8:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Eagles -5.5, Over/Under: 49
A key NFC East battle caps Week Seven, as the surging Philadelphia Eagles play host to the Washington Redskins in a rematch of the Season Opener from Lincoln Financial Field. Fortunately for the Redskins (3-2, 2nd in NFC East), much has changed for the team since the Opener, where they looked disjointed in a 30-17 loss at home to the Eagles, rebounding to win three of their last four outings. The Offense struggled mightily back in early September, as the hosts managed to total just 264 Yards of Offense, converted on 3-of-11 Third Downs, and committed four Turnovers in a forgettable performance which saw them possess the ball for just 25:44. Kirk Cousins (66.5%, 266.8 Y/G, 7.57 NY/A, 9 TD, 2 INT) in particular struggled, as the veteran Quarterback completed 23-of-40 Attempts for 240 Yards and a Touchdown, but was directly responsible for three of Washington’s Turnovers, tossing an Interception and losing a pair of Fumbles, the last of which was returned for a Touchdown to effectively end the contest inside of the Two Minute Warning. Questions of chemistry lingered from the Offseason, in the form of controversy surrounding Cousins’ second consecutive Franchise Tag (unheard of at the Quarterback position), an exodus at Wide Receiver, and the departure of Offensive Coordinator Sean McVay. However, given time Jay Gruden and his charges have apparently figured things out, for if not for a crucial drop in the End Zone late in a 29-20 loss at Kansas City, this team could easily be 4-1 and vying for the lead in the Division. Chemistry has been the operative word in the Nation’s Capital, and credit goes to Gruden and his Staff for being able to develop it so quickly; in the four games since the Season Opener, the Redskins’ Offense has averaged 25.0 Points on 401.8 Total Yards, while exhibiting much better balance in churning out 137.5 Rushing Yards in comparison to the meager sixty-four they managed in the previous meeting with the Eagles. Unsurprisingly, Cousins has looked far more comfortable with the ground game to lean on, completing a stellar 69.5% of his Attempts for an average of 273.5 Yards, with eight Touchdowns and one lone Interception, while even rushing for another score as well. Furthermore, the big plays have returned, as the 29-year old is leading the NFL in terms of Net Yards per Attempt (7.57), a clear sign that he has developed the requisite confidence with this new-look Receiving Corps to attack downfield. He’s also done a tremendous job of distributing the ball, with six different Redskins hauling in at least six Passes, including the likes of Free Agent Wideout Terrelle Pryor (16 REC, 209 YDS, 1 TD), versatile Tailback Chris Thompson (18 REC, 340 YDS, 2 TD), and veteran Tight End Vernon Davis (11 REC, 225 YDS, 1 TD), who has been reborn in his hometown averaging a staggering 20.5 Yards per Reception. The Defense has also stepped up considerably, particularly against the Run, limiting the opposition to a scant 88.0 Yards per Game (8th Overall), including fifty-eight in their last battle with Philadelphia. Linebackers Zach Brown (50 TKL) and Mason Foster (24 TKL, 1 FR, 1 INT, 1 PD) have been proverbial wrecking balls along the Line of Scrimmage, while Edge Rushers Ryan Kerrigan (11 TKL, 3.5 SK, 1 FF, 1 INT, 1 TD) and Preston Smith (13 TKL, 4.5 SK, 1 PD) have routinely pressured opposing Quarterbacks, with Rookie Defensive End Jonathan Allen (10 TKL, 1.0 SK) playing like a borderline Pro Bowler before possibly being lost for the season after undergoing Lisfranc Surgery on his foot. These guys are going to have keep up their level of play given that the injury situation has become more dire on the back end where the Secondary could be in potential trouble tonight, with Starting Cornerbacks Josh Norman (Ribs) and Bashaud Breeland (Knee) both currently listed as Questionable with various ailments, which is huge given their lack of Depth at the position; veteran Corner DeAngelo Hall (Knee) has missed the entire campaign thus far rehabbing from a Torn ACL, while Safeties Deshazor Everett (Hamstring) and Stefan McClure (Knee) are also in danger of missing the game as well. When they last met, the Eagles shredded the Redskins’ Secondary to the tune of 298 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns on 26-of-39 Passing.
Meanwhile, as we near the midway point of the season, the Eagles (5-1, 1st in NFC East) find themselves sitting atop the NFC, winners of four consecutive games with the opportunity to create a sizable lead in the division tonight. If chemistry is the word most closely associated with the Redskins’ campaign thus far, than progress is the most appropriate term in Philadelphia, who is certainly ahead of schedule in their second year after the Chip Kelly (Disaster) Era. If last season was this young team experiencing the crawling phase of evolution, then they very well may have skipped the walking the phase altogether, for Doug Pederson’s charges are absolutely soaring; offensively, they’ve emerged as a borderline juggernaut, averaging 27.5 Points (6th Overall) on a very balanced 396.5 Total Yards (5th Overall), including 264.0 Yards through the air (9th Overall) on 6.7 Net Yards per Attempt (9th Overall), and another 132.5 Yards on the ground (4th Overall) on 4.4 Yards per Carry (9th Overall). The catalyst to their improvement this term has been the maturation of Sophomore Quarterback Carson Wentz (60.9%, 264.0 Y/G, 6.74 NY/A, 13 TD, 3 INT), who has evolved by leaps and bounds in his second full year as the starter; the former No. Two Overall Pick has looked far more settled in the Pocket, and willing to push the ball downfield, averaging a healthy 6.74 Net Yards per Attempt in comparison to the 5.58 he mustered as a Rookie. Pederson has also incorporated more plays designed to get the burly Quarterback on the move, with Wentz picking up another 22.2 Yards per Game on the ground, while also giving his Receivers more time to make their way deeper downfield. While the Completion Percentage isn’t great (60.9%), and the Sack Percentage is potentially troubling (7.2%), the volume of big plays has been undeniable; despite completing a season-worst 53.3% of his attempts ten days ago in the Eagles’ impressive 28-23 victory at the Panthers, Wentz threw three Touchdowns in about a thirteen-minute span between the second and Third Quarters. Of course, the kid has had a wealth of help, for the Management has done a textbook job of surrounding their young Franchise Quarterback with the necessary weapons to succeed. Veteran Receivers Alshon Jeffery (24 REC, 317 YDS, 2 TD) and Torrey Smith (14 REC, 210 YDS, 1 TD) have vastly improved one of the league’s most underachieving Receiving Corps, while third-year man Nelson Agholor (20 REC, 321 YDS, 4 TD) has shed the bust label with career-bests across the board. Furthermore, Zach Ertz has benefitted tremendously from their presence, with the fifth-year Tight End having a Pro Bowl campaign, leading the team in Targets (53), Receptions (34), Receiving Yards (405), and Touchdowns (4). Adding Super Bowl Champion LeGarrette Blount (70 CAR, 390 YDS, 1 TD) to the Backfield has brought a physical presence to the Rushing Attack, while the return of Lane Johnson, who was suspended for all but six games a year ago, has stabilized the Offensive Line. This contest begins a crucial run for Philadelphia, who will play three consecutive games at home against the likes of the Redskins, 49ers, and Broncos before enjoying a late Bye in Week Ten. The schedule at this juncture has been very much skewed towards the road, with four of their first six games competed away from Lincoln Financial Field, which given their success in doing so is yet another telltale sign of this team’s maturity. Needless to say, if Wentz and Co. can down Washington for the second time in seven weeks, then they could very well walk away with the NFC East before Thanksgiving, particularly given the continuous struggles of the New York Giants and the impact that Ezekiel Elliott’s eventual suspension will likely have on the Dallas Cowboys.