he’s still a Pro Bowl player.
Both Johnson and Peters will be tested by a pair of young, talented outside linebackers. Orakpo suffered a pectoral injury in the Redskins’ second game in 2012 and had to miss the rest of the season. But he averaged 9.5 sacks in his first three years in the league.
The Eagles will have to deal with Ryan Kerrigan as well. The former first-round pick has 16 sacks in his first two seasons and made the Pro Bowl in 2012. He led the team with 8.5 sacks, 27 hurries and six tipped passes, per Football Outsiders. Kerrigan rushed 81.1 percent of the time and dropped 18.9 percent of the time on pass plays last year, per Pro Football Focus. Orakpo, in 2011, rushed 72.6 percent of the time and dropped 27.4 percent of the time.
5. The Redskins go with London Fletcher and Perry Riley as their inside linebackers. In one of the more incredible streaks you’ll see, Fletcher has played in 240 straight games – every one since he entered the league in 1998. Fletcher had five interceptions last year, but if the Eagles want to get Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and James Casey involved, they should have a chance to do so Monday night. Football Outsiders ranked the Redskins 27th against tight ends a year ago. Look for Celek to play the most snaps, followed by Ertz and then Casey. Ertz, specifically, could be a target in the red zone.
6. The foundation for the Eagles’ defense will be the run game. Kelly’s basic philosophy is: Run the football until the opponent forces you to do something else. LeSean McCoy is primed for a monster season after playing behind a makeshift offensive line in 2012. Bryce Brown flashes his talent every time he’s in the game, but will need to fix his fumbling issues. And a lighter, quicker Chris Polk could see the first offensive snaps of his career.
7. The Redskins’ secondary is a question mark. DeAngelo Hall gave up 869 yards when targeted last year, according to Football Outsiders. That was the highest number of any cornerback in the NFL. He gave up 41 touchdowns/first downs, tied for third-most. Per Pro Football Focus, opposing QBs completed 67 percent of their passes when targeting Hall. In other words, look for the Eagles to challenge him all night long in the passing game. The Redskins’ better corner is Josh Wilson, and they drafted David Amerson in the second round of April’s draft.
8. Many of the decisions Michael Vick will have to make at the line of scrimmage will be based on where the Redskins’ safeties are located. Washington is expected to go with Brandon Meriweather, a former first-round pick (2007) who battled knee injuries last season and has only started five games since the start of 2011. Rookie Bacarri Rambo gets the nod at the other spot. For the Eagles, DeSean Jackson is primed for a career year. He’s locked in and essentially playing on a one-year deal because of the way his contract is set up. The Eagles’ plan is to run the ball, force defenses to bring their safeties up and then burn them over the top with Jackson, who can still be one of the league’s top vertical threats. Look for him to line up in a variety of places and get plenty of touches on bubble screens. In the preseason, when teams played Jackson with a big cushion, he found success on intermediate comeback routes too.
Riley Cooper will get the start opposite Jackson. His goals should be to become one of the best blocking receivers in the NFL and a contributor in the red zone. Jason Avant had a strong preseason and continues to be a reliable option in the slot. And Damaris Johnson will see the field too.
9. What to expect from Vick? That’ll be the story of the season. He looked good in the Eagles’ first two preseason games before some bad habits re-emerged against Jacksonville. Vick will get more opportunities as a runner in this offense, but will once again have to show that he can take care of the football and take care of his body. Given the tempo, play-calls are short and decisions need to be made quickly. Vick’s QB rating last year when blitzed (85.4) was actually higher than his overall rating (78.1). The Redskins rushed five 29.2 percent of the time last year, seventh-most in the NFL, per Football Outsiders. And they sent a DB 16 percent of the time, sixth-most. In other words, Vick will have to deal with pressure at times. How he responds will go a long way in determining the success of the offense.
10. The Eagles ranked 28th in red-zone efficiency last year, scoring touchdowns 44 percent of the time. …The Eagles have turned it over 75 times the past two season, tops in the NFC. …Haslett said he’s comfortable going with his base defense “all day, against everything.” … Allen Barbre will likely be the Eagles’ first backup at every offensive line spot except for center. … Look for Johnson to be the primary punt returner, although Jackson could get a shot in crucial situations.
1. Billy Davis couldn’t have been too pumped when the schedule came out and he saw the Redskins listed as the first test for his overhauled defense. Davis was brutally honest this week when explaining where his ‘D’ stands as it enters the season. The Cliff Notes version? Well, let’s just say work-in-progress would be putting it mildly.
