Every season there’s the game you circle on the calendar. The game that you just cannot wait for. Well my friends, here it is. Donovan McNabb, love him or hate him, is returning to Lincoln Financial Field in a maroon and gold jersey. I have only one question: Why is this not in prime time?
The Redskins stand behind a decent offensive line. This is a line that has given up a total of 5 sacks and another 12 hits so far this season. Meanwhile, the Eagles defense is tied for first in the league with 11 sacks. Last week they were without rookie LT Trent Williams and as of writing this there is no indication about his availability for this weekend. The rest of the line has played decent football but they are certainly not great. I’m expecting the Eagles defensive front to attack early and often. Trent Cole will either be lined up against the rookie, Trent Edwards, or his backup. Either way, that’s a match-up I like very much.
Behind the offensive line will be long time starting RB Clinton Portis. In his prime he was among the best in the league. His prime ended around the same time that Brian Westbrook’s ended. He is a shell of his former self (averaging only 3.7 yards per carry) and poor run blocking hasn’t helped him much at all. Despite his recent stats, shutting him down will still be a key for the Eagles defense. Over the past three games the Eagles have been gashed in the running game, allowing an average of 125.7 yards on the ground. Despite holding the Jaguars to only 3 points they allowed 135 yards rushing. That is unacceptable and if they can’t slow down the Redskins rushing attack it will be a long day, as the Skins will eat up the play clock.
At TE the Redskins have a very legitimate threat in Chris Cooley. This season he has tallied 14 catches for 197 yards and a TD. Donovan McNabb loves to utilize his TEs and I fully expect him to give the Eagles headaches. No matter what our defense does, we cannot seem to shut down TEs. Now we’re facing a great one and he’s going to eat our LBs up.
Quite the opposite, the Redskins WRs are mediocre at best. Santana Moss leads the team with 22 catches, 290 yards, and TD. He is decent but I don’t know that he’d even make our roster, and even if he did, he certainly wouldn’t be a starter here. He is pretty much all they have at WR. Joey Galloway has made a few good plays but he’s nothing to write home about. Our secondary should be able to hang with the WRs but they need to make sure they keep up their coverage because there’s a QB back there who can extend plays and give the WRs more time for separation.
We know McNabb’s strengths, but we also know his weaknesses. While he’s not as mobile as he once was, he can still make moves with his legs and extend the play. He can still gun the ball as far as (if not farther than) anyone else in the league. As always, McNabb is climbing up the charts in terms of passing yardage, but in the last three games he has only thrown for 2 TDs- and last week he threw his first INT of the season.
Another one of McNabb’s strengths is his ability to take care of the ball, but he struggles with check downs. If we can consistently take away certain targets (anyone over the middle essentially), he will begin to ignore them all together and lock into one or two guys. He also struggles with short routes. If the Eagles can take away the sidelines and down the field they will have McNabb beat. And honestly, I fully expect the Eagles to do just that. No team in the NFL is going to be better prepared to face McNabb than the Eagles. They know everything there is to know about him.
Flipping over to the Eagles, our offensive line has not been good enough. It’s that simple. Teams are getting penetration and they’ve let up a league worst 14 sacks. Meanwhile, the Redskins have 7 sacks. I don’t think it’s a stretch of the imagination to say that Mike Vick will be running for his life behind the line. Also, last week the Eagles welcomed G Reggie Wells to the starting lineup and he played decently. As he gets acclimated to the system, I expect him to continue to develop into a good starter.
LeSean McCoy had a quiet day against Jacksonville, only rushing for 54 yards on 11 carries. However, that is an average of 4.9 yards per carry and for the season he’s averaging 6.1 yards a carry. The Redskins meanwhile are letting up an average of only 98 yards a game. Last week the Rams ran the ball down their throats gaining 133 yards on the ground. The Eagles will need to mimic that performance and keep the Redskins offense off the field. I’d expect Shady to have a decent day but he likely won’t explode like he did against the Lions.
