As dead in the water as we looked at 6-7, the Eagles’ rough ride in 2018 could have a smooth ending this Sunday. Although we will need help from the Chicago Bears, an Eagles win over the Redskins will keep the gates to the playoffs open. If Da Bears also come through big-time as many think they will, all the twists and turns of this crazy regular season will be forgiven if not forgotten.
The word around the NFC is “Fear the Eagle” if we do manage to stick that landing on Sunday.
Now if you’re a “casual” Eagles fan you can just sit back and enjoy the show on Sunday evening. Whatever happens happens. But if you’re an obsessive-compulsive fan like I am, you’ll be watching (or listening to) both the Eagles-Redskins and the Bears-Vikings games simultaneously.
So in the interest of giving a little rooting guide for both games, here is my cheat sheet—
Let’s start with the Eagles at Washington—nothing else matters unless we take care of business there. To me this one screams DEFENSE!! I mean the kind of overwhelming defense we’ve seen in spurts but not consistently enough from the Birds this year would go a long way to achieving an early knockout of the hodge-podge injury-racked Redskins. I would like to emphasize this point and plant it in Jim Schwartz’ mind: bring the 4-man rush pressure, stick with aggressive man-coverage by the corners to limit the short routes, roll a safety over the top of it all, and get the Redskins offense stuck in a very deep swamp of frustration from the get-go. You get up on this team early and the ‘Skins will fold like a cheap beach chair. They’ve already cleaned out most of their lockers anyway. They’ve lost six of their last eight games and have not scored 17-or-more points in December. It’s been a rocky holiday time for Washington, which was capped off by their cutting their best player (safety D.J. Swearinger) on Christmas Eve after he criticized the team’s defensive strategy.
Josh Johnson will make his third consecutive start at QB after throwing 13-for-23 with 153 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in the team’s Week 16 loss to Tennessee. Bless his heart, Josh has been trying to hook up with a regular gig with SOMEBODY for the last eight years. He’s actually got some real talent and football smarts, and I don’t enjoy watching him fail. But rattle him the Eagles defense must. It doesn’t help Josh Johnson’s cause that he’s working behind an offensive line with two injured tackles and 5th and 6th string guards. That hurts the Redskins running game, too, and if you bottle up Adrian Peterson’s carries then Josh Johnson becomes even more predictable.
What’s left of the Redskins defense can keep the game close if they decide to show up. OLB Ryan Kerrigan (12 sacks) is always a potential danger to any Eagles offensive game plan, and he must be accounted for. My solution is to orchestrate as many quick-release, steady-grinding and time-consuming drives as possible. I would also emphasize to all Eagles: BOTH HANDS ON THE BALL! The Redskins have kept themselves in games this season by doing the little things right. One of them is an above-average defense specializing in turning the ball over: their 25 takeaways ranks tied for sixth in the NFL and has created a plus-seven turnover margin.
There should be a lot of potential Eagles offense available if Nick Foles patiently picks his spots. The ‘Skins secondary is depleted and discouraged from injury, dismissal and arrest. Even Ha Ha Clinton Dix doesn’t look very Ha Ha anymore. Their inside linebackers can’t seem to cover tight ends. The showcase matchup of Alshon Jeffery vs. Josh Norman will be advantage Alshon, if you ask me.
Now let’s look at our cheat sheet on the Vikings-Bears game:
Minnesota got off to a rocky start this season, they cut the rookie kicker they traded up for (and is now virtually automatic in Oakland), they had a defensive starter miss a month to work on his mental health, they surprisingly lost at home to Buffalo, and most recently they fired their white-hot coaching prospect (our boy John DeFilippo) who was hired to run the offense. Even after all of those things took the Vikings’ season off its path to a NFC North title, the biggest monkey wrench was thrown in from out of nowhere when the Chicago Bears traded for All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack.
Okay, Eagles fans, here’s the ultimate key to the Bears-Vikes game and the weirdest tie-in to our coincidental opponent in D.C. — former ‘Skins QB and Eagles nemesis Kirk Cousins can put the dagger in us if he plays one of those Johnny Unitas Tribute games he occasionally comes up with.
Cousins simply didn’t have his A-game against Chicago in Week 11. This was definitely a “Bad Kirk” game as he missed a throw to Stefon Diggs on what would have been a deep touchdown in the first quarter that could have changed the narrative of the entire game. Instead, the Vikings offensive line couldn’t keep Cousins clean and although he wound up with a decent stat line (262 passing yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions), it was one of his worst games of the season.
With Minnesota’s season on the line, the pressure will clearly be mounted on Cousins, who was brought in by the franchise as a mercenary to solidify the quarterback position.
Meanwhile we Eagles fans must root for Bears QB Mitch Trubisky to play his normal “just enough” game. Keep the chains moving and don’t screw up.
In the first meeting, Trubisky didn’t have a sterling game (165 passing yards, a touchdown, two interceptions), but he did just enough to make a couple of big plays to help Chicago come away with the win.
Coming into said game, the main objective of the Vikings defense should have been to keep Trubisky in the pocket and force him to beat them with his arm.
Minnesota simply didn’t do that as the Bears ran rollout plays to get Trubisky out of the pocket and utilize his scrambling ability (which netted 43 yards on 10 carries), and he was able to draw in the defense to make plays downfield, such as an 18-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Miller in the second quarter.
Another key factor on Sunday is going to be the performance of the Vikings offensive line. Yes, that could be said for almost every team every game this year, but in the last meeting with the Bears, the protection for Kirk Cousins failed on multiple levels.
Although Minnesota offensive tackles Brian O’Neill and Riley Reiff did a decent job on the outside, the middle of the field seemed to be wide open for a majority of the game. Chicago pass rusher Khalil Mack was able to dart to the inside to get a crucial sack on Cousins in the third quarter and Bears linebacker Leonard Floyd dashed to the inside to come in untouched and force Cousins to throw a game-sealing pick-six to Eddie Jackson.
For the Vikings to get anything going in this game, the interior blocking trio of Tom Compton, Pat Elflein, and Mike Remmers will have to show up big not only in pass protection, but also to get the running game going, which managed just 22 yards on 14 attempts against Chicago in Week 11.
Minnesota should be able to benefit by having tight end David Morgan active for this meeting after missing the previous matchup with a knee injury. Even with the return of Morgan, who is a superior blocker to Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings will still need their interior offensive line to hold up against Chicago’s strong pass rush.
Playing into the Vikings’ favor is that this game will be played in the friendly confines of U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota is 5-2 on the season at home and as NFL Network’s Kay Adams pointed out on Thursday, their defense turns it on underneath the ETFE glass. The Vikings’ defensive line has also seen an uptick at home as they’ve recorded 23 sacks in their last three home games, including a franchise-record 10 sacks against the Detroit Lions in Week 9 and another nine sacks against the Miami Dolphins in Week 15. If they can keep Trubisky in the pocket and finish plays, this could be a huge afternoon for the Minnesota defense.
To the positive side of Chicago’s (and Eagles fans’) intentions, the Bears have an elite defense that could make things miserable in a hurry— and if Minnesota comes out flat like they did against Detroit last week, this game could get ugly for the Vikings.
What we don’t want to see is Matt Nagy’s Bears get down by two or three scores early. That, and/or Nagy’s seeing on the scoreboard that the Rams are running all over the 49ers, could mean that Nagy will wave the white flag and rest his troops for next week’s guaranteed rubber match with these same Vikings.
So the stages are set in Minnesota and Washington. I hope you enjoyed the playbill previews. I expect a sea of green in the stands at FedEx Field on Sunday. Let the good times roll.