Watching the Thursday night comeback win by the Oakland Raiders over Andy Reid’s Chieves gave me pause to reflect on the degree of difficulty facing any team in this league trying to stack up divisional wins. With just about every other play under some kind of review, the game is never over until it’s over—and even then, defensive penalties can take the game well past the 0:00 mark in regulation.
That’s why it’s hard to truly handicap the Redskins-Eagles game coming up on Monday night. The Eagles may go off as 5-point favorites by gametime, but I don’t put much stock in that. That’s because of the emotional variables coming into this game by the Redskins. They are fighting to regain relevance in 2017 before it’s too late. They don’t relish getting into an 0-2 divisional hole against the Eagles. To me they are the Raiders and we are the Chieves going into this one. Except the Redskins are even more physical than the Raiders in the way they take on a divisional opponent on the road.
Plus the Redskins (3-2) are a bit different team now compared to the squad the Eagles thumped 30-17 in the season opener. Be prepared for a much more roughneck approach to this game as the Redskins must compensate for some recent injuries to several of their most skilled players.
John Keim covers the Redskins for ESPN.com and he provides us this brief primer on the current state of the Redskins:
Biggest change in the Redskins since Week 1: “The Redskins have been more committed to the run game than they were in the opening loss, when the Eagles shut them down. Philadelphia stopped the Redskins cold, allowing only 34 yards on 13 carries to the running backs. But here’s the key stat: Washington converted only three of 11 third downs, preventing more opportunities — and making the Redskins less likely to stick with an inconsistent rushing attack. They didn’t post strong rushing numbers against San Francisco, for example, as the backs rushed 28 times for 57 yards (quarterback Kirk Cousins is using his legs more). But the Redskins converted seven of 14 third downs thanks to Cousins and the passing game. Still, coach Jay Gruden likes the balanced attack and he especially loves running on first down (almost 70 percent of the time thus far). Washington has run the ball 44 more times than at the same point last season. Running back Rob Kelley has missed one game and part of another because of various injuries. It makes a difference if he plays; rookie Samaje Perine is still getting used to running with patience. The other running back,Chris Thompson, has emerged as the Redskins’ main offensive weapon as their third-down back — hurting teams in the screen game in particular. He leads Washington in both receiving yards (340) and rushing (175).”
Biggest Redskins injury since Week 1: “Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen is out for the season after suffering a Lisfranc injury Sunday. Allen, the 17th overall pick in April, was performing as hoped, collapsing the pocket and playing with power and quickness. He could line up all over, even rushing from a stand-up position in the middle on occasion. He and fellow nickel tackle Matt Ioannidis enabled the Redskins to rush with four, knowing they could push the pocket and benefit from edge pressure by the linebackers. But Allen’s loss is magnified for this game by the potential absence of corners Josh Norman (rib) and Bashaud Breeland (knee). The Redskins need a healthy unit to combat the Eagles’ offense, so this doesn’t help. Ioannidis has been exceptional. But Allen was playing like he was one of the best defensive players in the draft.”
What it means to Redskins’ division chances: “It means everything. Because the Eagles won the first game, and already have a 1½-game lead over Washington, the Redskins can’t afford to be swept if they want to challenge for the NFC East title. A loss would give the Eagles a 2½-game lead — but they’d obviously win any tiebreakers over Washington, so the Redskins in essence would be 3½ games behind if they lose Monday night. It wouldn’t be impossible to make up that ground, especially considering the Redskins still have 10 games remaining. All it takes is a couple injuries to throw a wrench into another team’s season (Green Bay). But it would be asking a lot. After the Eagles, the Redskins play Dallas, at Seattle, Minnesota and at New Orleans. Not only are those good teams, but they’re also competition for NFC playoff spots. If the Redskins emerge from this stretch, say, 6-4, then they’re in good shape.”
So there are the Redskins in a nutshell— playing a little better on offense, playing thin on defense, but extremely motivated to win this game on Monday night.
The ‘Skins have a way of mustering their best team effort when they come to Lincoln Financial Field. I can’t quantify it, and of course this is a new season and a new edition of the Eagles, but at least in an anecdotal way I can say some of the hardest fought and sometimes most heartbreaking games I have witnessed have involved these two teams at the Linc.
The Redskins are built to be big and physical in the trenches, they always have been. They’re going to try to out-muscle the Eagles to force a stalemate on offense and defense. Their unspoken goal is to get a winning advantage on special teams — an old-school NFC East mentality. They also have a knack for baiting Eagles players into retaliatory personal foul penalties. That’s another aspect of their physicality.
The Eagles will miss their special teams captain in this game and for the rest of the season as well. Safety Chris Maragos has been placed on Injured Reserve after suffering a knee injury last week against the Panthers. Maragos went down around the eight-minute mark of the fourth quarter while covering a punt on special teams. The loss of Maragos is not headline stuff around the league, but it means a lot to me Monday night as so often these Redskins-Eagles games devolve into old-fashioned field position battles, with special teams plays (or lack thereof) ending up being a huge difference in the outcome.
Linebacker Nathan Gerry moves up to the Eagles’ active roster from the practice squad taking Maragos’ place. Gerry was the Eagles’ fifth-round pick in 2017 out of Nebraska. Gerry played safety in college and was converted to the linebacker spot when he came to Philadelphia. I don’t even know if Gerry will be activated for the game, so it’s probably unlikely he can step into Maragos’ shoes, let alone fill them.
Most likely we will see CB Corey Graham more active on special teams cover and return units, and a lot more responsibility assumed by Trey Burton, Corey Clement, and Dexter McDougle along with the usual suspects Kamu Grugier-Hill and Najee Goode in getting downfield to smother punts and kickoff returns. Maragos was the ultimate gunner, however, and his effective leadership will not be easy to replace.
The Redskins will be looking to break off some long returns with Jamison Crowder. His explosiveness must be neutralized or avoided at all costs.
It’s just one more factor to consider in how challenging this game will be. Forget the previous records of both teams. They’re going to play this one on Monday night like the season is on the line for both teams. In some weird way, maybe it is.