The Washington Commanders will kick off their NFC East slate with a road matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. Here are three keys to the game, presented by KIA.
1. Stop the run.
The Eagles' passing game has been out of sorts to start the season, but their running game is still one of the most dynamic in the NFL.
Through three games, the Eagles have run the ball more than almost anyone. Their 113 attempts are second only to the Detroit Lions, and they move the ball on the ground at an average of 4.9 yards per carry. Most of that is a credit to D'Andre Swift, who has the second most rushing yards in the league after averaging 152.5 yards in the last two weeks. His 308 yards are the most he's racked up to start a season in his career.
"They always have a very capable back, so Swift obviously is that," said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "He's had a great start to the year. It'll be a big challenge for us."
On the surface, the Commanders look like a middling team against the run. James Cook put up 98 yards against them on 15 carries in the Bills' 37-3 blowout in Week 3. However, one-third of Cook's production came on one play in the fourth quarter, when the game was already out of hand. Take that away, and the Bills' rushing attack looks much more reasonable compared to the 168 that they ended up with.
The Commanders have been able to contain the Eagles' ground game in the past. The last time they played at Philadelphia, the Eagles were held to 94 yards -- their fifth lowest total of the season -- on 20 carries. Since Jalen Hurts has been the full-time starter, the Eagles are 3-5 when held to less than 100 rushing yards.
The Commanders' best hope to pull out a win against the Eagles is to make Hurts beat them with his arm.
2. Finish drives.
It might not seem like it because of the score, but there were moments when the Commanders moved the ball well against the Bills.
Washington was inside Buffalo's 25-yard line on three separate occasions; all three drives ended in disappointment. Two were spoiled by interceptions, while the other fizzled out at the Buffalo goal line on a failed fourth-down attempt.
This is part of what head coach Ron Rivera was talking about when he said the Commanders had several missed opportunities. The Bills were up 16-0 at the start of the fourth quarter, which wasn't the best feeling, but the score could easily have been 16-9.
If Washington has a chance of pulling off a win over the Eagles, it has to at least match Philadelphia in scoring drives. The Eagles have scored at least a field goal on 46% of their 35 drives, including five of 10 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football.
Washington has at least shown it has the capability to score points in bunches. They're only two weeks removed from putting up 35 points, the most for the Commanders in a single game since Thanksgiving of the 2020 season, against the Denver Broncos.
But Washington has gotten off to slow starts in each of their last three games, leaving the offense to play catchup for most of the afternoon. It cannot afford to repeat that mistake against the Eagles.
The Washington Commanders were back on the field for their second day of prep for the Philadelphia Eagles. Check out the top photos from Thursday's practice.
3. Slow down the Eagles' defensive front.
The Eagles' roster as a whole has not been as polished as expected to start the year, but the defensive line specifically has played like one of the best positions in football.
That starts with Jalen Carter, who through three games has lived up to his reputation as one of the best prospects coming out of the drafts. He has one more quarterback hit than Aaron Donald, and his Pro Football Focus grade of 93.2 is the best among all interior defenders. His stats as a run defender aren't spectacular, but he's a well-rounded player with 1.5 sacks, two TFLs and two forced fumbles.
But Carter is just one piece of a defensive front that is playing exceptionally well. Jordan Davis leads all defensive linemen on the team with 11 stops, Fletcher Cox is still a solid plyer and Josh Sweat is tied with Carter and Davis to lead the team in sacks.
This runs in opposition to the Commanders' offensive line, which is still a work in progress after being reworked in the offseason. Not all of the 19 sacks the Commanders have allowed are on them, but the fact that they're facing off against a disruptive Eagles front will be another challenge for the group.
The Eagles will likely be confident in their front enough to let them rush the passer while dropping seven players in coverage. Should that happen, the offensive line will need to give Sam Howell as much time as possible to dissect the secondary to find open targets.
The Eagles also have one of the best run defenses in the league through three games, allowing just 48.3 yards per contest. It will be difficult for Washington to create room for Brian Robinson Jr., but the second-year back is seventh in the league with 246 rushing yards. If they can create even a small crease in the front, it should force the Eagles to ease up at least some of their pressure on Howell.