The Eagles are transitioning from a Wide-9 4-3 to a two-gap 3-4, pretty much as drastic a move as you could make in the front seven. Davis will find out just how much progress his group has made when it faces a Redskins offense that was the sixth-best (sixth in passing, second in rushing) in the league last year, according to Football Outsiders and fourth in points per game (27.3).
2. The Eagles will prepare for a 100 percent healthy Robert Griffin III. RG3 was the only QB in the league to complete at least 65 percent of his passes and average more than 8.0 yards per attempt in 2012. As a rookie, he threw 20 touchdowns against five interceptions and added 815 yards and seven touchdowns as a runner. Griffin is returning to the field eight months after suffering an ACL/LCL injuries in his right knee, both of which required surgery.
3. While Griffin’s mobility is certainly an asset, the truth is he can be a statue and still probably torch the Eagles’ secondary. Last year, he was 30-for-39 (76.9 percent) for 398 yards (10.2 YPA), six touchdowns and one interception in two meetings against the Eagles.
The Birds’ secondary features three new starters. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are the starting corners. The book on Williams is he’ll allow receptions in front of him, but is one of the best-tackling corners in the league. He did, however, have 17 passes defended and four interceptions last season, per Football Outsiders. Williams has had a tumultuous offseason. He skipped most of the spring and forced every Philadelphian (present company included) to figure out what “sconces” were. He got kicked out of a joint practice with the Patriots for mixing it up with Aaron Dobson. And earlier this week, Williams scuffled with Riley Cooper. If Employee 26 (that’s how Williams sometimes refers to himself) struggles against Washington, fans are unlikely to offer him a warm welcome the following week at the Linc. If he performs well, everyone’s likely to forget about all the offseason nonsense.
4. Fletcher will start at left cornerback. He had an OK preseason, giving up completions, but generally displaying decent coverage. Brandon Boykin will play nickel. The Redskins’ biggest receiving threat is Pierre Garcon. In his first season with the Redskins, Garcon caught 66 percent of the balls thrown his way. Despite only playing 10 games, he tied for the team lead with 10 grabs of 20+ yards. And according to Pro Football Focus, Garcon averaged 7.3 yards after the catch, fifth-best in the league.
Santana Moss is 34, but still productive. He had 41 catches for 573 yards in 2012, including 10 receptions of 20+ yards. Moss also led the Redskins with eight touchdowns. He’ll get matched up against Boykin, who had a strong rookie season and an excellent summer. Josh Morgan was the Redskins’ most-targeted receiver last year, and they also have athletic tight end Fred Davis, who is coming off a ruptured Achilles’ injury.
5. How did we get this far without discussing Alfred Morris? Davis and Eagles defenders made it clear this week that stopping the run is priority No. 1. Per Football Outsiders, the Redskins ran the ball on 48 percent of all of their first-half plays last year, second-most in the league. They ran it 55 percent of the time on first down, fifth-most.
Considering that Griffin is coming off an injury and the Eagles’ run defense didn’t exactly look stout in the preseason, look for a healthy dose of Morris early on. The second-year player had 335 carries last season, third-most in the NFL and piled up 1,613 yards while averaging 4.8 YPC. He had nine runs of 20+ yards and scored 13 touchdowns. The Eagles will start Isaac Sopoaga at nose tackle with Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton on either side. They’ll rotate in other linemen like rookie Bennie Logan, second-year player Vinny Curry and possibly Clifton Geathers and/or Damion Square, depending on who’s active.
“I think you’ll see a little bit of both,” outside linebacker Connor Barwin said. “It matters what the score is. It matters what other teams are doing. It matters what kind of offenses we’re facing. We’re gonna face this zone offense so you might see a little bit more of one or the other. But I think you’ll see both, and it really depends on what’s happening in the game, what’s working early and so forth.”
6. Up front, the Redskins return all five starters who played 15 of 16 games together last year. Left tackle Trent Williams is easily the team’s best offensive lineman. He owned Trent Cole last year, limiting him to two hurries and no sacks in two meetings. Cole spent much of the summer practicing dropping in coverage, but indications this week were that he won’t be doing as much of that when the real games start.
“The drops that we give the outside backers are very rarely anything that has to do with vertical,” Davis said. “It’s all about a 15‑by‑15 box that they live in. What you’re asking, it really presents some problems with the offense, too, when they are trying to run the ball and block those guys with the receivers.
