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3 keys for Washington to get back on track vs. Eagles

Antonio Gibson follows his blockers and hits a running lane during the Washington Football Team's game against the Dallas Cowboys. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
Antonio Gibson follows his blockers and hits a running lane during the Washington Football Team's game against the Dallas Cowboys. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

The Washington Football Team has another NFC East test and will go on the road to take on the Philadelphia Eagles. Here are three keys to the matchup, presented by Van Metre.

1. Backups will likely need to step up.

Washington has several members of its team on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. As it currently stands, there are 22 players on the list, 14 of which are on defense, including quarterback Taylor Heinicke. There is a possibility that some of them could return, but it's uncertain with two days left before kickoff.

That means Washington's backups and reserve players will need to fill their spots in the meantime.

The options are certainly thin on defense, but the ones available do at least have some modicum of experience. Jeremy Reaves, for example, has started in six games and was a key piece to Washington's playoff push last year. After being cut in August and re-signing to the practice squad, Reaves is ready for his next opportunity.

"The passion, the energy, the fuel, it's always been there," Reaves said. "Now, you just get the opportunity to go do it. You just do what you've always done."

Defensive end Shaka Toney, a seventh-round rookie, is one week removed from his first start, but defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and head coach Ron Rivera have been pleased with the way Toney has progressed in limited action.

"I see a little explosive quickness off the edge," Rivera said. "He's got a little bit of a natural slither to him in terms of his movement skills. And he's a guy that if he can get into a rhythm, especially for a young guy, he could help make an impact."

2. Find a way to establish the run.

The Eagles have held four of their last six opponents to less than 20 points, and a big reason for that has been their resurgent rushing defense.

Led by linebackers Alex Singleton and T.J. Edwards, who have 203 tackles between them, the Eagles have only allowed one team, the New Orleans Saints, to rush for 100 yards since Oct. 31. Over the last three weeks, the Eagles are fifth in rushing yards allowed.

Although Washington did finish with 100 yards on the ground against the Dallas Cowboys, it was hardly up to par with how the team had rushed the ball during its four-game win streak. Antonio Gibson, who has 836 yards this season, was held to 36 yards, more than a third of which came on a 13-yard run.

With Terry McLaurin in the concussion protocol in addition to Heinicke and Cam Sims on the COVID-19 list, it will be paramount for Washington to rely on its run game. Unless J.D. McKissic is taken out of the concussion protocol, Gibson will likely take most of the carries. It will allow Washington to get back to controlling the pace, like it did so well in November.

3. Have an answer for Jalen Hurts.

Regardless of how the Eagles plan to attack Washington's defense, it's a guarantee that Jalen Hurts will spearhead the game plan.

Hurts has been the lynchpin to the Eagles' offense, leading the offense in passing yards (2,435), passing touchdowns (13), rushing yards (695) and rushing touchdowns (8). His yards on the ground are second only to Lamar Jackson among quarterbacks, and the former Oklahoma signal-caller is averaging 5.7 yard per carry.

How Hurts uses his legs will be a focal point for Washington on Sunday. The team has a history of struggling against mobile quarterbacks with some of the most recent examples coming from Daniel Jones and Josh Allen. Jones gashed the defense with long runs on read option plays, while Allen was able to avoid multiple pass-rushers in the pocket.

However, Washington did have an encouraging performance against Russell Wilson, who normally has success running the ball against the Burgundy & Gold, on Monday Night Football. Wilson was held to 16 yards on two carries, taking away a key piece of his skillset.

If Washington can do something similar to Hurts, it will give itself a greater chance of coming back to Ashburn, Virginia, with a win. If not, it will be that much more of a challenge.

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