It's Week 3 and we finally get to have some real football. The Redskins visit the division leading Eagles this week, and look to defeat them to move into 1st place. The Eagles have had an interesting start to the season, and could have easily lost one or both of their first two games. The team has started off cold, and then comes from behind to win it in the 2nd half. The Redskins are entering Sunday's game without their starting QB Robert Griffin III, and possibly missing WR DeSean Jackson and TE Jordan Reed. The Skins are coming off of a dominating win against the Jaguars, and have the #1 defense in the league(Thanks Chad Henne!)
I spoke with Brandon Lee Gowton from BleedingGreenNation and asked him 6 questions about the current Eagles team to get us ready for this weekend's game. I also spoke with Mark Saltveit of BGN in an interactive Q&A which you can read here and here. My answer to Brandon will be posted on BGN shortly.
1) The Eagles have been a Jekyll and Hyde team over the first two weeks. When will the 1st Half Eagles finally play a full game, and what has Chip Kelly done at halftime to get the team to start playing football again?
BLG) It's weird how the First Half Eagles and Second Half Eagles seem like completely two different teams. The FHE have committed 4 turnovers and scored 6 points. The SHE have committed 0 turnovers and scored 58 points. To answer your question, I have no idea when this team will put it together, or if they even will. But I will say that if they do... look out. This a team that's currently leading the NFL in yards gained and points scored despite many things working against them. Philadelphia is missing two starters on the offensive line and a top backup, Nick Foles is going through some struggles, LeSean McCoy is only averaging 3.7 yards per carry, and the wide receiving corps is dropping everything thrown their way. That's simultaneously concerning and impressive.
As far as halftime adjustments go, I'm not sure if I can point to anything specific. Chip Kelly himself has said that he hasn't been changing anything. I think it's less about adjustment and more about execution.
2) Fifth string RT Andrew Gardner seems like an easy target to exploit on the Eagles offensive line. Ryan Kerrigan will be lining up across from him a lot on Sunday and is coming off a 4 sack game that got the Jaguars RT released this week. How confident are you in the current Eagles OL?
BLG) There's reasons for optimism and pessimism. On one hand, the Eagles offensive line held their own against the Indianapolis Colts. They didn't allow a single sack. I should also mention that Philadelphia's backup offensive line played really well in the preseason.
Then again, Washington's pass rush is way better than the one in Indianapolis. And this isn't preseason anymore. It's definitely an area of concern for the Eagles. What's been more concerning than pass protection, however, is the Eagles' run-blocking. The loss of All-Pro left guard Evan Mathis especially hurts in this area.
It's possible Gardner might not play against Washington. Backup offensive lineman Matt Tobin returned to practice on Wednesday and it's possible he could start at right tackle over Gardner. The Eagles have used Tobin at guard more recently but he may have the versatility to play both. Tobin, if healthy, would probably be an upgrade. It's all up in the air right now.
3) The Eagles defense seems to struggle stopping the run, which is one of the Redskins strengths. Will Alfred Morris cause problems for the Eagles defense, and is Mychal Kendricks going to play Sunday?
BLG) Philadelphia definitely struggled against the run in Indianapolis. That was sort of surprising because that was the biggest strength of the Eagles defense in 2013. The Eagles even looked stout against the run in Week 1 having limited Jacksonville's ground game to a paltry 64 yards on 25 carries (2.56 average). I wouldn't say the Eagles' run defense is a huge concern but it's certainly something to keep an eye on given their performance against Indianapolis. Alfred Morris could very well go off if the Eagles struggle again.
As for Kendricks, it's unclear right now. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said Kendricks is day-to-day and the third-year linebacker didn't practice on Wednesday. I think he ends up being a game-time decision.
4) Riley Cooper looks like a completely different player this year. Has the lack of DeSean Jackson exposed Cooper, or is he just playing closer to his skill level? PFF ranks him as the 111th out of 111 WRs this year.
BLG) Riley Cooper has been bad, there's no doubt about it. I'm not sure how much of it is DeSean Jackson but a lot of it is just on him. He's had a few drops including one for a would-be touchdown last week. Other times Cooper has been open but Foles hasn't pulled the trigger. One could argue that Cooper is rusty from having missed a significant part of the summer due to an ankle injury. Maybe that's the case. In any event, he definitely needs to step up.
5) What changes have you noticed in Chip Kelly's offense this year, and what have you seen from opposing defense's to slow down the Eagles offense?
BLG) The biggest changes are visible in the player personnel. Darren Sproles has been absolutely lethal. He's such a weapon when it comes to screens and running after the catch. He's also broke off a few big runs as a ball carrier.
Second year tight end Zach Ertz has really emerged as a stud. In just two weeks he's recorded 7 catches for 163 yards and 1 touchdown. His 23.3 average yards per catch is the best in the NFL (minimum 3 catches). He's just a mismatch nightmare in coverage.
6) Nick Foles is not having the same season he had last year, and seems to be missing a lot of opportunities on the field, and forcing other throws that aren't there? He's already matched his turnover total from last season with 2 INTs and 2 fumbles lost in two games. He is still putting up a lot of yards, but is there concern about his play so far this year?
BLG) There's definitely concern about Nick Foles' performance so far. While he hasn't been flat out bad, he could easily have been better at this point. Some will claim people are being too harsh on him but that's just not the case. He needs to play better, plain and simple. He's missing some easy throws and just failing to see open targets at times. I'd like to think these mistakes aren't unfixable, but he really needs to prove that that's the case. No one is expecting him to be perfect, but they are expecting him to be better than he's been so far.
Thanks to Brandon and Mark for the questions and answers, now commence tearing eachother apart in the comments....