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Behind Enemy Lines 2014: Eagles Edition II

The Redskins on Saturday take on the Philadelphia Eagles at FedExField.'s Chris McPherson (@EaglesInsider on Twitter) gives us an insider's look at the major storylines for the opposing team heading into the matchup.* Eagles have now lost back-to-back games for the first time since last October and have dropped out of first place in the division. How do you think they'll respond with two NFC East games left to and a chance to regain the top spot in the division?

McPherson: "Head coach Chip Kelly and the team's leaders will have the players in the right mindset.

Even though the Eagles need some help to get into the postseason, the odds will be in their favor if they take care of business over the next two weeks. Since the NFL expanded to the 16-game schedule, there were only two teams that won 11 games and did not make the playoffs. But first things first. The Eagles have an immense amount of respect for Washington. The first meeting went down to the wire and was decided by only three points.

A look back at some of the top images in games between the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles.

Saturday also provides an opportunity for the Eagles to shore up two areas that have plagued the team this season - turnovers on offense and explosive plays on defense. The Eagles committed three turnovers and allowed six plays of 20 yards or more including two touchdowns. In Kelly's short tenure as head coach, the one game that somewhat resembled what the Eagles face this weekend was last year's Week 16 showdown with Chicago. The Eagles were coming off a tough loss to Minnesota and the Bears game had no impact on the playoff picture. The Eagles rose to the challenge and took care of business winning 51-13. Saturday's game definitely has meaning when it comes to the Eagles' playoff hopes, and because of that there's every reason to believe that emotionally the team will be ready." Sanchez has taken over for an injured Nick Foles under center and done very well at times. But he's also had some turnover issues that had plagued him when he was with the New York Jets. What's the current status on the quarterback position for the Eagles?

McPherson: "Nick Foles has not yet been cleared to return from the collarbone injury he suffered back on Nov. 2 in Houston so Mark Sanchez is the guy this Saturday against Washington. Sanchez is 3-3 as the starter, but that does not include an impressive debut when he came off the bench against the Texans. The two performances against Dallas highlight how effective Sanchez can be in this offense and what happens when he struggles.

On Thanksgiving, Sanchez displayed great command of the offense utilizing the tempo to keep the Dallas defense off-balance. He threw with anticipation and even gained a season-high 28 yards on the ground through the zone-read. Most importantly in that game, Sanchez did not turn the ball over.

Last Sunday night, Sanchez and the Eagles' offense went three-and-out on its first two drives and trailed 21-0 before getting a first down. Yes, the Eagles rallied to take the lead, but after Dallas answered back Sanchez had two interceptions and the Eagles only mustered a field goal for the rest of the game.

Consistency is the key for the Eagles' offense and it will be looking to get off to a fast start Saturday against Washington." The Eagles' defense ranks in the bottom half of the league in both stopping the run and pass. What's the feel around the facility about the team's overall play defensively? Is there a sense of urgency to improve? Or do they feel the offense is high-powered enough to overcome that?

McPherson: "The total numbers are high partly because of the amount of time the defense is on the field. The Eagles are last in time of possession. The Eagles actually rank in the top 10 of yards per play and yards per carry allowed on the season.

The defensive line has been outstanding. Defensive end Fletcher Cox is becoming a star while nose tackle Bennie Logan and defensive end Cedric Thornton are integral pieces to the team's success. Dallas running back DeMarco Murray has been held to fewer than 100 yards rushing when Tony Romo starts twice all season. Both times were by the Eagles.

The pass rush led by linebacker Connor Barwin has been effective with the Eagles ranking second in the league in sacks per pass attempt. Inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks is as fast as any linebacker in the league and he's not just a cover linebacker. He can play the run as well. Look for him to be utilized as a spy against Robert Griffin III.

The secondary has improved this year with the addition of Malcolm Jenkins, but the scheme forces the cornerbacks to be in a lot of one-on-one situations and Dallas took advantage last Sunday night when the pass rush wasn't able to disrupt the timing.

The Eagles' offense gets all of the headlines, but the team is in the playoff chase because of the improvements made on the defensive side of the ball." Connor Barwin is having the best season of his career. What has he done to prepare himself for the kind of success he's having, and have they changed anything schematically to aid in that success?

McPherson: "Connor Barwin was signed by the Eagles in the 2013 offseason to help aid the transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4. Barwin was the only experienced 3-4 outside linebacker on the roster last season as players like Trent Cole and Brandon Graham were converted defensive ends. Barwin had to sacrifice pass rush reps because of his ability to drop back and play in coverage.

In the second year of defensive coordinator Bill Davis' scheme, the players are more familiar with what's being asked of them. Cole and Graham are much more comfortable dropping back so Davis has been able to give Barwin more chances to get after the quarterback. Barwin's no stranger to getting after the quarterback. In Houston, Barwin had 11.5 sacks in 2011.

But Barwin deserves credit for honing his pass-rush ability. In fact, Barwin spends time after each training session working on his fundamentals.

The combination of the improvement of the other linebackers, the defensive line's ability to do the dirty work and eat up blockers and Barwin's relentless pursuit of the quarterback has resulted in a career year as well as a Pro Bowl-worthy campaign for the sixth-year linebacker."




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