The unstoppable force versus the immovable object (that sounds better than "Battle for NFC East Basement," right?). In the case of Sunday's game against the Redskins, Clinton Portis and LaDell Betts represent the unstoppable force, the Eagles run D the immovable object. Head coach Jim Zorn's dedication to the run has been a huge catalyst for the team's surprising 3-1 start. After the jump we'll break down this meeting between the Eagles (2-2) and the Redskins (3-1).
First, the relevant numbers:
- The Eagles defense has allowed 215 yards on 84 carries through their first four games.
- Averages: 21 carries per game, 53.75 yards per game.
- The Redskins have rushed for 530 yards on 123 carries through their first four games.
- Averages: 30.75 carries per game, 132.5 yards per game.
It would be simple to look at those numbers and say something has to give. It would also be simple to think that whoever wins this battle will win the game. I'm not so sure. Honestly, I'll be surprised if the play of the Eagles' defense dictates the outcome of the game. The D played excellent last week. Yes, they allowed 24 points, but you can make a case that at least part of the blame for 14 of them falls on other parts of the team (2nd touchdown came after muffed punt was recovered on the Eagle 24 yard-line, 3rd touchdown came on a drive that started at the 40 due to a missed FG). They pressured Orton, stuffed the run, forced turnovers. Pretty much everything you could ask for.
I'll be surprised if the Eagles D doesn't hold its own against the Skins. The question is whether the O can hold up its end of the bargain. The Skins have done a decent job on run defense (4.47 y/carry, 82.75 y/game), they haven't been torched through the air either. Romo threw for 300 yards and 3 TDs last week, but it took him 47 attempts to get there. They have no pass rush whatsoever, only 6 sacks through 4 games, and it looks like Jason Taylor will be out again this week. Also working in the Eagles' favor is the injury to Shawn Springs, the Skins best corner (he's listed as questionable and probably won't play).
You'd assume that a team which allows McNabb to stand in the pocket will have serious problems. The West Coast offense is built on timing, but there are so many options out there, if you allow McNabb to get through all of his progressions he should pick you apart.
As is usually the case, the key on offense will be #36, if he's back, every single piece of the Eagles offense works better, much better. If he's out, well the Eagles need to find a way to move the ball and put it in the endzone better than they did last week. Simple, right? Westbrook practiced on Wednesday and Thursday, in a limited role. He apparently participated fully today, so we have to see how he bounces back from that. He'll probably be a game time decision again (which kills my fantasy team.) L.J. Smith was also a full participant, but he's still listed as questionable. Shawn Andrews and Kevin Curtis will probably all miss the game.
Here are my keys:Offense
- McNabb on an Island - If Westbrook is out, we need McNabb to take this game. He's the leader, he's the highest-paid guy on offense. He's apparently back to 100% health-wise. We can't keep using the excuse that Westbrook is out to explain away losses. He needs to pick this team up.
- Run over MJG - Last week I paid close attention to the play of Max-Jean Gilles. What I saw didn't really surprise me. He's below average against the pass rush, against the run, he was a monster. He consistently pushed his man back off the line and got to the LB. Use his strengths, run the ball up the gut with Buckhalter, forget about sweeps and tosses to him, that's not his game.
- DeSean's Amends - He finally got his first TD last week, then flushed it down the toilet with 1.5 bad plays. With out Westbrook, he's the only guy on the field who's a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. He needs to forget about those bad plays, and more importantly, erase them from our memory (and Andy Reid's memory) by replacing them with some game-changing plays on the positive side of the ledger.
- Tony, L.J. and Brent - For the Eagles to truly get their passing game going, they need to start working the intermediate routes, instead of focusing solely on deep balls and dump offs/screens to their backs. Tony Hunt has done a good job out of the FB position, which they should stick with, but they really need to get their tight ends more involved. If L.J. can't go, Celek should get more touches. He's shown good hands and a toughness after he catches the ball.
- Keep Up The Good Work - Simple, stuff the run like you have been all year long. I think the Redskins will be more dedicated to keeping the ball on the ground than any team they've faced so far this season. Make them regret that dedication.
- Keep Up The Pressure - By now this should go without saying, but blitz, blitz and blitz some more. You've got the players in the defensive backfield to cover them one-on-one, send extra men and get Campbell on his back early and often. Almost without fail blitzing has worked this season. The only thing that's stopped the blitz has been Jim Johnson's failure to dial them up against Dallas. Let's hope that doesn't happen this week.
- Put Asante on Santana - The biggest weapon in the passing game for the Skins is Santana Moss (145 yards last week). I want to see Asante shadow him all over the field. That's what he was brought in here to do. If I see Brown or Lito get burned deep while Asante covers the #3 receiver on the other side of the field I'm going to be pissed.
- Weapon X, meet Cooley - Another multi-talented tight end for Dawkins to cover. Let's see how he fares.