“There’s a lot of things that go into it. I know when you think of Trent Cole and coverage and everything and everybody thinks about dropping vertically and deep, you say, that doesn’t fit, and I understand that. So the things we’ll ask them to do are in a smaller box than what you would ask other linebackers to do, if that makes any sense.”
Brandon Graham was the team’s most effective pass-rusher a year ago. He’ll rotate in with Cole and Barwin.
7. The rest of the Redskins’ line is: Kory Lichtensteiger (LG), Will Montgomery (center), Chris Chester (RG) and Tyler Polumbus (RT). Polumbus is probably the weak link, having allowed a team-high 4.5 sacks and had 18.5 blown pass blocks, per Football Outsiders. Lichtensteiger is considered a good run blocker, but he had 11 penalties in 2012. Montgomery has started all 32 games the past two seasons; same goes for Chester.
8. The Eagles’ inside linebackers and safeties will have to avoid big miscues against the best play-action team in the NFL. The Redskins used play-action on 42 percent of their pass plays last year. That was the highest number of any squad since Football Outsiders started charting games in 2005. They averaged 10.1 yards per play on play-action; 5.5 without.
“They set you up and run, run, run and then hit you with a play-action and try to go up top on you,” said safety Nate Allen. “So you gotta respect both of ‘em. You just gotta play your keys and be disciplined.”
Added rookie Earl Wolff: “You’re really anticipating on first down to see run. Alfred Morris, you want to anticipate him coming because he’s a really good running back. …Basically they’re gonna try to suck up our linebackers and hit comeback routes, hit curls, thing of that nature. They just have a highly-explosive offense. We have to be ready for anything.”
Allen and Patrick Chung will start at safety, but Wolff is expected to rotate in. We could also see some three-safety looks, specifically to defend against the read-option. HogsHaven.com posted a terrific piece on how blitzing a slot corner can be effective against the read-option. The Eagles showed a three-safety look with Chung in the slot this summer.
9. DeMeco Ryans is coming off a strong 2012 campaign and is the leader of the defense. Second-year player Mychal Kendricks looks ready to make a nice leap and could see a new role in 2013. Kendricks looked great as a blitzer in the preseason and showed pass-rushing chops while at Cal.
Of course, blitzing Griffin is a risky proposition. He averaged a league-high 9 yards per play against five rushers last year, per Football Outsiders. Griffin averaged a ridiculous 13.1 yards per play against six or more rushers, also a league-high. Overall, according Stats, Inc., Griffin completed 69 percent of his attempts for nine touchdowns and no interceptions against the blitz.
10. Griffin didn’t chuck it downfield a lot as a rookie. Only 9.2 percent of his attempts traveled 20 yards or more downfield. That ranked 32nd in the NFL, per PFF. However, when he did go deep, he was successful, on-target 50 percent of the time, fifth-best… Teams only sent extra pressure at Griffin 20 percent of the time, a league-low, per FO. …The Redskins used max protection 17 percent of the time, tops in the league. …The Eagles are thin at cornerback. The fourth option would be either newcomer Shaun Prater or rookie Jordan Poyer. …The Redskins scored touchdowns on 81.2 percent of their red-zone chances last year, fourth-best in 2012.
1. Let’s start with draft positioning. As things currently stand, the Eagles have the fourth overall pick behind the Chiefs, Jaguars and Raiders. If the Eagles lose, the only game to keep an eye on is Raiders-Chargers at 4:25 p.m. If Oakland wins and the Birds lose, the Eagles move up to the No. 3 spot. Now if the Eagles beat the Giants, things get a bit messy because four teams – the Titans, Bills, Browns and Cardinals – are all currently at 5-10. If they all lose, the Eagles could theoretically fall as low as the ninth pick (the Lions are also at 4-11). Jimmy Kempski over at Blogging the Beast has calculated strength of schedule for all 32 teams. But a reminder that those numbers will change, depending on this weekend’s results.
