The Philadelphia Eagles head to the nation's capital for an NFC East matchup between two 3-6 teams. While their records may be the same, their trajectories are different. The Eagles are in total free fall, entering Week 11 on a five-game losing streak -- the longest such stretch in Andy Reid's 14-year tenure in Philly. A bye-week shakeup on the coaching staff has not appeared to jolt his team in the second half, and there are numerous concerns and questions about the quarterback position.
The preseason expectations for the Redskins weren't as high as those for the Eagles, but they were instantly reset after Robert Griffin III burst on the scene in the first month of the season. Washington is in the middle of a midseason slump, losers of three straight. They were relatively non-compeititve in their last two games against the Steelers and Panthers, a lesser team who controlled Mike Shanahan's club at FedEx Field.
Shanahan called the Panthers game a must-win, and after the loss, he set off a controversy with comments that implied the team would spend the second half of the season evaluating players for next year. He backtracked from that quickly, but there were reports of players upset by the implication that this season and a shot at the playoffs were now lost. Beginning this week, five of their last seven games will be played in the division. They've had two weeks to prepare for the stumbling Eagles, so despite the comments, expect the Redskins to be ready to start their final seven-game stretch with a playoff push in mind.
Meet the Redskins
It's hard to say the start of RGIII's career is anything but an unqualified success, but this month-long stretch has certainly been the biggest hurdle he's had to face as the new leader of the franchise. He's not getting much help from his defense, and he's certainly not getting a lot of help from his receivers, who were plagued by drops in the losses to the Steelers and Panthers.
But the numbers are still there for the Rookie of the Year candidate, and he enters Week 11 in command of the second-ranked rushing attack in the league. Shanahan is renowned for cultivating successful run games, and the rookie combination of RGIII and Alfred Morris has the Skins averaging 164.6 yards per game. Morris is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and the unheralded prospect is consistently finding running room to create positive plays. His opportunities were limited the past two weeks as the Skins went to the air to try and come back, but he's still a first-rate option in the backfield.
While Griffin has demonstrated his ability to break off a long run, he's also been consistently accurate through the air. He does not have an excellent deep threat on the outside, and when his receivers do get open, they've been prone to dropping the ball. The Eagles pass rush has been unable to replicate their league-leading sack numbers from last season, but they did get to Tony Romo last week. The priority will be establishing the run on the inside, but RGIII should still find windows to operate through the air against an aging Eagles secondary.
The biggest reason for the Redskins being three games under .500 is their defense, specifically their secondary. Injuries and suspensions depleted an already questionable unit, and the defensive backfield has let down Washington on a weekly basis. Whether their getting torched in end-of-game situations, or yielding big plays that put the offense in a hole early, Washington's secondary has continually yielded big days for opposing quarterbacks.
They're 30th in the league, allowing 301.7 yards per game through the air. Jim Haslett's group has been relatively steady against the run, but even with help dropping back into coverage, opponents continue to pick apart the defense through the air. Under Michael Vick, the Eagles weren't been particularly impressive in Andy Reid's pass-happy offense, but the Redskins could surely provide that opportunity for rookie Nick Foles.
Meet the Eagles
The Andy Reid era in Philadelphia appears to be coming to an end, as the Eagles scuffle for the second straight season. The five-game losing streak is the longest of Reid's career as a head coach, and with a likely playoffs mandate hanging over his head, his team will need to find some magic in their last seven games to save his job.
Michael Vick has simply not been the dual-threat quarterback opponents came to fear so much, with the Eagles offense often stuck in neutral and prone to turnovers. Vick sustained a concussion last week in the loss to the Cowboys and rookie Nick Foles came on and played a majority of the snaps. Foles was impressive in the preseason but he looked shaky at times against Dallas. He spent the week taking first-team snaps in practice with the expectation that Vick would be unable to go. Vick was officially ruled out on Friday, so Foles will have his first starting opportunity against a pass defense that is vulnerable
One of the constant criticisms levied against Reid is his propensity to neglect the rush, even when he has some of the league's best weapons as primary ball carriers. That critique emerged again this season when many felt explosive running back LeSean McCoy was not getting enough carries -- early in games and even with Philadelphia leading. McCoy led the league with 17 rushing touchdowns last season, but he's found the end zone just twice in a frustrating 2012 campaign. He's still among the top 10 rushers in the game but may once again have his carries limited as the Eagles go to the air against the Skins.
The firing of Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator was perceived as a scapegoat and panic move by Reid, and the defense has not markedly improved in the small sample size since his departure. Todd Bowles did send waves of rushers at Romo last week, registering three sacks. But the Eagles have been unable to come up with a big play on either defense or special teams. The biggest concern this week will be whether or not they can avoid the home run strike that RG3 has pulled off repeatedly in his rookie season.
Local Takes: Redskins
The Redskins secondary may be the weakness of the team, but they'll also be facing a rookie quarterback. Hogs Haven has an excellent film breakdown on what the 'Skins can do in their pass defense against Foles:
So based on the film from the Eagles game against the Cowboys, I'd be looking for the Redskins to play off-man or zone coverage with eyes focused on Foles. I think he can be baited into a throw or can have throws jumped by aggressive corners. I wouldn't necessarily be looking to send multiple exotic blitzes or heavily disguise coverages. I don't think we've seen enough evidence that he can effectively drop back, read an NFL defense and take what it gives him on a consistent basis. I would be looking to force him to take these quick, timing throws underneath and see if you can jump a couple.
Local Takes: Eagles
Jason at Bleeding Green Nation spotlighted the tackling machine of DeMeco Ryans and fellow linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who will both be instrumental against the Skins' rushing game:
This weekend, the pair of Ryans & Kendricks will certainly have their hands full with a Washington team who is currently 2nd in the NFL in rushing. They're led by rookie Alfred Morris with just under 800 yards on the season so far. However, the scariest running threat on the team is probably rookie QB Robert Griffin III who has 529 yards on 81 carries. Kendricks, with his speed, will certainly be key in making sure RG3 doesn't get around the edge on a bootleg.
The Redskins really are the best rushing attack the Eagles have faced all year, by quite some margin. The 2nd best rushing team they've faced this year is the Giants, who come in at 13th.
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Week 11 NFL picks against the spread sbn.to/T5C5fm— BleedingGreenNation (@BleedingGreen) November 16, 2012
@Rich_Campbell - Redskins beat reporter
Today's newspaper feature examines how the Redskins' opportunity against rookie QB Nick Foles might in fact be a trap: wtim.es/UuTTNR— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) November 16, 2012
@Jeff_McLane - Eagles beat reporter
Andy Reid said that he has not yet considered signing a QB in case Michael Vick is out for an extended period.— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) November 16, 2012
Michael Vick won't play, so this game loses some luster but with any Eagles game from here on out we're going to be on Andy Reid watch. He could get fired at any time. Or he could convince management that they have to go to Nick Foles right now, which could buy him another year or two. That's the game that's going on right now.The pick: 24-20, Redskins
The status of Vick affected the line throughout the week. According to OddsShark, the Redskins opened as 1½-point favorites that that has now shot up to more than a field goal in most places.
The Redskins will have a short week, turning around to play in Dallas for the traditional Thanksgiving Day game. Philadelphia will have an extra day, hosting Carolina in Week 12 for Monday Night Football.