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October 25, 2023

Eagles at Commanders: Five matchups to watch

Ahead of the Eagles' road game against the Commanders, Jimmy Kempski previews five key matchups, including A.J. Brown going against a suspect Washington secondary.

Eagles NFL
100123AJBrown Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Eagles WR A.J. Brown bodied Commanders CB Emmanuel Forbes Week 4.

The last time the Eagles faced the Commanders in Week 4, they escaped with an overtime win in a weird game in which a bunch of oddball things didn't go their way. The Birds will be looking to leave a little less doubt this time around. Here are our five matchups to watch.  

1) A.J. Brown vs. the Commanders' cornerbacks

Remember when A.J. Brown caught 9 passes for 175 yards and 2 TDs against the Commanders Week 4? Well, the Commanders have been allowing big games to opposing receivers all season.

• Marvin Mims, Broncos: 2 catches, 113 yards, 1 TD
• Stefon Diggs, Bills: 8 catches, 111 yards
• A.J. Brown, Eagles: 9 catches, 175 yards, 2 TDs
• D.J. Moore, Bears: 8 catches, 230 yards, 3 TDs
• Drake London, Falcons: 9 catches, 125 yards
• Darren Waller, Giants: 7 catches, 98 yards, 1 TD

The Eagles played a lot of 11 personnel Week 4, and were able to get Brown matched up against ultra-skinny rookie corner Emmanuel Forbes. That did not go well for Forbes, as shown here:

And here: 

Forbes has since been benched, but Brown's huge day was as much on troglodyte defensive coordinator JaQ Del Rio as it was on Forbes for putting his physically overmatched rookie corner in a bad matchup. Brown won't get to pick on Forbes on Sunday, barring injuries. Del Rio should probably log off of 4chan this week and spend more time coming up with a plan to stop Brown.

2) LT Jordan Mailata vs. DE Chase Young

Young has been a disappointment in Washington after he was the No. 2 overall pick in 2020, however, he is having something of a breakout season, with 5 sacks in 6 games. I thought this nugget was interesting from John Keim of ESPN in regard to some trade deadline candidates:

The likelihood of Young getting traded is slim, though teams have been calling Washington for a few months about him and Montez Sweat. Washington did not pick up Young's fifth-year option, but the current staff had told him previously that it would reward him if he was productive. Young has played six games and has five sacks and is fourth in the NFL with 32 pass-rushing wins. With the Commanders at 3-4, however, another loss could force them to look at possible trades.

I'm not Chase Young, but if I were I'd want to get the hell out of Washington and go literally anywhere else. A strong performance in the last game before the trade deadline could maybe help his odds of some team out there making the Commanders an offer they can't turn down?

Young has 3.5 sacks in 3 career games against the Eagles, and he got one off of Mailata Week 4:

Mailata has had a great season so far, but this is a matchup the Commanders have to win as it's unlikely they're going to get many wins on the other side of the line against Lane Johnson.

3) Where might the Eagles go feastin'? 🍗

The Commanders had a healthy offensive line the first time the Eagles faced them, and it will likely look the same on Sunday.

 Charles LenoSaahdiq Charles Nick Gates Sam Cosmi Andrew Wylie 

The Commanders have allowed 40 (!) sacks this season, most in the NFL. That puts them on pace for 97 sacks allowed on the season, which would be the second-most in NFL history.

Team Sacks allowed 
1986 Eagles 104 
1997 Cardinals 78 
2002 Texans 76 
2006 Raiders 72 
1987 Eagles 72 

Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat seem to be getting into a groove of late, and should both have matchup advantages on the edges. The Eagles will also very clearly have a mismatch with Jalen Carter, Fletcher Cox, Jordan Davis, and Milton Williams working against the Commanders shaky interior.

In Week 4, the Eagles sacked Sam Howell five times, though Nicholas Morrow had three of them, so it's not as if the Eagles' defensive line annihilated the Commanders' offensive line. And in actuality, Howell had his best game of the season Week 4 in Philly, partly because the Eagles didn't get him to the ground enough. The Eagles have a massive advantage in this matchup, on paper, but they must do a better job of taking advantage of it this time around.

#FeastinMeter: 7/10 turkey legs 🍗🍗🍗🍗🍗🍗🍗

4) Commanders WR Terry McLaurin vs. the Eagles' slot corners

The Eagles were without Avonte Maddox in their loss to the Commanders last season. The Commanders responded by consistently lining up McLaurin in the slot to take advantage of a mismatch against Josiah Scott, and he delivered, catching 8 balls for 128 yards, many of which came on high leverage third down situations. The Commanders receiver with the next-highest production in that game had 28 receiving yards. In Week 4, McLaurin had 8 catches for 86 yards on 10 targets.

Scott is back with the Eagles, and if the Commanders are smart, they'll try to create that matchup once again on Sunday. We say this almost every time the Eagles face the Commanders, but... see No. 17? He's waving right at you, Eagles defensive staff. Cover that guy, and do it with your best players. The other guys don't matter anywhere near as much.

5) The Eagles' takeaway-starved defense vs. the Commanders' mistake-prone offense

The Eagles won the turnover battle the first two games of the season, but they haven't won it since:

Opponent Takeaways Giveaways Differential 
Patriots +1 
Vikings +3 
Rams -1 
Jets -4 
Dolphins -1 
TOTAL 11 -2 

Also if you'll note above, they had a three-game stretch during which they didn't force any turnovers. They finally got one last Sunday night, when Darius Slay had a clutch interception of Tua Tagovailoa. They will hope to build on that.

In the Eagles' last matchup with the Commanders, there was a lot of weirdness that went the Commanders' way:

• A holding call on "52" (Zach Cunningham) extended a Commanders drive that resulted in a TD, when it otherwise would have been a FG attempt. They meant to call the hold on Nicholas Morrow, who didn't hold anyone. 

That was a four-point penalty. 

• Terrell Edmunds dropped an INT in the end zone. The Commanders would later score a TD on that drive. That was a 7-point drop.

• The Eagles forced a fumble at the goal line, which was recovered by the Commanders in the end zone for a touchdown.

• On a 4th and 1, Landon Dickerson was called for offsides, which, well, he was. However, so were like three Commanders players, most notably Daron Payne, who was literally touching the football with his hand, and his head was hovering over the ball. The Eagles converted the "tush push," but were penalized five yards and subsequently punted. That penalty was the equivalent of a turnover. 

• Darius Slay was called for a weak pass interference penalty.

• Terrell Edmunds was called for an even more weak late hit "out of bounds" on Sam Howell, who would have gotten the first down if Edmunds didn't hit him.

The Commanders are overmatched in this game talent-wise, almost across the board. And yet, they seem to give the Eagles fits every year because of weirdness and/or a lopsided turnover differential.

The Commanders will make mistakes. They give the ball away 1.6 times per game. Only six teams are turning it over at a higher rate.

"Win the turnover battle" doesn't really pass for good #analysis. But against this opponent in particular the Eagles must protect the football and capitalize on the Commanders' mistakes. The difference between playing good, reasonably mistake-free football on offense and being opportunistic on defense in this matchup is the difference between blowing the doors off this team and getting into another dogfight like they had on their hands Week 4.

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