2. The Michael Vick era in Philadelphia is likely to end Sunday afternoon. This will be his 34th start for the Eagles. There have been ups, downs and everything in between since Vick first took over for Kevin Kolb back in 2010. Two games stand out to me. One was the Monday night game against the Redskins in 2010 when Vick went 20-for-28 for 333 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran eight times for 80 yards and a pair of scores. The second game was later that year when the Eagles outscored the Giants, 28-7, in the fourth quarter for a 38-31 victory. Vick went 21-for-35 for 242 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also ran 10 times for 130 yards and a score. Many will look back and say Vick was always the same QB here that he was in Atlanta. I just don’t think that’s true. With the Falcons, he completed 53.8 percent of his passes and averaged 6.7 yards per attempt. With the Eagles, those numbers were 60.2 percent and 7.6 yards per attempt. He worked to get better as a passer, and the Eagles were 18-15 in games he started. In the end, the results were not as fruitful as everyone wanted them to be, but Vick worked hard on improving his game. That shouldn’t be completely lost in all of this.
3. Speaking of Vick, I’m guessing Jeffrey Lurie is going to be paying extra special attention Sunday afternoon when the QB refuses to slide on a scramble or gets crushed as a result of a leaky offensive line. As we reported earlier this week, Vick’s contract includes a $3 million injury guarantee. That means if he suffers a serious injury that prevents him from passing a physical with another team for the 2013 season, the Eagles will owe him $3 million. If Vick gets through the game healthy, the team has until Feb. 6 to release him and get out of paying the $3 million.
4. If you only read one item on the coaching changes around the league, it should be this piece by Don Banks of SI.com. A lot of interesting nuggets. When discussing Reid’s future, he mentioned a few different teams. One is the Jacksonville Jaguars. They are far from a marquee franchise, but owner Shahid Khan is apparently looking to make a splash. Banks also mentions the possibility of Reid joining the Arizona Cardinals. Wouldn’t that be something? Reid and Kolb together again. Plus, he’d have a talented defense to work with. As for the Chargers, Banks indicates they might not be willing to pay the price Reid is going to command on the open market.
5. I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating: Eagles fans can appreciate what Reid accomplished and still think it’s time to move on. That point seems to be lost on many in the national media, and you’re going to hear a lot of analysts next week talk about how under-appreciated Reid was in Philadelphia. But the truth is, this team is 12-19 in its last 31 games. The franchise has not won a playoff game in four seasons. The coaching staff has been in disarray. And the quarterback situation is up in the air. Reid has accomplished a lot and given fans many great memories, but it’s time to go in a different direction. It’s really as simple as that.
6. Many have asked about timing. There really is no point for Lurie to wait. My guess is the move will be made official no later than Monday. Reid may get one final press conference. And Lurie will address questions about the team’s upcoming search. As I pointed out yesterday, assistants on teams that have first-round byes can interview with the Eagles next week. That means the Eagles don’t have a lot of time to waste if they’re interested in guys like Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and others.
7. As head coaches and general managers are let go Monday, be sure to keep a close eye on assistants. During the Reid era, we’ve seen first-hand the importance of assembling a staff. Whoever the new coach is will have to find a capable offensive and defensive coordinator, along with other assistants. If the new guy has not been a head coach in the NFL before, which seems likely, it’s particularly important to find established coordinators right away.
8. If there’s one stat that particularly makes the last two years of Reid’s tenure look bad, it’s turnover margin. I went back and looked at the five worst teams in turnover margin in 2011 to see which improved this year. Here’s the chart:
Bucs -16 +4 +20
Redskins -14 +14 +28
Eagles -14 -23 -9
Steelers -13 -14 -1
Cardinals -13 +1 +14
Three of the teams – the Redskins, Bucs and Cardinals – showed significant improvement. The Steelers stayed about the same. And the Eagles got significantly worse. Often times, I get irritated when analysts mention turnover margin because it’s so obvious. Of course you’re going to perform better when you give the ball away less and take the ball away more. The Eagles recognized their problem in the offseason, but their methods for finding a solution failed miserably.
9. If I’m Lurie and Howie Roseman, I’m asking every head-coaching candidate for their plans on improving the Eagles’ special teams. Bobby April’s unit has let the Birds down way too many times in the past two seasons. The Eagles are 24th in Football Outsiders’ special-teams rankings. While the defense has not played well, it’s been dealt the worst starting field position in the NFL. According to Football Outsiders, opponents have started drives, on average, at the 31.65-yard line (32nd). Part of that is turnovers, and part of it is special teams. On the flip side, the Eagles have started drives at their own 25.16 (27th). With so many games being decided by one possession, this has to be a point of emphasis with the new regime.
