After a four game losing streak, the Eagles season hinges on the outcome of today’s NFC East matchup against the Redskins at Fed Ex Field in Landover, MD. Statistically it is an uphill battle for the Eagles to make the playoffs as no team has made the postseason since 1990 after a 1-5 start. Jason Avant called a players only meeting this week, but will it be enough to rally the birds? Each week Taking It To The House puts six keys to the game in focus. Today all eyes will be on the Eagles meager rush defense, lack of redzone efficiency and running back LeSean McCoy.
Before the season began Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman boldly predicted that Washington would win the NFC East this season. In week six, Grossman and the ‘Skins have the opportunity to take a big step towards making that prediction prophetic by beating the Eagles and driving a pivotal nail into the ‘Dream Team’s coffin. Conversely, an Eagles win moves the Birds within striking distance of the division lead.
6. Withstand early emotional storm: Last season the Eagles marched into Fed Ex Field and lit up the scoreboard against the Redskins to the tune of a 58-29 win. Many Redskins players felt disrespected that December Monday night, believing that the Eagles ran up the score against a division rival on the road. Just as Michael Vick connected with DeSean Jackson for a touchdown on the game’s first play last season, Rex Grossman and the Redskin offense is surely hopeful to set the tone early with a quick strike of their own this time around. With a defense that is as beleaguered as the Eagles is, allowing an early touchdown could break the back of what is such a fragile psyche of a 1-4 football team. Escaping the first moments unscathed will be crucial for the Birds.
5. Take the reins off of LeSean McCoy: LeSean McCoy is the best player on the Eagles roster. There isn’t a simpler way to put it. This season McCoy has already piled up 443 yards while posting a career high 5.8 yards per carry average in five games. Yet conspicuously enough he only touches the ball 15 times per game on the ground and nearly four times per game through the air. At a time when the Eagles backs are against the wall and protecting the football is first and foremost for this offense, McCoy needs to be the focal point.
4. Limit Washington’s run game: Entering week six to say the Eagles run defense has left much to be desired would be a monumental understatement. Philadelphia ranks 30th in the NFL allowing an absurd 140 yards per game and surrender an equally troubling five yards per carry. Washington’s offense is built to control the pace of the game through the run. Even with Tim Hightower questionable with a shoulder injury, Mike Shanahan still has rookie Roy Helu and Ryan Torain at his disposal. Torain pounded Rams for 136 yards and a score two weeks ago. Needless to say, the Eagles defense will need to be up to the task of shutting down the Redskins rushing attack, thus putting the ball in quarterback Rex Grossman’s hands.
3. How will new look offensive line gel?: This week King Dunlap missed practice time with back spasms and Jason Peters is out once again this week with a hamstring injury. The result is a reshuffled offensive line in this team’s most important game of the season. If Dunlap is unable to play, then Todd Herremans would slide over to left tackle and Winston Justice would get his first action of the season, protecting Vick’s blind side at right tackle.
“I’m playing left tackle this week as of right now, as far as I know,” Herremans said, giving an obvious indication of what is to come today.
The Eagles offensive line has struggled this season allowing seven sacks while rotating personnel at nearly every position and struggling mightily in short yardage situations. With the chance to put the nail in the Eagles coffin, the Redskins will likely bring heavy pressure on Vick all game long and how the offensive line withstands it will go a long way towards determining the outcome of this game.
2. Close the Red Zone Expressway: Opponents have reached the Red Zone against the Eagles 14 times this season and found pay dirt for a touchdown on 11 of those trips. In general, teams are converting red zone opportunities into points nearly 79 percent of the time against the Eagles. Until Juan Castillo’s bend and break defense can figure out how to close the Red Zone Expressway, teams are going to continue to score at will against this team putting even more pressure on suddenly turnover prone Michael Vick and the Eagles offense.
1. Eliminate turnovers: Through the first five games of the season, the Eagles are turning the ball over at a near historic pace. Through five games the Eagles have 15 turnovers, Michael Vick accounting for eight of them on his own. With a turnover ratio of -10, there is little chance that this team will be able to win a game at this pace. Protecting the football needs to be priority number one for the Eagles against a very opportunistic Redskins defense. Keep in mind that all of last season, the Birds only gave the ball away 11 times.