Brent Celek continues to have a quiet season for the Eagles, only bringing in 9 receptions for 101 yards and no TDs. However, he has improved with every game and against the Jaguars he caught 4 balls for 42 yards. If he can get his game together, then this offense will really be able to get rolling. When Celek is on he is among the better TEs in the NFL. However, right now he’s just playing pedestrian football. The Redskins are currently giving up very little to opposing TEs. Last week they surrendered 37 yards to two TEs for the Rams. In previous weeks they’ve only allowed 52 (Texans) and 34 (Cowboys) yards to the opposition. I see no reason for this trend to end so I’m going to say that Celek will have another average day.
I say it every week and I’ll say it again. This WR core is incredible. DeSean Jackson continues to make huge plays (5 catches, 153 yards, and a TD last week) and Maclin is becoming the reliable go-to guy for Vick (at least 1 TD in each game so far). Behind those two, Avant is still the guy for 3rd down conversions (though he was held without a catch last week). Meanwhile, The Redskins secondary is getting abused in the passing game, currently allowing an average of 325.7 yards per game. The only team worse than that right now is the Houston Texans. The Eagles weapons will take advantage of the holes in the secondary. Normally I am all about the balanced offensive attack but when you’re facing a secondary as weak as this and your QB is on fire, you’ve got to pass- and pass often. Speaking of QBs….
As you all well know I am not a Vick fan. I’m not and I won’t try to say otherwise. However, that doesn’t stop me from seeing that he looked excellent against Jacksonville. He was decisive with his throws, didn’t make any huge mistakes, and had excellent touch on the deep pass. I still don’t like his short passing game, however. Vick has currently thrown for 6 TDs and no INTs. I can’t complain about that. His ability to escape the pass rush will be crucial against this tough 3-4 defense. As long as Vick can stay hot there is no reason to believe he won’t carve up the Redskins defense. However, if he throws a pick and goes into panic mode we will be looking at a very long day. He is very similar to McNabb in that once the mistakes come it takes a long while for them to stop. Here’s hoping the mistakes just don’t come. Prove me wrong, Mike.
On special teams, the Redskins are 7th in the league in kick returns and dead last in punt returns. Meanwhile the Eagles coverage units are 16th in return yards allowed on kickoffs and first in the NFL on punting yard average. The Redskins are ranked 30th in kickoff coverage and 22nd in punts. The Eagles return units are 23rd in kick returns and 20th in punt returns. Looking at the numbers, there’s no reason for the rankings to change much for either team after this weekend and I don’t expect too many big plays on special teams. However, I’ll gladly welcome a DeSean Jackson PR for a TD.
Moving onto coaching, the Redskins have Denver legend Mike Shanahan in his first year in D.C., although personally I’ve never been a fan of him. Yes, he “brought” two Super Bowl victories to Denver, but in all honesty we know who is really responsible for those wins: John Elway. Shanahan is a decent game day coach who excels at calling a timeout just as a kicker goes for a crucial FG attempt. His coaching record (155-105) doesn’t tell the whole story and frankly I was happy to see the Redskins hire him. I’m sure he’ll have some tricks up his sleeve this weekend but it’ll be nothing that Reid and the rest of the Eagles coaching staff can’t handle. And, as I previously said, I don’t know of a single coaching staff in the entire NFL who will be better prepared to coach against McNabb than the Eagles.
HOW I SEE IT:
The Eagles will not lose this game. Emotions are going to be off the charts and the ‘Linc will be rocking. I can’t wait to be there. I see the game starting off as a defensive struggle with the Eagles making some key half time adjustments (I know, crazy talk) and taking care of things in the second half. McNabb, I’m sorry but you are in for a very painful day. But don’t worry. I hear grocery stores in Philly will be having a sale on Campbell’s Chunky Soup this weekend. That ought to make you feel better.