10. There will be a lot of talk about building blocks in the coming weeks. We’ll certainly expand on this topic, but I am intrigued to see what kind of offense the new coach will want to run, given the personnel. LeSean McCoy has to be an important piece. DeSean Jackson provides a vertical threat and can open things up for others, even though he’s lacking in some areas (red zone specifically). The offensive line is a giant question mark. If Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans return healthy, you could be looking at one of the better units in the league. And quarterback, of course, is a question mark, although Nick Foles is probably the favorite to start next season. Defensively, in the front seven, Fletcher Cox has shown Pro Bowl potential, and DeMeco Ryans is a nice piece. Brandon Graham appears to be a player on the rise, but you don’t know what to expect from others like Trent Cole and Vinny Curry. Other than Brandon Boykin, the secondary could be facing a complete overhaul. The new coach has some tools to work with, but his biggest challenge will be in determining how scheme will best fit the Eagles’ personnel.
Here are 15 things to know about how the Eagles match up with the Redskins.
1. As always, we start with draft positioning. If the season ended today, the Eagles would have the fourth pick in the draft. The top two spots are pretty much locked up with the Jaguars and Chiefs both at 2-12. The Raiders, Eagles and Lions are all tied at 4-10, but Oakland has the edge for the third pick with an easier strength of schedule than the Birds. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles have a 34.2 percent chance of landing a top-three pick. The Raiders have a 44.6 percent chance. Oakland takes on Carolina Sunday afternoon, while Detroit hosts Atlanta Saturday night.
2. The Redskins are fifth in the league in scoring offense, averaging 27.2 points per game. Football Outsiders has them sixth overall – sixth in passing and fourth in rushing. The Eagles are 26th in scoring defense, allowing 26.8 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 22nd – 26th against the pass and 12th against the run. The Eagles have played much better on ‘D’ the last two weeks since making changes up front. Last week, all of the Bengals’ scoring drives started in Eagles territory.
3. According to the Washington Post, Robert Griffin III will get the start, barring any setbacks. Griffin achieved a perfect quarterback rating against the Eagles the first time around, completing 14 of 15 passes for 200 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. In the first six games with Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator, opposing quarterbacks were completing 76.3 percent of their passes against the Birds. In the past two, that number is just 44.3 percent. Griffin is one of five quarterbacks (Matt Ryan, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo) who has attempted at least 300 passes and completed at least 66 percent of his attempts. Griffin’s thrown 18 touchdowns and four interceptions. Only Rodgers (104.7) has a higher QB rating than Griffin (104.2). Overall, opponents are completing 59.7 percent of their attempts against the Eagles (12th) and averaging 7.4 yards per attempt (tied-20th).
4. The improvement for the Eagles has started up front. The Wide-9 is not completely dead. As we’ve shown with the All-22, the defensive ends are still lining up outside the tight end throughout the course of the game. But Jim Washburn’s concept of rushing upfield on every play is gone. Brandon Graham turned in his best game as a pro last week against the Bengals (10 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 QB hurries). In his last three games, Graham has 20 tackles, four sacks and seven hurries. He figures to have a favorable matchup in this one. Redskins right tackle Tyler Polumbus has given up a team-high 39 QB hurries and seven sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s questionable after suffering a concussion last week. If Polumbus can’t go, Graham will get a shot at backup Maurice Hurt or rookie sixth-round pick Tom Compton, according to the Washington Times.
5. Fletcher Cox has had an outstanding rookie year. In the first meeting with the Redskins, he had a season-high eight solo tackles (10 total) and a sack. In the last two games, Cox has 2.5 sacks and three hurries. Only three defensive tackles – Geno Atkins, Ndamukong Suh and Henry Melton - have more sacks than Cox (5.5) on the season. Redskins center Will Montgomery suffered an MCL sprain last week, but practiced all week and is probable. Trent Cole will match up with left tackle Trent Williams, who’s having an outstanding season. Cole was shut out (no sacks and no hurries) in the first meeting between the teams.
6. The Redskins may adjust their offense to account for the fact that Griffin’s coming off of injury. The rookie ran 12 times for 84 yards against the Eagles in the first meeting. Griffin leads all quarterbacks and is 20th overall with 748 rushing yards. He’s averaging 6.7 yards per carry. Rookie Alfred Morris is third in the league in rushing with 1,322 yards. He’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Only Arian Foster (325) and Adrian Peterson (289) have more carries than Morris (280). In the first matchup, the Eagles kept Morris in check, as he averaged just 3.8 yard per carry on 20 attempts. Overall, the Eagles are allowing 4.1 yards per carry – tied for ninth. DeMeco Ryans has been good all year. He has 109 solo tackles. Only Quintin Mikell and Brian Dawkins (111 each) have had more in a single season under Andy Reid. Mychal Kendricks has played well in his new spot at the WILL the last two weeks.
