When the Eagles meet the Redskins on Sunday, they could be playing to save their season in week six. There was a players only emergency meeting on Wednesday and the team has reinforced it’s faith in Andy Reid, but will it be enough to beat the division leading Redskins and avoid a 1-5 start?
In August, experts advised Eagles fans to book flights to Indianapolis the first weekend in February, put lawn chairs along Broad Street and all but promised a season of dreams and memories for the revamped Eagles. Now, in October, Philadelphia is on the verge of watching its season spiral out of control before Halloween.
This Sunday the Birds square off with the NFC East leading Redskins in their second division game of the year, and absolutely need a win to prolong their playoff chances.
Since the current playoff format began in 1990, there have been 100 teams that started 1-4 and only five turned their season around quick enough to make the postseason. Conversely no team in the last 21 years started 1-5 and made it to the playoffs. Needless to say, the weight of the season and of history will be hovering over the Eagles when they kickoff against the Redskins at Fed Ex Field on Sunday afternoon at 1pm.
Obviously the Eagles players understand the task at hand as veteran receiver Jason Avant called a players only meeting following a team meeting on Wednesday. According to multiple players, Avant stressed team unity among adversity and the gravity of the situation at hand.
“Some people, when they draw criticism, will stand back and say, ‘You know what, we need to dink and dunk, we need to run it a little bit more so we can avoid turnovers.’ No’ We’re shooting for the roof every time, Avant said this week. “We’re going after it, every time. That’s our mentality and that’s what we’re going to do.”
There’s a saying that talk is cheap and that certainly applies here. As much as the Eagles locker room had the feel of one that was circling the wagons and rallying around it’s head coach, one defensive player made a point of stating that players don’t trust each other on game day and mistakes result in games that don’t go wrong in practice.
Philadelphia will certainly need to be united not only the rest of the season, but simply to leave Landover, MD with a win this week. The Redskins strengths are built to target the Eagles weaknesses, especially on defense. Even with running back Tim Hightower banged up and questionable, Washington still has the ability to pound the run game with Ryan Torain who accounted for 136 yards and a touchdown in week four. Against an Eagles run defense that ranks 30th in the league against the rush, Hightower, Torain and rookie Roy Helu must be salivating at the workload they’re sure to shoulder.
Last Sunday the Eagles made Fred Jackson look like OJ Simpson in his prime. Philadelphia’s porous rushing defense allowed the Bills feature back to rack up 111 yards and a touchdown on the ground to go with his 85 receiving yards.
For a silver lining, look no further than the play of Jamar Chaney, especially in the second half last week. The second year middle linebacker finished the game strong by fighting off blocks and finishing with four tackles. Chaney and the rest of the Eagles linebackers will be put to the test on Sunday against the Redskins three headed rushing attack, and for the rest of the season for that matter, until the proper adjustments are made to counteract the run game.
In addition to this being a typical Eagles-Redskins NFC East showdown, the Skins have revenge on their mind from last year’s 59-28 drubbing at the hands of the Eagles on Monday Night Football. Many Redskins believed that Philadelphia ran up the score in that game and it still stings.
“(Last year’s) game is still on everybody’s mind,” Grossman said on Wednesday. “Not only on this team but also throughout this organization.”
That game represents the high water mark of Michael Vick’s Eagles career. Number seven lit up the Redskins for 333 yards and four touchdowns including an 88 yard strike to DeSean Jackson on the first play from scrimmage in a game that boldly announced to the NFL that he was back and perhaps better than ever.
However, the case can be made that Vick has regressed significantly since that blowout win over the Redskins. In Vick’s first ten games as an Eagle he committed just six turnovers while compiling an 8-2 record over that span. Since then though, Vick has 14 turnovers in his last seven starts and the Eagles are just 1-6.
Needless to say there are other factors behind the Eagles struggles during that stretch. But, the quarterback absolutely needs to do a better job of protecting the ball than Vick has this season. In five games, he has thrown seven interceptions, fumbled the ball seven times, losing three of them.
Turnovers have cost the Eagles this season, with a turnover ratio of -10 Games against the Redskins typically are two of the most physical on the schedule for this team every season, and protecting the football will be paramount.
Booking flights to Indianapolis in February seems like the strangest of pipe dreams for this team right now. However, the fact is that with a win over the Redskins and a Giants loss to the Bills, the Eagles would be just one game back of the division lead at 2-4 entering the bye week.
In addition to help in the standings, a win would assuage much of the pressure on the head coach and scrutiny on the players that has been mounting for weeks.
A loss, and the impetus for change may finally be upon this organization going into a week six bye week.
ML’s Pick: They say that championship teams find a way to win games. Well, the Eagles have found numerous ways to lose games this season. There was the three game stretch where opponents outscored the Eagles 36-0 in the fourth quarter. Then there was Sunday’s slow start that created an insurmountable deficit against the Bills. This team just hasn’t shown the character needed to win a tough, hard fought game. Redskins win 23-20.
Matt Lombardo is the Philadelphia Eagles beat reporter and host for 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, NJ. Matt can be reached on Twitter @MattLombardoPHL or by Email at MDLombardo@yahoo.com