Too early in the season for a must-win game? Perhaps, but there’s plenty at stake in Monday’s NFC East match-up between the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles.
Win on the road and the Redskins (3-2) move within one half-game game behind the first place Eagles (5-1). Lose and the gap is greater than the actual records because Philadelphia will own the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of their season sweep. The Eagles triumphed 30-17 at FedEx Field in Week 1.
Washington’s team that day had its core pieces intact. That won’t be the case Monday with defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (Lisfranc foot surgery) out for at least eight weeks and cornerback Josh Norman (ribs) set to miss a second consecutive game. How do the Redskins replace all that talent? What’s the key battle? Let’s examine these aspects and more in the Week 7 things to watch.
Norman was the biggest loss for Washington’s secondary in Sunday’s 26-24 win over San Francisco, but not the only. Five others dealt with or suffered injuries, including Bashaud Breeland. Washington’s other starting outside cornerback exited with a knee injury. Breeland is listed as “questionable” for Monday after limited practice work all week.
If Breeland can play, he’ll see plenty of Alshon Jeffery while slot corner Kendall Fuller matches up with Nelson Agholor with Quinton Dunbar on the other side. If Breeland is out or limited, third-round pick Fabian Moreau enters as more than a fourth corner. Though the rookie offers tremendous athleticism including needed speed to keep up with Eagles speedster Torrey Smith, Philadelphia likely throws his way when possible.
Getting by quarterbacks like journeyman Brian Hoyer and rookie C.J. Beathard is one thing. Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz (seven touchdown passes in last two games) is among the most dialed in passers this season.
As for the defensive line, Washington must find ways to replace the powerful Allen, who typically received the most weekly snaps within the group. Matt Ioannidis (3.5 sacks) is arguably the most improved player on the team through five games. Now another second-year player, Anthony Lanier, gets his shot. Lanier, who played four games during his rookie season, is expected to be active on game day for the first time this season.
“Nothing different,” veteran lineman Ziggy Hood said of the approach without Allen. “It’s Anthony’s job to do it better than Jonathan did. That’s all predicated on how he works this week and what opportunity he get out there. And what a great opportunity for this young man to get a chance to play on a Monday night game.”
Bruising running back LeGarrette Blount tallied 344 yards on the ground (6.14 ypc) over Philadelphia’s last four games.
Redskins coach Jay Gruden desires a balanced approach offensively. Doing so against the NFL’s top-ranked run defense makes that hope challenging. Led by all-world lineman Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia is allowing a league-low 65.7 yards per game.
The leader of perhaps the league’s top defensive line, Cox had a strip-sack and a fumble return for a touchdown in the opener. Yet sending double-teams his way might not be enough – and that approach opens space for others including pass rusher Brandon Graham (four sacks).
“They push the pocket well,” Redskins right guard Brandon Scherff said of the Eagles lineman. “Inside guys, outside guys can keep that quarterback in. They’re all powerful guys. They’re a pretty good matchup. We’ve got our work cut out for us and we have to be on the same page Monday.”
Scherff’s personal page reads seek and destroy. The Pro Bowl guard – and Cox’s primary foe come Monday night -- added more to his game this season in the run game and out in space.
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) October 17, 2017
“Yeah, I think every week he does something on tape where you scratch your head and are you’re like, ‘Wow,’” Gruden said. “He’s run blocking. He’s double-teaming. He’s doing everything you want him to do out in screens, out in space. He’s the best guard out in space by far in this league. It’s fun to watch him"
The expected return of running back Robert Kelley (foot) should bolster the ground game. Washington running backs averaged a mere 2.6 yards in the season opener, but also only received 13 carries versus 40 pass attempts from quarterback Kirk Cousins. Balance works best for this offense. Getting the best of or at neutralizing Cox and the Eagles will help Gruden stay the course.
The Redskins passing game hasn’t clicked consistently this season, which is why a matchup against an Eagles defense allowing the fifth most yards in the air comes at the right time. Fantasy football owners cannot trust Terrelle Pryor right now, but uncertainty with Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby (ankle) offers hope. Of Pryor’s 29 targets this season, 11 came in Week 1. He hauled in six for 66 yards.
Kicker Nick Rose makes his NFL debut after replacing Dustin Hopkins (hip) on the active roster – and on the road, on Monday Night Football, in the never-hospitable Philadelphia. No pressure, kid.