7. There have been a couple factors associated with the Eagles’ improving pass defense the past two weeks. Perhaps the most glaring is that because of the changes up front, the safeties don’t have the same responsibilities in the run game. That has led to less confusion in the secondary. Colt Anderson has provided an upgrade at safety with 19 tackles the last two games. Todd Bowles’ comment about Anderson this week was interesting.
“His biggest strength is knowing his weaknesses and playing off of that,” Bowles said. “He’s just been a pleasant surprise the past two weeks.”
You can see that on tape. Anderson sometimes plays REALLY deep, but he hasn’t let receivers get past him. The Bengals did not have a single pass play longer than 19 yards last week. Kurt Coleman will return from injury and team up with Anderson this week. Nate Allen has been benched.
8. Pierre Garcon has given the Redskins’ passing game a lift since returning from injury. He has 23 catches on 38 targets in the last four games and is averaging 85 yards per game in that span. In the first meeting, Santana Moss came down with a jump-ball between Brandon Boykin and Kurt Coleman for a 61-yard touchdown. And Aldrick Robinson ran free for a 49-yard bomb on a blown coverage. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha have both experienced up-and-down seasons. Asomugha indicated during the week that he could be willing to restructure his deal to stay.
9. Offensively, the Eagles rank 29th in scoring, averaging 18.1 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 25th – both in passing and rushing. The Redskins are allowing 25 points per game (23rd). Football Outsiders has Washington ranked 18th – 15th against the pass and 14th against the run. In the first meeting, the Eagles managed just two field goals on 11 possessions. Six points tied their lowest output of the season.
10. Nick Foles gets his sixth straight start. He’s completed 59.4 percent of his passes, averaged 6.24 yards per attempt and thrown five touchdowns vs. four interceptions. Foles has shown the ability to slide away from pressure and make plays downfield. He’s also gotten rid of the ball quickly for the most part. Foles has had some accuracy issues, specifically on deep balls. He’s 4-for-23 on attempts that travel more than 20 yards, according to Stats, Inc. Opponents are completing 61.9 percent of their attempts against the Redskins (tied-16th) and averaging 7.5 yards per attempt (25th). Foles completed just 45.7 percent of his attempts in the first meeting, but I counted five drops and five balls thrown away. He averaged just 4.4 yards per attempt in that contest.
11. The Eagles offensive line has struggled the past two weeks. The Redskins have just 25 sacks on the season, tied for fourth-fewest. Ryan Kerrigan has 6.5, but Dennis Kelly did a pretty good job against him in the first meeting. Kerrigan has also batted five balls at the line of scrimmage, per Pro Football Focus. Outside linebacker Rob Jackson has three sacks in his last three games and 4.5 on the season. Defensive tackle Barry Cofield gave Dallas Reynolds a lot of problems in the teams’ first meeting. Jim Haslett blitzed Foles a lot in that game, and he didn’t handle it particularly well, going 9-for-21 for 92 yards.
12. It hasn’t helped Foles that he’s been playing with so many backups. There were instances last week where he just had nowhere to go with the football. This week, he’ll get LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek back. Jeremy Maclin has 13 catches for 177 yards in his last two games. The Redskins are vulnerable in their secondary with cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson. Washington has allowed 53 pass plays of 20+ yards, fourth-most in the league.
13. Bryce Brown averaged 8.1 yards per carry in his first two starts, but just 1.4 in his next two. He’s fumbled four times on the season. McCoy returns for the first time since suffering a concussion in the final two minutes of the Eagles’ loss to the Redskins on Nov. 18. Andy Reid said he’s going to monitor McCoy’s usage, and Marty Mornhinweg said the running back could be on a play count. The Redskins are allowing 4.2 yards per carry (tied-13th). In the first meeting, McCoy had just 45 yards on 15 carries. He failed to pick up more than 9 yards on any single run. Trent Richardson had just 28 yards on 11 carries last week vs. the Redskins. But Ray Rice had 121 yards on 20 carries the week before.
14. The Eagles and Redskins rank 25th and 26th, respectively, in Football Outsiders’ special-teams rankings. The site has the Eagles’ punt/punt coverage unit as the worst in the NFL. On average, opponents are starting drives against the Eagles at the 31.65-yard line. That’s the worst mark in the league. On the flip side, the Eagles are starting drives at their own 25.16-yard line, which ranks 27th.
