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October 04, 2015

Five matchups to watch today between the Eagles and Redskins

Eagles NFL
100415KirkCousins Alex Brandon/AP

One way the Redskins can prevent Kirk Cousins from throwing the ball to the other team is to have him hand the football to someone else.

The Eagles are 1-2 heading into their Week 4 game against the Washington Redskins, and while a 1-3 record won't necessarily put the Eagles out of contention in the awful NFC East, it will be highly alarming if they cannot take care of business against a bad team. Here are five matchups to watch this week between the Eagles and Redskins.

1) The Redskins' rushing attack vs. the Eagles' run defense

The Redskins want to pound the run, which makes sense, considering their quarterback is Kirk Cousins. So far, they've had success in the run game behind two powerful backs in Alfred Morris (199 rushing yards) and Matt Jones (189 rushing yards), who are both on pace for over 1000 yards. Through three games, here is where they rank in some basic run stats:

Redskins rushing attack Stat Rank 
 Yard per game143.7 
 Yards per carry4.6 
 Rushes of 20+ yards
 Rush attempts per game31.3 

However, the Eagles' defense does a tremendous job of stopping the run. Through three games this season, the Eagles lead the NFL in the following run-stopping categories:

     • They are allowing 3.1 yards per carry, best in the NFL. 

     • They have not yet allowed a rushing touchdown.

     • They have allowed just 11 rushing first downs, best in the NFL.

     • When opposing teams run the ball they get first downs on 13.1% of those carries, which is the lowest percentage in the NFL.

The Eagles' best strength defensively matches up nicely with the Redskins' biggest strength on offense.

2) Kirk Cousins vs. the Eagles' ball-hawking defense

Cousins has the worst career INT percentage of any quarterback in the NFL that started on opening day. Here's a snapshot of the entire league (with first year starters Tyrod Taylor, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota omitted), listed in order from best to worst in terms of the average number of pass attempts per interception:

 RankPlayer Career attempts INT Avg attempt per INT 
 1Aaron Rodgers 3566 57 62.6 
 2Nick Foles 980 18 54.4 
 3Derek Carr 689 13 53.0 
 4Tom Brady 7301 143 51.1 
 5Russell Wilson 1353 28 48.3 
 6Colin Kaepernick 1208 25 48.3 
 7Sam Bradford 1877 42 44.7 
 8Matt Ryan 4032 93 43.4 
 9Alex Smith3247 79 41.1 
 10Joe Flacco 3816 95 40.2 
 11Ryan Tannehill 1789 45 39.8 
 12Peyton Manning 9176 237 38.7 
 13Andrew Luck 1929 50 38.6 
 14Drew Brees 7544 196 38.5 
 15Tony Romo 4282 112 38.2 
 16Ben Roethlisberger 5043 133 37.9 
 17Philip Rivers 4780 126 37.9 
 18Cam Newton 2022 56 36.1 
 19Matthew Stafford 3227 90 35.9 
 20Teddy Bridgewater 476 14 34.0 
 21Brian Hoyer 664 20 33.2 
 22Andy Dalton 2203 67 32.9 
 23Carson Palmer 4994 157 31.8 
 24Eli Manning 5717 185 30.9 
 25Jay Cutler 3916 132 29.7 
 26Blake Bortles 581 20 29.1 
 27Josh McCown 1721 60 28.7 
 28Ryan Fitzpatrick 3027 106 28.6 
 29Kirk Cousins51423 22.3 

To put that in perspective, Aaron Rodgers' next 108 pass attempts could all be intercepted and he still wouldn't have an INT rate as bad as Cousins.

Meanwhile, Cousins rarely takes sacks. In fact, he is the third-least sacked quarterback (in terms of pass attempts per sack) among the sample size of players listed above. 

Only two defenses in the NFL have more takeaways than the Eagles. They need to get pressure on Cousins and force him into bad throws.

3) Sam Bradford and the Eagles' receivers vs. the Redskins' depleted secondary

Through three games, Sam Bradford has not been able to hit the broadside of a barn.

Sam Bradford barn

Or when he does hit the barn, it bounces off of the barn and lands in the neighbor's barn.

That must change soon. Bradford has to begin throwing more accurately, and the Eagles receivers need to curb their drops. The Redskins offer them a good chance to get back on the right track, as their secondary is extremely depleted. They'll be without cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who is out with a toe injury, and safety Duke Ihenacho, who previously went on IR with a broken wrist. Furthermore, cornerback Chris Culliver did not practice on Thursday or Friday, and is listed as questionable with a knee injury heading into this game. Even if he tries to go, it is unreasonable to believe he'll be playing at 100%.

That's three starters who are either out or banged up on a defense that allowed an opposing QB rating a year ago of 108.3. The Eagles' passing attack is out of excuses. They have to make some plays today, no matter what the weather is like.

4) Caleb Sturgis vs. Hurricane Joaquin

The Eagles' new kicker, who is 77.5% for his career on field goal attempts (that's terrible), was unemployed a few days ago and will be kicking in rainy, windy conditions on a horrible playing surface in his first game back. That's, uh, not ideal. The Eagles lost to the Redskins a year ago partly because they missed easy field goals. If there's ever a time for "Big Balls Chip" to live up to that moniker and go for more 4th downs, this might be the day.

5) The Eagles' outstanding special teams vs. the Redskins' atrocious special teams

Week 1, the Redskins outplayed the Dolphins for four quarters, with the exception of this punt return by Jarvis Landry:

And they lost.

A year ago, the Eagles unquestionably had the best special teams units in the NFL. Week 3, they got a huge punt return TD from Darren Sproles that gave them the lead and sparked a win. The Redskins, meanwhile, have awful special teams units every year. The Skins' special teams rankings in each of the last seven seasons, via Football Outsiders:

 YearFootball Outsiders ranking 

Since 2013, the Redskins have given up nine special teams TDs. They scored none of their own until last week, when they got a garbage-time kick return TD from Rashad Ross. However, in that same game, they gave up a safety on blocked punt. The arrow clearly points to the Eagles on special teams.

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