Three And Out: Eagles-Washington Predictions
Player I’ll Be Watching
Kapadia: Brandon Graham
T-Mac did a good job earlier this week of detailing Graham’s contract situation. The bottom line as I see it: The Eagles want him back, but Graham wants to find a role that fits and get paid what he thinks he’s worth, which is completely understandable.
A first-round pick in 2010, Graham is playing the best football of his career. He made the switch from 4-3 DE to 3-4 OLB and has come into his own this season. Graham has 5.5 sacks, 14 hurries, 13.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. He is able to do all the things the coaches have asked of him: rush the passer, set the edge and drop into coverage. Additionally, Graham has become a valuable contributor on special teams.
While he’s been productive, Graham has only played 39.7 percent of the defensive snaps. With Trent Cole sidelined, he figures to see his most extensive playing time of the season Saturday against Washington. And the guess here is he’s going to make his presence felt.
Connor Barwin has 14.5 sacks on the season, but he’s not always the first person to the QB on those. Barwin does a good job of cleaning up and playing with discipline. Graham has a different style. He consistently wins his one-on-one matchups against offensive linemen and has developed an array of pass-rushing moves.
Robert Griffin III was sacked seven times last week against the Giants. Don’t be surprised if Graham gets him a couple times on Saturday.
McManus: Jordan Matthews
The rookie receiver’s production spiked when Mark Sanchez first took over. He went over 100 yards in back-to-back games against Carolina and Green Bay and found the end zone three times. Matthews has cooled significantly of late, though. He had two catches for 23 yards against Seattle and was blanked last week in the loss to Dallas. Chip Kelly pointed to the tough matchups Matthews had against Byron Maxwell and Orlando Scandrick in those games.
This week he’ll draw E.J. Biggers. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 68 percent of their passes against Biggers this season, per PFF, and have an average QB rating of 134.3 when throwing in his direction. There’s a good chance the Sanchez-to-Matthews connection heats back up.
Matthews sustained a knee injury against Dallas but was a full participant in practice this week.
Over/under: 90 receiving yards for DeSean Jackson – Whaddya got?
I’ll take the over. Jackson leads the NFL in yards per reception (19.1), and no defense has allowed more pass plays of 20+ yards than the Eagles (63).
If Billy Davis didn’t give Bradley Fletcher help against Dez Bryant and Jordy Nelson, I don’t see him planting a safety over the top of Jackson. Plus, Washington has a balanced attack with Pierre Garcon on the other side.
I think the Eagles’ pass-rush will be effective, but Jackson still gets free for a big play or two against his former team.
McManus: I’ll try the under. A shin injury kept Jackson out of Washington’s Week 14 loss to the Rams. He returned against the Giants last Sunday but managed just three catches for 15 yards. Over his last four games, he has averaged four catches for 43 yards and has scored only once.
He’ll be up for this one, of course, and isn’t listed on Washington’s injury report this week so presumably he’s feeling better. But I’ll say they keep him under 90.
Kapadia: Eagles 27, Washington 17
I’d be lying if I said I had a great feel for this game. The Eagles lead the NFL in turnovers, and as mentioned above, they give up more big plays than any other team in the league. Combining those two factors means they’re not a lock against anybody.
Having said that, Washington is banged up. It’ll likely be without defensive lineman Jason Hatcher, and the status of left tackle Trent Williams (shoulder) is up in the air. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown 31 touchdowns and just five interceptions against Washington this season. In other words, things are lined up favorably for Sanchez to be competent.
Defensively, I think the Eagles will get a lot of pressure on Griffin with Graham, Barwin, Fletcher Cox and company.
The Birds take this one, and then fans position themselves in front of their TVs Sunday afternoon to cheer on Andrew Luck and the Colts.
McManus: Eagles 31, Washington 24
Considering this coaching staff stresses avoiding turnovers and limiting X-plays seemingly above all else, your first point is a pretty disturbing one, Sheil. And you’re right: it’s hard to have total confidence in a team that has such flaws, regardless of opponent.
I can see a scenario in which Sanchez implodes, RGIII shines and Jackson backpedals into the end zone, giddy over torpedoing his former team’s playoff chances. But that’s not what I’m predicting.
I think the defense comes through in this spot. I’m looking at the Eagles’ front seven to continue its impressive play despite the loss of Cole. It’s a big moment for Graham and there are plenty of matchups along the front that can be had. Griffin has been sacked on 16 percent of his dropbacks this season. (He has been taken down 28 times in seven appearances.) The Eagles are second in the league in sacks and should rack some more up in this one.
That, combined with a bounceback performance from special teams and a good day on the ground from LeSean McCoy will keep the Eagles in the hunt.