Eagles Wake-Up Call: Three Things On Washington
For a second straight season, the Eagles’ playoff hopes hinge on a Week 16 matchup with Washington.
As troubling as Sunday night’s 40-17 loss to Arizona was, Chip Kelly‘s boys are very much alive in the NFC East with two games remaining. Boiling it down to its simplest form: If they can pull off a home win on Saturday night, they’ll be in fine position to claim the division. If they lose, they’re eliminated from postseason contention.
It’s the biggest game of the season, in other words, and comes against the same team that helped seal their fate this time last year. Here are three things you need to know about Washington:
1) Kirk Cousins is coming on.
The former fourth-round pick out of Michigan State performed well against the Eagles back in Week 4, going 31-of-46 for 290 yards with a throwing and a rushing touchdown. He was inconsistent overall over in the early going, though, tossing eight picks in his first six games.
The last six have been a different story. Starting with a mid-November game against New Orleans, Cousins has thrown 12 TDs to just two interceptions while completing 75 percent of his passes. He also scored three times on the ground over that stretch.
Cousins has already established a new franchise record for completions (336) in a season and is on pace to top Jay Schroeder’s single-season franchise passing record of 4,109, the Washington Post notes. He ranks first among all quarterbacks in completion rate (69.7 percent) and is eighth in QB rating (97.2) and yards (3,625). On Sunday, he posted five touchdowns (4 throwing, 1 rushing) in a win over Buffalo.
The one important caveat to this recent string of success is that most of it came at home. He has a much more pedestrian two touchdowns to two interceptions over that span in games played on the road and his overall numbers away from Fed-Ex (6 TDs, 9 INT) are not good. Washington is 1-5 on the road this season.
2) Not surprisingly, Cousins’ spike in production has coincided with DeSean Jackson‘s return to the lineup. Jackson, who missed close to two months (including the first game against the Eagles) with a hamstring injury, has scored a touchdown in four of the last five games and is coming off his best performance of the season (six catches, 153 yards) this past Sunday against Buffalo.
More from ESPN’s John Keim:
DeSean Jackson makes the Redskins so dangerous offensively, and it’s clear that he and quarterback Kirk Cousins have started to click. For the season, Cousins has a 130.0 passer rating and 94.8 QBR when throwing to Jackson. But in the past four games, those figures are even better: 154.0 and 98.5 — both figures are nearly perfect. In that span, Cousins has completed 16-of-22 passes to Jackson for 342 yards and three touchdowns. So much focus gets heaped on Jackson’s speed, but it’s his ability to not only track the ball but adjust to throws that makes him so difficult to defend.
Jackson had four catches for 126 yards in last year’s Week 16 matchup. He’ll undoubtedly be motivated to stick it to Kelly once again, and will be a handful — especially if the Eagles’ starting corners are still ailing.
Tight end Jordan Reed leads Washington with 74 catches, 778 yards and nine touchdowns. He has 16 catches for 204 yards and three TDs over the past two games.
The ground game hasn’t been quite as effective. Washington has the 20th-ranked rush offense in the NFL with Alfred Morris (3.6 avg.) and Matt Jones (3.4) splitting carries.
3) Washington’s defense ranks 25th in yards allowed/game (370) and 28th against the run (130/gm.). Defensive coordinator Joe Barry‘s group is middle of the pack in point allowed (23.7), though, thanks in part to a red zone defense that ranks eighth in the NFL with an opponent TD scoring percentage of 51 percent.
Washington has generated just nine interceptions through 14 games (ranks tied for 22nd) but is tied for fourth with 18 forced fumbles. Second-year corner BaShaud Breeland leads the secondary with 14 passes defensed, two interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles, and Ryan Kerrigan paces the pass rush with 8.5 sacks.
Washington is giving up 30.5 points per game on the road compared to just 18.6 at home. No surprise, then, that their home (6-2) and road (1-5) records stand in such stark contrast.
WHAT YOU MISSED
Chip Kelly talks the run game’s struggles against Arizona, including that failed fourth down.
For such an ugly game, Birds 24/7 photographer Jeff Fusco sure snapped some pretty pictures.
“It was awful.” The defense is in tatters, and more in a comprehensive Day-After reflection.
After a hideous loss, the playoffs start now for the Eagles, and the players knew it Sunday night.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Should Billy Davis‘ job be on the line? Jeff McLane of the Inquirer thinks it’s possible Chip Kelly could be looking for a new defensive coordinator this offseason.
Davis’ unit was severely shorthanded after cornerbacks Byron Maxwell (shoulder) and Eric Rowe (concussion) left. E.J. Biggers and Jaylen Watkins did fine in coverage considering the circumstances, but Arians attacked them on the edges with runs and short passes and exploited poor tackling technique.
The run defense – and I’ll have more a detailed take below – was abysmal. Davis, at some point, has to be held responsible for scheme deficiencies and for not having his players ready. Many were underwhelmed by Kelly’s initial hiring of Davis. He has been nothing more than a middling defensive coordinator. It’s clear the Eagles need more. A change might have to occur this offseason. Can Kelly get it right the second time?
Tommy Lawlor doesn’t quite know what to make of Sunday’s game, but he doesn’t think it’s as damning as it looked.
In some ways, Sunday night was meaningless. Had the Eagles won 40-17, it wouldn’t have changed the importance of the Skins game. That one really will make or break the season. I wonder if losing was actually a good thing. I want the Eagles playing with a sense of desperation on Saturday night. A win over Arizona might have falsely inflated some egos.
What does this game mean going forward? If the Eagles do make the playoffs, are they just going to get bounced early? Back in 2008, the Eagles hosted Arizona on Thanksgiving night. That game was a blowout, but the fun kind. The Eagles won 48-20 (and the game wasn’t even that close!). A few weeks later the same teams met in the NFC title game. I don’t think I have to remind you how that game turned out.
Last night’s game tells us that right now the Cardinals are clearly better than the Eagles. It doesn’t tell us what will happen in 3 weeks. That’s the beauty of the NFL. All you have to do is get hot at the right time or have the right matchup.
Billy Davis and Pat Shurmur will address the media beginning at 10:40.