15. The Eagles are eighth in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns 48.98 percent of the time. The Redskins are 10th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 57.45 percent of the time. …The Eagles’ offense has been terrible in the red zone, scoring 45.45 percent of the time (27th). …The Redskins have the worst third-down defense in the league, allowing conversions 44.39 percent of the time. …The Eagles are a -22 in turnover differential. No other team in the NFC is worse than a -9.
1. If the season ended today, the Eagles would pick fourth. It seems highly unlikely that the Birds will catch either the Chiefs or Jaguars, who have two wins apiece. The Raiders have three wins and host the Chiefs. The Titans (four wins) host the Jets on Monday Night Football. The Panthers (four wins) travel to San Diego to take on the Chargers. And the Lions and Cardinals (both four-win teams) face each other. In other words, there’s going to be a lot to sort out next week. As for odds, the Eagles have a 0.1 percent chance of landing the top pick, according to Football Outsiders. But they have a 17.1 percent chance of landing a top-three selection.
2. Offensively, the Eagles are tied for 27th in scoring offense, averaging 18.5 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 24th – 24th in passing and 23rd in rushing. The Birds are coming off their first win in nine games and are averaging 26 points per game in their last three. The Bengals, meanwhile, are 15th in scoring defense, allowing 21.5 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 20th – 12th against the pass and 26th against the run. Cincinnati has allowed 20 points or fewer in five straight games.
3. For Eagles fans, all eyes will be on Nick Foles. The rookie quarterback completed 32 of 51 passes for 381 yards and a pair of touchdowns last week. He also ran for a score. In the last two games, Foles has completed 63.5 percent of his passes, averaged 7.4 yards per attempt and tossed three touchdowns with no interceptions. Opponents are completing 63.7 percent of their passes against the Bengals (26th) and averaging 6.8 yards per attempt (11th).
4. Foles and the Eagles’ offensive line will face a stiff test against the Bengals’ pass-rush. Cincinnati leads the NFL with 42 sacks. The one player to keep an eye on is No. 97, defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The third-year player is tied for sixth in the league with 10.5 sacks. He’s the only DT who ranks in the top-38. The next closest is Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh, who has 5.5. Atkins is a physical force, who will test the interior of the Eagles’ line in Jake Scott, Dallas Reynolds and Evan Mathis. Mathis has an ankle injury, but is listed as probable. He’s playing the best football of his career. Scott had been playing well, but had issues last week vs. Tampa. Reynolds too struggled against the Bucs. King Dunlap could have his hands full with right defensive end Michael Johnson (questionable – toe), who is second on the team with 8.5 sacks. And Dennis Kelly, who had a disastrous performance last week, will match up with talented defensive end Carlos Dunlap.
5. The Eagles couldn’t get anything going on the ground last week against Tampa’s strong run defense. Bryce Brown had just 6 yards on 12 carries, after piling up 347 yards and averaging 8.1 yards per carry in the previous two games. He’ll have more room than last week, going up against a Bengals defense that’s allowing 4.2 yards per carry (14th). The Bengals go with fourth-year player Rey Maualuga at middle linebacker, undrafted free agent Vontaze Burfict on the weak side and veteran Manny Lawson on the strong side. DeMarco Murray averaged just 2.5 yards per carry on 21 attempts against the Bengals last week.
6. Foles completed passes to eight different receivers last week. He was 9-for-13 for 104 yards on attempts to Jeremy Maclin and 7-for-10 for 133 yards on throws to Jason Avant. Clay Harbor gets the start in place of Brent Celek, who suffered a concussion last week. Harbor caught all six balls thrown his way for 52 yards against Tampa. The Bengals are 28th in the league against opposing tight ends, per Football Outsiders. Their starting corners are Leon Hall and Terence Newman. Newman’s in his first season with the Bengals after having spent nine with the Cowboys. Hall, a first-round pick back in 2007, is in his sixth season with the Bengals. Adam Jones will be on the field in nickel. Cincinnati’s safeties are Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson.
7. Defensively, the Eagles are coming off of their best performance since Todd Bowles took over. They forced Tampa to punt on seven straight possessions to start the game and nine of 12 overall. The defense allowed two scoring drives of 77 and 75 yards in the second half, but got a stop in the fourth quarter to give the offense the ball back. Overall, the Eagle are 25th in scoring defense, allowing 26.2 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 25th – 31st against the pass and 11th against the run. The Bengals, meanwhile, are 11th in scoring offense, averaging 24.7 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 14th – 15th in passing and 12th in rushing.
