I don’t think I can write a normal preview because there are simply too many unknowns. We don’t know exactly what to expect from Chip Kelly’s offense. We don’t know exactly what to expect from Bill Davis’s defense. Heck, the Skins may have some new wrinkles. Lots of unknowns.
For now, I’ll make some educated guesses.
We know that Chip Kelly wants to run the ball. This might be the week to stick with the passing game, though. The Skins were 30th in the NFL in pass defense last year. They were awful. They didn’t make significant changes to the secondary. They spent a 2nd round pick on CB David Amerson. They used a 6th rounder on Safety Bacarri Rambo. That means that 2 of the top 5 DBs are going to be rookies. Rambo is a starter. Amerson plays in some Nickel and Dime sets.
The good news here is that Kelly won’t out-think himself. If the Skins play their Safeties back, trying to limit big plays, the Eagles will likely run the ball and throw quick passes to the outside. If the Skins focus on stopping LeSean McCoy, it will be bombs away to DeSean Jackson. Kelly will stay true to his belief to take what the defense gives you. Keep an adaptable gameplan and adjust it to what is there for the taking and what is working.
There will be a ton of focus tonight on Mike Vick. He didn’t play against the Skins last year, but was 3-0 vs them in 2010 and 2011. They did knock him out of one game in 2010. The defenses that give Vick the most problems are the ones with DBs who can play in the box and/or LBs who run really well. I don’t think the Skins fall into either category so that gives me some confidence that he can have a good game.
If you want to break this game down to its most simple level, the Eagles need to control the LOS. The O-line needs to keep Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo away from Vick. The OL must give him time to throw and open running holes for Shady and the gang.
I’m sure rookie Lane Johnson will have some bad moments. Few rookies step in and play at an elite level. Johnson did show this summer that he could handle getting beat. He was able to learn from mistakes and not have rushers beat him with the same tricks over and over. Johnson has the physical ability to be a shutdown OT. He just needs experience.
The blocker who had the most erratic summer is Todd Herremans. I’m sure that wasn’t lost on the Skins. The problem is that they don’t have a 295-pound DT who can use his quickness/burst to give Todd fits. The Skins DL are all 310 plus pounds. I’m sure they’ll try to work a favorable matchup there, but I don’t know if they can exploit it.
Maybe the most offensive intrigue is with the TEs. What will Kelly do with Zach Ertz? Will James Casey emerge as a key player now that the regular season is here? Ertz had an active summer, but I’m sure Kelly has some specific ideas of how to use him that we’ve not seen. Casey had a quiet summer, but I think he’ll be an important player in the no-huddle attack due to his versatility.
Speaking of the no-huddle, how many plays will the Eagles run? The Pats ran 89 yesterday. The Ravens ran 87. The Lions had 77 and the Niners had 75. Those are all really high totals. I’m sure Kelly would love to run 80 plays, but doing that against a team that runs as well as WAS will be tough. Part of running a lot of plays is stopping the opponent and getting the ball back. The Ravens had a different strategy. They let the Broncos score quickly and got the ball back that way. I’m hoping the Eagles run 75 plays tonight.
I fully expect the Eagles to move the ball and score points.
Can the Eagles stop the Skins?
Not many teams did last year. The Skins were Top 5 in yards and points. A more realistic goal is for the Eagles to make some key plays. Come up with a Red Zone stop or two. Come up with a takeaway. You’re just not likely to shut the Skins down. Mike Shanahan remains one of the best offensive minds in the NFL and he’s got plenty of talent to work with.
Obviously RGIII will be the focus of everyone’s attention. He hasn’t played since last year’s ACL tear in the playoffs. Young guys can heal remarkably well these days, but part of what made RGIII so special is that he was a dynamic athlete. Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck can break off a 20-yard run. RGIII is the guy who could go for 50 yards. He had explosive speed and dynamic cutting ability. You could put him in a phone booth with 2 LBs and he’d come out untouched.
I don’t doubt that RGIII is healthy and ready to play. I question if he’s the same guy. We’ve seen ACL tears affect a player the next year and others that didn’t. Adrian Peterson showed no problems after his. He is as good as ever. I’m just not sure it is realistic to expect the same from RGIII.
Now that RGIII is coming off an injury, the thinking is that he’ll run less. He averaged 8 runs per game last year. The high total was 13, the low was just 1. I’m sure Shanny will have RGIII be more careful, but you don’t want to have him give up one of his great qualities. Mobility is part of what makes RGIII so tough to defense.
My guess is that the Eagles will focus on stopping the run and will take some chances against the pass. I would play a lot of 8-man fronts and force RGIII to become a passer. He’s good at it, but it isn’t his strength. In 9 wins, RGIII averaged 24 pass attempts. In 6 losses, he averaged 30 pass attempts. Control the run game and make him throw. RGIII is most dangerous when the defense has to sit on its heels and react to him and the fakes. Is this run or pass? If run, is he keeping it or handing it off?
I would love to see the Eagles play a lot of 4-3 Under, also bringing an 8th defender down to crowd the LOS. We’ll have to wait and see what Davis actually does.
I’m pretty confident that Ced Thornton and Fletcher Cox will play well. I have no idea what to expect from Isaac Sopoaga. Last year DeMeco Ryans was quiet in the preseason, but then played well during the regular season. I’m hoping Sopes does something like that. If not, we’ll see Bennie Logan mixed in.
All Eagles fans are going to be watching Trent Cole a lot. Brandon Graham, too, when he’s on the field. Can these guys get the job done when allowed to attack upfield? They dropped a lot this summer because Davis was evaluating them. That’s over. This is go time. Both Cole and Graham will be attacking on most plays.
Mychal Kendricks is the guy who could be the key to the game. He has the speed to chase RGIII out wide. He also is the best blitzer. In the 3-4, he will be used to attack on a regular basis.
As for the secondary, cross your fingers. I actually like the corners, but they aren’t shutdown types who are going to impact the game. The Eagles need Fletcher and Williams to not give up big plays and to tackle when the ball is in their area. I think Patrick Chung could be a key player tonight. He is a good run defender. I would expect to see him in the box quite a bit. Nate Allen will finally get to show whether he can tackle or not. He’ll have some chances in this game. Nate had a solid summer, but this is a tough matchup for him. He’s got to read run/pass. He’s got to get to the right spot. He’s then got to make the play. A good game from Nate would be tremendous for the defense. A bad game could signal the beginning of the end for him.
The Eagles would love to put tonight’s game in the hands of RB Alfred Morris. He had a sensational rookie year, but you’d much rather face him than RGIII or Pierre Garcon. Morris ran for 76 and 91 yards vs the Eagles last year so they did a reasonable job in controlling him. He averaged just under 4 yards per carry and had only 1 TD.
Tackling will be critical tonight. The Eagles were erratic at tackling this summer. That needs to stop, ASAP.
I’m sure the Skins fakes and elaborate plays will lead to some confusion and missed assignments, but I hope that the ability to study what they did last year will make it tougher for them to catch teams completely off-guard.
I’m confident in this group. I am curious if we see DeSean Jackson as the PR.
RB Chris Thompson is expected to be the Skins top RS. He is a dynamic player. The Eagles must take good angles and tackle well. He’s incredibly fast, but also deceptively strong. Thompson did have some fumbling issues this summer so you can bet the Eagles will be trying to get that ball loose.
I’m curious to see how Vinny Curry will be used and how much he’ll play.
I’m curious to see if Chris Polk plays much. The #3 RB for Andy Reid played very little.
Will Kelly have 3 QBs active or just go with 2?
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