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November 09, 2022

Commanders at Eagles: Five matchups to watch

Eagles NFL
110822JalenHurts2 Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Hurts and the Eagles will look to complete a season sweep of the Commanders on Monday night.

On Monday night the Philadelphia Eagles will face the Washington Commanders for the second time this season. In Week 3, the Birds' defensive line beat up Carson Wentz all day, sacking him nine times on their way to a 24-8 win that was much more lopsided than the score would indicate. The Commanders will look a little different this time around with Taylor Heinicke starting in place of Wentz, who is on injured reserve with a broken finger.

Here are our five matchups to watch.

1) The Eagles' pass rush vs. the Commanders' offensive line

As noted above, the Eagles wrecked the Commanders' offensive line Week 3, and Wentz certainly didn't help. If you'd like to relive the Eagles' nine sacks that day, here you go: 

The Commanders' offensive line has been marred by injury, inconsistency, and a lack of continuity. Here were their starting lineups in each of their first nine games this season: 

Charles Leno Andrew Norwell Chase Rouliier Wes Schweitzer Sam Cosmi 
Charles Leno Andrew Norwell Chase Roullier Trai Turner Sam Cosmi 
Charles Leno Andrew Norwell Wes Schweitzer Trai Turner Sam Cosmi 
Charles Leno Andrew Norwell Nick Martin Trai Turner Sam Cosmi 
Charles Leno Andrew Norwell Nick Martin Saahdiq Charles Cornelius Lucas 
Charles Leno Andrew Norwell Tyler Larsen Saahdiq Charles Cornelius Lucas 
Charles Leno Andrew Norwell Tyler Larsen Saahdiq Charles Cornelius Lucas 
Charles Leno Andrew Norwell Tyler Larsen Trai Turner Cornelius Lucas 
Charles Leno Andrew Norwell Tyler Larsen Trai Turner Cornelius Lucas 

The Commanders have started four different centers, three different right guards, and two different right tackles. They have had a total of seven different offensive line combinations in nine games. The only lineman who has been consistently good for Washington so far this season has been LT Charles Leno.

In the Eagles' first matchup against Washington, Andrew Norwell really struggled against Javon Hargrave, who oh by the way is red hot, with 5 sacks in the last 2 games.

#FeastinMeter: 7 turkey legs 🍗🍗🍗🍗🍗🍗🍗

2) Jonathan Gannon vs. Taylor Heinicke

Heinicke seems to be well-liked, and he's a scrappy, try-hard kind of player who perhaps gets his teammates a little extra energized. Those intangibles can be meaningful, as the Commanders have been more competitive since he took over as the starting quarterback. But let's be real here. There isn't much to like from a traits perspective. He's short, he has a weak arm, and while he will occasionally make a play with his legs, he's not exactly Lamar Jackson in terms of speed, nor is he Josh Allen or Jalen Hurts in terms of running through contact.

So how is the Commanders' offense different under Heinicke than it was under Wentz? 

"A lot of the same things," said Jonathan Gannon on Tuesday. "I think he presents a certain challenge because he can make a lot of off-schedule plays. He doesn't have a lot of fear of throwing the ball into coverage, and he's got good skill guys around him and he gives them chances to make plays on 50/50 balls, which you've seen him do as he's come back in a little bit. It's basically the same offense to me. It's just that he can move around and make some off-schedule plays, which that presents a different challenge to us when we rush and when we cover."

Gannon had to dig deep to find praise for Heinicke saying that "he gives his receivers a chance to make plays on 50/50 balls." In Heinicke's case, that's a kind way of saying he'll chuck it up for grabs down the field. If you look at Heinicke's spray chart, you'll notice that he has completed three passes that have traveled more than 30 yards down the field.


Two of those throws were up for grabs. This first one was near the end of regulation against the Colts: 

That was actually a woefully underthrown ball:

And here against the Vikings, Heinicke connected with Curtis Samuel, but only because the back judge provided interference on a Vikings safety who probably would have intercepted this throw:

Heinicke also had his share of plays in 2021 in which he just chucked it up for McLaurin and hoped for the best. Like here:

And here:

Those deep shots down the field on off-schedule plays aside, Heinicke likes to live near the line of scrimmage with his throws. Eagles cornerbacks need to be aware that Heinicke will chuck it up for grabs deep down the field after his receivers' routes have run their course. They must plaster through the whistle, and when Heinicke chucks it up, they have to be ready to make him pay with interceptions. Opportunities should be there.

3) The Eagles' offensive line vs. the Commanders' defensive line

The strength of the Commanders' roster is their starting defensive line. If you'll recall in the Eagles' first matchup against Washington, the Birds got off to a slow start, punting on their first two drives, with Jalen Hurts starting 1/5 for 5 yards and a sack.

The first thing that Nick Sirianni mentioned in the postgame press conference that day was how good the Commanders' defensive line is. 

"That’s a good defense," he said. "I got a lot of respect for that defense, especially there in the interior of the line with [Daron] Payne and with [Jonathan] Allen and [Montez] Sweat. They did a good job of stopping us early."

Allen has 5.5 sacks, and 11 tackles for loss. Payne has 4.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Allen and Payne rank third and fourth, respectively, in the NFL in tackles for loss.

Meanwhile, Sweat is an athletic beast off the edge, and Chase Young may be making his first appearance of the season after spending the first nine games on the season on the PUP list. The Commanders activated his 21-day practice window last Wednesday.

Where the Commanders run into some trouble is their defensive line depth. Allen and Payne are playing way too many snaps this season, pretty much out of necessity. Payne has played 86.3 percent of the Commanders' defensive snaps, while Allen has played 82.6 percent. As a point of comparison, Fletcher Cox, the Eagles' leader in D-line snap counts, has played 63.5 percent of the defensive snaps, and Gannon would actually like for that to be lower.

The Eagles would be smart to run some tempo in this matchup, with a steady diet of the run game to tire out that starting defensive front.

4) The Eagles' empty sets vs. JaQ Del Rio

In the Week 3 matchup, DeVonta Smith (8-169-1) and A.J. Brown (5-85-1) combined for 13 catches for 254 yards and 2 TDs. Part of that was because Smith and Brown made great plays all day on contested catches, and part of it was because the Commanders didn't have an answer for the Eagles' empty sets, as shown here by Fran Duffy:

And here's some more Eagles X's and O's dominance from the Eagles from empty sets from Week 3, via J.T. O'Sullivan (you'll have to click "Watch on YouTube" to see it): 

I'm not sure how much time JaQ Del Rio will have for solving those defensive issues, as he is no doubt preoccupied with conspiracy theories around midterm elections.

5) Dallas Goedert vs. the Commanders' linebackers

In the first matchup this season, Goedert only got 4 targets. He had 3 catches for 26 yards and a TD. The Eagles' receivers were outstanding in that game (as noted above), but Goedert's light workload in the passing game still came as a surprise to me. One of the weak spots on the Commanders' roster is at linebacker, even when healthy, and starter Cole Holcomb missed Week 9 with a foot injury. 

Goedert has caught 14 of his last 15 targets over the last two games. Good things happen when they go his way, so, you know, they should continue to go his way.

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