The Washington Redskins are back at FedExField to finish up their final three NFC East divisional games, starting with the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
Ahead of the Week 15 matchup, Redskins.com spoke to Eagles insider Dave Spadaro about what to expect this weekend. Here's what we learned:
Question: The last time these two teams met in the season opener, the final score was 32-27. How have the Eagles changed since then?
Dave Spadaro: The first thing that really strikes you is that in that opener, the Eagles trailed and then they came back, and they came back with the long haul and DeSean Jackson was the one catching the passes. That was the only game he played because he got hurt 11 snaps into the Week 2 game in Atlanta and then played four snaps against the Chicago bears.
The explosiveness of the Eagles offense has been missing big time. With Jackson gone, they've lost Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor has been injured. They lost Malik Jackson on defense. I mean the Eagles have been decimated with injuries and along with that, they've been really inconsistent. So, a team that everybody thought had a tremendous roster, a Superbowl contending team, all of a sudden is 6-7. So it's been a struggle.
The good news for the team is that they're still in first place in the NFC East tied the Cowboys. They win out here in the last three games, they host a playoff game and potentially get a chance to rest their starters, unbelievably, at the end of the season. So this game Sunday is so important as the Eagles really try to get back on track.
Q: Losing Desean Jackson is certainly a big blow to the Eagles offense. How much did losing him change the game plan moving forward?
Spadaro: It's changed because the Eagles really haven't had somebody to flat out run deep and change the way defenses play. The vertical passing game has not been as explosive, not as productive. They've had trouble creating those "X plays," those big passing plays. Without DeSean, there's just not that speed in the lineup. So that really changed everything.
The Eagles have really had to battle and scrape and claw for every point. They've had a lot of long drives, 10-, 12- and 14-play drives. It's just been hard to score points quickly and easily.
And then defenses are adjusting. They're coming closer to the line of scrimmage, taking away the running game. So it's been an up-and-down battle. The Eagles lost three games in a row before staging a fourth-quarter comeback and an overtime win against the Giants on Monday night. It has been very difficult for Carson Wentz to kind of get loose and throw the ball down the field.
Take a look at practice photos from Thursday's practice for the upcoming game.
Q: That brings us to Carson Wentz, who has struggled at times throughout the season. How much of that is to blame on the fact that he hasn't had the weapons he thought he would at the start of the season?
Spadaro: He's accepted the responsibility for his inconsistencies and the offense's lack of point production. But certainly it is in a lot of ways incumbent upon a quarterback to raise everybody's level around him. On Sunday, the Eagles will go into this game against the Washington Redskins with Robert Davis, who was a draft pick of the Redskins back in 2017 and was just promoted from the practice squad, Greg Ward, who's been on the active roster for I think three or four weeks and then J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who is a rookie and only has eight catches this year.
It's been a challenge to have any sort of experience, any sort of familiarity. All reps you take back in April, May and June through training camp and in July and August, those reps weren't taken with these players. It's hard to build that chemistry, and it's been tough for Carson. He's throwing his spots, and receivers haven't been there. The timing has been off. He's looked bad at times. He's taken heat from a Philadelphia fan base and media that expect great things from an offense that looked fabulous on paper.
So it's been tough on Carson, but he's handled it well. I think he feels like if they can really have a good week of practice, you're finishing up strong. If they can have some success on Sunday against Washington and kind of really build with this young group of really hungry receivers.
Q: The Eagles have plenty of running backs to help Wentz and take some of the pressure off him. How have players like Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard helped establish this running game?
Spadaro: They had something going pretty good before the bye week. They had a game in Buffalo where they iced the game with an eight-minute drive and then they came back the next week, beat Chicago, same thing. Late game, eight minutes to ice the clock. And they mixed the run and the pass and they had Jordan Howard and Sanders as a really good thunder and lightning combination in the backfield.
And then Howard got hurt, and he hasn't played since the Chicago game. So he's missed four games, questionable for this game, hasn't practiced at a full level. And we'll see if he goes. If he goes, it really adds a power element to the running game.
Miles Sanders is a terrific receiver out of the backfield. He's been an explosive playmaker. They've gotten another running back by the name of Boston Scott into the mix a little bit here as a versatile run the ball, catch the ball, show a lot of quickness and burst kind of running back. They've got Jay Ajayi trying to work himself back into shape. So when they're healthy, they feel like behind his good offensive line they can really run the ball well.
Now they won't have their right tackle, Lane Johnson, for this week. He's an All-Pro right tackle who usually matches up with Ryan Kerrigan. So both of those players are going to be out for this game. The hope is that they can get Howard back and get back to running the football, controlling the line of scrimmage and then hitting in the passing game.
Q: Going into the passing game, Zach Ertz has been a player Wentz has been able to rely upon throughout his career. How is he still able to be that valuable piece in the passing game?
Spadaro: Last year, he had 116 catches, which was an NFL record for tight ends in a single season. This year, he's got 79 receptions and five touchdowns. He's just a really smart route runner. He catches the ball very consistently. He's dealt with the physical nature of defensive backs trying to beat him up and he's been able to stay consistent and he knows the defensive are trying to take him out of the game.
The Eagles have done a good job scheming him. Zach does a good job of getting open and he and Carson have a great chemistry. He is no doubt the go-to receiver in this passing game. That's kind of the way it's been and that's kind of the way it's going to be the rest of the season.
Q: This pass rush has been really good at times throughout the year. Who are some of the pieces Dwayne Haskins will have to worry about Sunday?
Spadaro: They'll bring Brandon Graham off the edge, and he's relentless and he's very quick and crafty. Fletcher Cox will work against the interior of Washington's offensive line, which is a really good group. And so that'd be a tough matchup. [Defensive end] Vinny Curry got a couple of sacks on Monday night against the Giants. They rotate in a lot of defensive lineman.
[Defensive coordinator] Jim Schwartz is generally somebody who doesn't blitz a lot. The Eagles understand that Dwayne Haskins is prone, as all rookies are, to holding the football a bit. They've given up too many big plays in the pass game so they really, really rely on getting to the quarterback. On Sunday, that's going to be a big part of it. That Fletcher Cox, Brendan Scherff matchup is incredible and always something to watch.
The Eagle's will try to unlock Cox, try to unlock Brandon Graham and then there will be a couple of complimentary pieces and wrinkles that Jim Schwartz will throw in there to try to get it at Haskins. They know it's going to be Adrian Peterson, and they know it's going to be Haskins to Terry McLaurin down the field. They've got to stop giving up the big plays in the passing game. It's been hurting them way too much.
That's the priority: stop the run game, stop the big plays in the past game and then get after the quarterback and make him eat the football or throw into coverage.
Q: Is this game more of a tossup than people think?
Spadaro: I think that it's always a toss up in the NFC East. I think the Redskins and Eagles always play good games. The Eagles finish out the season against the NFC East. I've learned over the years that you just never take anything for granted. And Washington is still playing really hard under Bill Callahan. They have something going. They played the Packers really well last week, and they won a couple of games in a row. So they're starting to believe in a young quarterback and they're playing for him. Frankly they're playing for their jobs. So yeah, I think it'll be a really tense game on Sunday. It always is against the Redskins. It's a game the Eagles absolutely need to win. They've got to create some momentum, and the Redskins are going to be a tough team. They're a very solid defense and run the football well. I think the game is going to be a great one.