The Redskins on Sunday travel to Philadelphia to play the Eagles in both teams' 2014 NFC East openers. PhiladelphiaEagles.com content coordinator Chris McPherson (@EaglesInsider) gives us an insider's look at the major storylines for the opposing team heading into the matchup.
Redskins.com:The Eagles are coming off the NFC East title and have gotten off to a 2-0 start, waking up in the second half to defeat the Jaguars and then doing the same Monday night against the Colts. Aside from the obvious – DeSean Jackson's departure and subsequent signing with the Redskins – what, if anything, has changed for Chip Kelly's team this year? Or are they pretty similar to last year's team?
McPherson: "The biggest difference is experience. Head coach Chip Kelly has a better understanding of the NFL and the players know what's expected out of them. Last year, the players had to adjust to Kelly's program – learning the new offensive scheme, the defense was overhauled similar to that of Washington's a few years ago and the sports science (sleep, nutrition, training schedule). This year, the Eagles could hit the ground running once OTAs began. The defense, which had to keep things vanilla early in 2013, was able to expand its subpackages.
A look back at some of the top images in games between the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles.
From a personnel standpoint, the biggest change on offense is the shuffling along the line. Last year, the Eagles had the same five starters for all 17 games (including playoffs). This year, the Eagles lost tackle Allen Barbre for the season and Evan Mathis was placed on the IR, Designated for Return in the opener. Defensively, Malcolm Jenkins has added leadership and playmaking ability to the back end at the safety position."
Redskins.com: Jackson's release and everything surrounding it was well documented, but, in short, the Eagles lost one of the most dynamic players in the league who was coming off one of the best seasons of his career. How has the Eagles' offense evolved without Jackson in the lineup, and what kind of reception do you think Jackson will get from the Philly fans Sunday if he plays?
McPherson:"The Eagles have remained the most explosive offense in the league through the first two games of this season with 12 plays of 20 or more yards. Yes, the Eagles lost Jackson, but Nick Foles now has a year of experience in the system coming off his breakout season. At receiver, the Eagles welcomed the return of Jeremy Maclin, who has scored a touchdown in each of the first two games. The biggest difference is the team's ability to attack the middle of the field. Tight end Zach Ertz is tied for the league lead among all players with six explosive plays. His touchdown vs. Jacksonville was key in the Week 1 comeback win and he had a clutch third-down grab on Monday night which led to a score. Ertz is a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds and Foles has faith in the second-year player."
Redskins.com:Darren Sproles put on a show Monday night against the Colts with his 152 receiving yards, not to mention he's always a threat as a ball carrier. He's had a great start for the Eagles and, I'm sure, is hoping the New Orleans Saints is noticing. What has he meant for this Eagles team, and were the coaches caught off guard at all by his major productivity this early in the season?
McPherson: "Head coach Chip Kelly joked with reporters after the win on Monday night that he stressed all offseason about how good a receiver Sproles is. That's because all of the coaches kept saying how he's a running back first and foremost because Sproles was perceived more as a receiver out of the backfield. Sproles has two rushing touchdowns and 166 yards receiving on the deadly screen passes. Sproles has been the team's MVP to this point. Even LeSean McCoy admitted the team would be in trouble without him. Is the team surprised about his production? No. When watching the offense last year, the team needed a player like Sproles who could be so effective in space and Kelly is phenomenal at getting players in such situations. Sproles has an amazing burst, a low center of gravity and a strong lower body which makes it hard to get him down. Through two games, Sproles has three plays of 40 or more yards. That's how many he had in the last three years in New Orleans."
Redskins.com:The Redskins tied a franchise record with 10 sacks in their Week 2 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan was a key part of that attack, notching four sacks in the game – also tying a Redskins franchise record. If you're right tackle Andrew Gardner, what are you doing this week to prepare for a guy like Kerrigan, who has had success against the Eagles in the past?
McPherson:"The Eagles have to not only worry about Kerrigan, but Brian Orakpo off the other edge and Jason Hatcher's ability to push the pocket up the middle. Gardner made his first career
start on Monday night and improved as the game went on, especially considering the fact that the game was on the road, in a dome and put in some critical situations. Washington's aggressiveness is something to watch with the Eagles' effective screen game. Gardner is relishing the chance to go against Kerrigan and is fully aware of his talents, but the line will have a stern test against this Washington front seven."
Redskins.com:Why haven't the Eagles been able to play a complete game through their first two matchups this season? They were down 17-0 at the half in their opener at home against the Jaguars, and needed a clutch performance from Nick Foles and kicker Cody Parkey to drop the Colts – who, obviously, are a much better team. What's been holding them back in the first half of games so far?
McPherson: "Ha, that's the million-dollar question in Philly this week as well. There is a special resilient mindset about this team, knowing that they are not out of games, but it's dangerous to expect to spot teams double-digit leads in each game. On offense, the Colts did a great job of clogging the middle of the line to limit LeSean McCoy's effectiveness. There were opportunities for the Eagles to convert through the air, but they were just a hair off. Wide receiver Riley Cooper compared the team's start this year to that of last year where it just took some time for the offense to click. Defensively, the Colts focused on the run game early and featured an unbalanced line from time to time which took a while for the Eagles to adjust to, but once they did the Colts' offense was largely kept in check."