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September 06, 2017

Eagles vs. Redskins: Five matchups to watch

Eagles NFL

The Washington Redskins have recently owned the Philadelphia Eagles, winning five straight matchups dating back to December 2014, and yet, the Eagles are currently one-point favorites this Sunday in Landover, MD.

Here are five matchups to watch:

1) The Redskins' new receivers vs. the Eagles' secondary

In recent seasons, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon have badly hurt the Eagles' defense. 

During the Redskins' five game win streak over the Eagles, Jackson had a game-changing 80-yard touchdown Week 14 in Philly last season, and pair of long gains on a four catch, 126-yard day that helped sink the Eagles' 2014 season in Week 16. (My apologies for the crappy video below).

Meanwhile, Garcon had 40 catches for 470 yards and 4 TDs against the Eagles over the last three years, making all kinds of important clutch plays, like this:

DeSean Jackson signed in Tampa, and Pierre Garcon signed in San Francisco. That leaves newly signed Terrelle Pryor and second-year pro Josh Doctson as the Redskins' likely starting receivers on the outside.

Pryor's worth on the open market was surprisingly thin, as he ended up signing a low one-year, $6 million deal with incentives that could bring it to $8 million. Pryor thought he was a $12-$15 million per year player. The NFL thought differently. As for Doctson, his rookie year was a waste, mostly due to injury, but he's proven nothing so far in the NFL, as opposed to Jackson and Garcon.

"Couple of guys gave us some trouble last year, particularly Pierre Garcon made some key catches in both games," said Jim Schwartz. "I'm not sorry to see him gone. DeSean, the same way. They've replaced those guys and moved up draft picks and things like that. But I think that I'm not going to be disappointed not to see those guys on the field."

In previous seasons, the Redskins' wide receivers vs. the Eagles' corners was a matchup that heavily favored Washington. Now? At a minimum, the gap has closed there.

2) The Eagles' new receivers vs. the Redskins' secondary

Now let's do the flip side of matchup No. 1. A season ago, the Eagles' wide receivers vs. literally any secondary was a disadvantage for the Eagles. With an improved set of receivers, however, again, that gap will close some against the Redskins.

It would stand to reason that bigger corner Josh Norman will see a lot of Alshon Jeffery. That seems like a fairly obvious matchup. However, on the other side, that's where the Redskins could run into some trouble. Bashaud Breeland had a rough season in 2016, mostly notably when he was taken to school repeatedly by Antonio Brown in the opener.

Breeland doesn't exactly have the best speed measurables, and he could be seeing new Eagles deep threat Torrey Smith. To compound that potential matchup advantage for the Eagles, the Redskins' safeties aren't exactly the fleetest of foot either. 

Safety D.J. Swearinger is on his fourth team in five years, and is known more as a big hitter than as a coverage safety, though he did have a good season in 2016. He ran a 4.67 at the 2013 NFL Combine. On the other side, Deshazor Everett ran a 4.56 at his pro day in 2015. I would expect that the Eagles will try to test the Redskins on some deep throws early, if for no other reason than to force them to respect their willingness to air it out.

3) The Redskins' mauling offensive line vs. the Eagles' front seven

In the first Eagles-Redskins matchup last season, the Redskins ran it right down the Eagles' throats. They ran it 33 times for 230 yards (7.0 YPC) and a TD. 

"I think the first game we particularly struggled with stopping the run and big plays," said Schwartz. "The second game, we did a much better job in the run game."

The Eagles lost Bennie Logan early in the first game, which was a big reason for the Redskins' success on the ground that day. In the second matchup, with Logan back and the Eagles prioritizing stopping the run, they did a better job, as Schwartz noted.

This offseason, the Eagles let the run-stopping Logan walk in free agency and signed penetrating disruption artist Timmy Jernigan to fill his spot. This will be a big early test for the Eagles' front seven against one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the NFL. 

4) The Eagles' offensive line vs. the Redskins' front seven, most notably OLB Ryan Kerrigan

Last season, in two games against the Redskins, the Eagles' offense only scored one TD. They got three TDs on defensive and special teams returns. A big reason why the offense was so inept was because the offensive line, sans Lane Johnson, could not adequately protect Carson Wentz.

"They played well," said offensive coordinator Frank Reich. "They put pressure on us. They put pressure on the quarterback. We were in a lot of long-yardage situations. And we weren't in sync really in any of our phases. So we have to be better in all areas against this team. I mean, they can be a good defense. They have good players. They had a good plan against us last year. We just need to be better this year."

The Redskins defender who has really killed the Eagles over the years has been OLB Ryan Kerrigan. In his last 10 games against the Eagles, Kerrigan has 9 sacks and 5 forced fumbles.

Last season, Kerrigan feasted on rookie (at the time) Halapoulivaati Vaitai in his starting debut, and then later Matt Tobin. While Johnson struggled a bit in the preseason games, obviously he will be a massive upgrade at RT over Vaitai and Tobin.

5) The Redskins' inside receivers vs. the Eagles' slot corners and linebackers

While the Eagles have perhaps closed the gap some against the Redskins' outside receivers, there should still be plenty of concern about their dynamic inside receivers in tight end Jordan Reed and slot receiver Jamison Crowder. 

Reed is among the best receiving tight ends in the NFL, when healthy. Meanwhile, Crowder had a very productive second season in 2016, when he caught 67 passes for 847 yards and 7 TDs.

The Eagles are likely to go "slot corner by committee" this season depending on their opponent, as they have a number of players with slot coverage experience.

"We'll probably have six different personnel packages that we can play in this game, which is a little bit more than we carried last year," Schwartz explained. "And I think a lot of it has to do with some of the flexibility the guys have in the secondary."

They better find the right packages to slow down Reed and Crowder.

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