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September 27, 2023

Eagles vs. Commanders: Five matchups to watch

Here are some things to keep an eye on when the Eagles and Commanders do battle.

Eagles NFL
092623SamHowell Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports

Sam Howell is one of many quarterbacks the Commanders have employed in recent years.

The last time the Eagles faced the Commanders in Philadelphia, they lost a somewhat fluky game, tarnishing their then-unblemished record. Some of the Eagles' vets will no doubt have that game on their minds heading into this matchup. Here are our five matchups to watch. 

1) The Eagles' offensive line vs. the Commanders' talented front four

The strength of this Commanders team, as usual, is their talented defensive front, headlined by four first-round picks who are all making a lot of money

DT Jonathan Allen: 17th overall pick, 2017, signed a four-year contract extension worth $72 million in 2021.
DT Daron Payne: 13th overall pick, 2018, signed a four-year contract extension worth $90 million in 2023.
DE Montez Sweat: 26th overall pick, 2019, playing in 2023 on a fifth-year option worth $11,500,000.
DE Chase Young: 2nd overall pick, 2020, playing on the final year of a rookie contract worth about $34.6 million. The Commanders declined his fifth-year option in 2024.

Those four guys have combined for 6.5 sacks so far in 2023, and they have the collective ability to wreck games if the opposing offensive line has weaknesses.

Of course, whenever these two teams play, it's strength on strength, as the Eagles have arguably the best offensive line in the NFL. The Eagles' pass protection had some issues Week 1 against the Patriots, they were better Week 2 against the Vikings, and they were stellar Week 3 against the Buccaneers. For example, pass pro as a full unit doesn't get much better than this:

This matchup will be a huge test for Cam Jurgens, who will see healthy doses of both Allen and Payne, who many believe are the best interior D-line duo in the NFL.

2) The Eagles' rushing attack vs. the Commanders' rush defense

The Commanders' D-line foursome is better at getting after the quarterback than they are at stopping the run. That's not to say that they're bad run stoppers — it's just not the thing they do best. Beyond those four guys, in recent matchups the Eagles have felt that the Commanders aren't very deep along their defensive line. Heading into this matchup, three of their backups — Phidarian Mathis, Efe Obada, and Shaka Toney — will all be out. Mathis and Obada are on IR, while Toney is suspended for gambling on NFL games. 

Expect to see Nick Sirianni and Brian Johnson to use tempo to try to fatigue Washington's starters and force some of their other backups onto the field.

In case you haven't noticed, the Eagles have hit their stride running the ball the last couple of games, particularly when they have ridden D'Andre Swift:

 D'Andre SwiftRush Yards YPC TD 
vs. Vikings 28 175 6.2 
At Buccaneers 16 130 8.1 
 TOTAL44 305 6.9 

The Commanders are allowing 4.8 yards per carry so far in 2023, which ranks 27th in the NFL. So, you know, the Eagles should run it with Swift some more. #Analysis.

But also, as an extension of the run game, I would expect the Eagles to run some quick screens to the wide receivers, and see if 166-pound rookie CB Emmanuel Forbes can make tackles.

3) The Eagles' run defense vs. the Commanders' rushing offense

As noted above, the Commanders won sort of a fluky game against the Eagles last season. The Commanders knew full well that they were not as talented as the Eagles, and so their plan was to shorten the game, as many overmatched teams do. They ran it, and ran it, and then ran it some more, bleeding as much clock as they possibly could along the way. And they were successful in doing so. They had four scoring drives that took off at least six minutes and thirty seconds.

  1. 13 plays, 75 yards, 7:21, TD
  2. 12 plays, 49 yards, 6:30, FG
  3. 16 plays, 86 yards, 7:04, TD
  4. 14 plays, 66 yards, 8:23, FG

That would be a total of 29:18, almost half of the game. The Commanders doubled up the Eagles in time of possession, 40:24 to 19:36. There was one point in the game in which the overall time of possession favored Washington, 32:12 to 7:35. They successfully played keep away for the better part of three quarters and deserved the win.

Here were the Commanders' rushing stats in that game:

Commanders run game Rushes Yards YPC TD 
Brian Robinson 26 86 3.3 
Antonio Gibson 14 44 3.1 
Curtis Samuel 12 3.0 
Taylor Heinicke 10 2.0 
TOTAL 49 152 3.1 

The Eagles' run defense was questioned in the wake of that loss, seeing as the Commanders were able to hold onto the ball for so long, and because they rushed for 152 yards, but it was not a dominant rushing performance. The Commanders averaged 3.1 yards per carry. Their long rush was 11 yards. What Washington was able to do was use their run game to stay on schedule and stay out of second/third and long.

Of course, once the Eagles got the Commanders into third-down situations, they could not close. The Commanders finished 12 of 21 on third down on the night, at one point during the game they were 12 of 16. The Eagles' defense was often passive on those third-down conversions, as the corners played a lot of off coverage, and Jonathan Gannon rarely sent blitzes. They waited for Taylor Heinicke to make mistakes, which he eventually did, but only after a lot of the damage was already done. Terry McLaurin abused the Eagles in high-leverage situations, catching 8 passes for 128 yards.

I imagine the Commanders will try to employ a similar strategy in this matchup. However, Jordan Davis, Jalen Carter, Fletcher Cox, Milton Williams, and the rest of the Eagles' front must find ways to get the Commanders into long downs and distances. They'll do that if they can shut down the run on first and second down.

Through the first three games, the Eagles have the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL, having allowed just 145 rushing yards.

4) Where might the Eagles go feastin'? 🍗

The Commanders will likely have the first fully healthy offensive line the Eagles will have faced this season. It looks like this:

 Charles LenoSaahdiq Charles Nick Gates Sam Cosmi Andrew Wylie 

Leno and Cosmi are fine. The other three spots are problems: 

• Charles was a 2020 draft pick who is getting his first opportunity to be a full-time starter from Week 1. PFF has him down for 2 sacks allowed already.

• Gates suffered a gruesome leg injury in 2021 and faced the prospect of retirement, but he was able to return and start eight games for the Giants in 2022, and even got some votes for NFL Comeback Player of the Year. He signed with the Commanders this offseason to start at center, but he has had seven leg surgeries. He is at a major disadvantage physically against behemoths like Jordan Davis and Jalen Carter.

• Wylie was the lone below average starter on a very good Chiefs offensive line in 2022, as PFF — usually very forgiving with sack blame — had him down for nine sacks allowed during the 2022 season.

The Commanders have taken 19 sacks so far this season, 6 more than any other team in the NFL. This would be a good week for Haason Reddick to get going. Hampered by a thumb injury, Reddick has one tackle and no sacks through the first three games. He'll get a chance at a rematch against Wylie, the RT who was a beneficiary of the atrocious field conditions during the Super Bowl.

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

5) The Eagles' ball-hawking defense vs. the Commanders' careless offense

The Commanders have the second-most giveaways in the NFL, with 8 of them. Sam Howell has thrown 5 INTs, one behind the league-leading Jimmy Garoppolo. You can relive the four INTs he threw against the Bills Week 3 in our Hierarchy/Obituary column

They have also lost 3 fumbles, tied for third-most in the NFL. The main culprit on that front both this season and in previous seasons is Antonio Gibson, who had 6 fumbles in 2021, corrected those issues to some degree in 2022 when he only had 1, but is back to fumbling again in 2023 as he already has 3.

The Eagles don't discriminate when it comes to punching out the football, but they should be extra aggressive in trying to dislodge it when Gibson is the ball carrier.

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