After possibly the strangest NFL off-season in league history, we finally have some excellent news: Eagles’ football is back! Although fans will not be allowed in multiple venues throughout the league and countless COVID restrictions are in place, the NFL season is officially underway. For Philadelphia, that starts with the recently renamed Washington Football Team.
The Eagles have not lost to Washington since week 14 of the 2016 season. However, this isn’t the Washington team of old. With a new head coach and front office, solid drafting over the past two seasons, and a QB with a year under his belt, the Washington Football Team is brewing to break Philadelphia’s winning streak. With that said, there are many factors to talk about before this game. Let’s break down some of the critical components of Philly’s week one matchup.
Battle in the Trenches
As we’ve seen over the past few seasons, the Eagles’ are plagued by injuries. Unfortunately, that hasn’t changed this year. On the offensive line, the Eagles’ are without two key starters, RG Brandon Brooks and LT Andre Dillard. Although the unit is still solid overall, there are now some clear holes in the offensive line that a young, ultra-talented Washington defensive line can take advantage of.
On a line that already featured Montez Sweat, Daron Payne, and Jonathan Allen, the Football Team managed to get better. With the second pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Washington selected possibly the most talented player in the draft class, Ohio State DE Chase Young. Young is expected not just to come in and make an immediate impact, but to dominate completely. The rookie is the front-runner to win Defensive Rookie of the Year and a generational talent. Against a crippled Eagles’ o-line, he’s expected by many to have a field day.
How the Eagles’ offensive line holds up against this ferocious pass rush is yet to be seen. However, one thing for sure: Wentz must have time to throw. The Eagles’ receiving core still isn’t fully healthy and features many inexperienced players. If Wentz isn’t given time to wait for routes to develop, it could spell trouble for Philly.
Speaking of the Eagles Receivers
Howie Roseman and Co. went to work this off-season, improving the receiving core. The Eagles drafted three speedsters in Jalen Reagor, John Hightower, Quez Watkins, and trading for another burner in Marquise Goodwin. However, of those four, Goodwin has opted out for the season, and Reagor’s status for week one is uncertain–and that’s not to mention Alshon Jeffrey’s unavailability. This leaves the Eagles with Desean Jackson, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and Greg Ward as the starters, a less than ideal group.
Luckily for Philly, the Football Team defensive backfield isn’t much better. Kendall Fuller and Landon Collins are solid, but Troy Apke and Ronald Darby present tremendous mismatch opportunities. Even with a battered receiving core, the Eagles still have a chance to win through the air. Desean Jackson, even in his mid-30’s, is still a burner and, as we saw week one last year, has solid chemistry with Wentz. On top of that, Arcega-Whiteside had a great camp, and the Eagles’ elite tight end duo is still, well, elite, giving Wentz a multitude of passing options. With Washington’s secondary ripe to be taken advantage of, the Eagles’ receiving woes may not be much of an issue.
Haskins’ Sophomore Season
Washington QB Dwayne Haskins ended last season on a high note. In his week 15 showing against Philadelphia, he completed 19 of 28 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns. He showed increased chemistry with his receivers and gradual growth as a professional football player throughout the season. However, for Washington to be successful this year, he must show significant improvement.
For the Eagles, Haskins is the best-case scenario. With Alex Smith finally healthy and back on the roster, Washington has a reliable, veteran QB who they know would play quality, albeit safe, football. However, they’ve decided to risk it on Haskins, who could play like the insanely talented guy they thought they were drafting in 2019, but could also revert to his early 2019-self. It’s just a matter of which Haskins shows up, and for Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz, those are odds they should be willing to take.
The Coaching Battle The Eagles Have Been Missing
During the last six Philly-Washington matchups, Washington has been hampered by bad coaching. Jay Gruden was subpar and couldn’t motivate the team to win, which led to his firing. This opened the door for the Football Team to hire a proven winner, head coach Ron Rivera.
Rivera, unlike Gruden, brings a commanding presence to the locker room. Although he’s no Bill Belichick, he’s a no-nonsense guy who is there to do one thing: win. This may be what Washington has been missing over the past two decades. Despite the underwhelming roster, the Redskins have a bright (or at least brighter than before) future under Rivera. For the first time in years, there’s a quality coaching battle brewing in this rivalry.
We’ve all seen Doug Pederson’s success in his first four seasons. Despite all the injury outbreaks, he’s got three playoff appearances and a Super Bowl ring as proof of his effectiveness. Now with Rivera on the other sideline, he finally has a worthy opponent in Washington. The streak currently sits at six in favor of Philadelphia, but with a new face at the helm, the Football Team may have their best chance to break it yet. Although these games are never gimmes, don’t expect the Football Team to roll over. It’s a new era in Washington, and despite what’s shown on paper, Rivera will have his team prepared to play come Sunday.