8. In his second season, Andy Dalton’s numbers are up across the board. He’s completing 63.4 percent of his passes (11th), averaging 7.16 yards per attempt (16th) and has thrown 25 touchdowns (tied for 5th), compared to 14 interceptions (tied for 6th-most). Dalton doesn’t throw downfield a ton – 11.4 percent of his attempts have traveled 20 yards or more downfield, per Pro Football Focus. In Bowles’ first six games as defensive coordinator, opponents completed 76.3 percent of their passes against the Eagles. But Josh Freeman completed just 41.2 percent of his attempts last week.
9. The Eagles will have to deal with one of the best receivers in the game in A.J. Green. The second-year player is sixth with 1,151 yards and eighth with 79 receptions. He’s first among wide receivers with 10 touchdowns and tied for 11th with 14 catches of 20+ yards. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles rank 31st in the league against opposing No. 1 receivers. Nnamdi Asomugha fought through an injury last week, but did not play well. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had been struggling, but turned in one of his best games of the season. Safety Nate Allen feels less pressure to account for both stopping the run and defending play-action with the changes up front. And Colt Anderson will get his second straight start in place of Kurt Coleman.
10. Behind Green, the Bengals don’t have a lot of firepower in the passing game. Tight end Jermaine Gresham has 55 catches for 636 yards and five touchdowns. Jamar Chaney took over at the SAM spot last week and played well. The Eagles rank 17th at covering opposing tight ends, according to Football Outsiders. Brandon Boykin will have to deal with slot receiver Andrew Hawkins, who has caught 45 of the 69 balls thrown his way.
11. Dalton’s been sacked 32 times on the season, tied for third-most behind Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers. The Eagles have scrapped Jim Washburn’s system for the most part. They didn’t get much pressure on Freeman last week, although Fletcher Cox and Cullen Jenkins both notched sacks. With Mike Patterson out, the Eagles will go to a four-man rotation at DT – Cox, Jenkins, Derek Landri and Cedric Thornton. Brandon Graham and Trent Cole will start at defensive end. Phillip Hunt, Vinny Curry and Darryl Tapp will also mix in.
12. A quick sidebar on the Patterson issue. This quote from Jim Washburn during training camp stuck in my mind:
“He doesn’t have to come to these rookie meetings at night, in the afternoon. He doesn’t have to be there. I said ‘Mike, you don’t have to be there.’ He said, ‘Well I like to be there.’ He likes football. He’s a good one, god dangit, we miss him now.”
And this one from Patterson, when asked why he didn’t just decide to retire:
“I just think it has to do with my personality. I just love this game so much. It’s just real fun to me, I enjoy it. When it first happened, people would say ‘no [don’t go back],’ but when everything’s all said and done, the doctor said I was able to play still.”
We know football’s a business, but it’s tough to defend the Eagles over $150,000 on this one.
13. Back to tonight. The Bengals run the ball with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is 26 yards away from reaching the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his career. Green-Ellis is averaging 4.1 yards per carry and has six runs of 20+ yards. The Eagles tightened up their alignment up front last week, but Doug Martin still had 128 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. Keep an eye on Mychal Kendricks. The rookie linebacker was moved to WILL last week and turned in one of his best games of the season.
14. Special teams once again let the Eagles down last week as Damaris Johnson’s muffed punt led to a Bucs touchdown. Overall, Football Outsiders has the Birds’ special teams ranked 21st. On average, the offense has started drives at its own 24.5 yard line (28th). Opponents have started drives at their own 30.48 yard line (31st), although part of that is obviously due to turnovers on offense. Alex Henery boomed a 58-yard attempt last week, but it hit the post. He also missed from 31 yards away. The Bengals, meanwhile, are eighth in FO’s special-teams rankings. They’re starting drives at their own 30.28 yard line (2nd), and opponents are starting at their own 25.22 (5th).
15. Leftovers: The Eagles are seventh in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score touchdowns 48.84 percent of the time. The Bengals are 11th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 56.25 percent of the time. …The Eagles are 27th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 46.34 percent of the time. The Bengals are 17th in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score 52.94 percent of the time. …The Eagles are -19 in turnover differential. Only the Chiefs are worse. The Bengals are dead-even with 21 takeaways and 21 giveaways on the year.