Chip Kelly and the Eagles are traveling south to Washington to visit embattled Jay Gruden and the 'Skins. Kelly's team sits at 9-5 and second in the division, a game behind the Cowboys, and on the outside looking in at a playoff spot. Gruden's team, on the other hand, sits at 3-11, good (?) enough for last in the division, second worst in the NFC (thanks, Lovie), and 27th in the NFL. It wasn't supposed to be like this for Dan Snyder's team. Three seasons after trading away a raft of draft picks to draft the man they hoped would be their franchise QB, Gruden has publicly and privately criticized, and then benched, RGMe, only to have to hope that Griffin is the bigger person and will respond to Colt McCoy's neck injury and his newfound opportunity to start for the team's last two games by regaining that spark that wowed the NFL and led to him being drafted second overall in 2012.
Unfortunately, Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen haven't gifted Gruden or Griffin with a raft of good players, and injuries have decimated a roster that was already going to struggle in the strong NFC East. In addition to losing Brian Orakpo, Brandon Meriweather, DeAngelo Hall, Duke Ihenacho, and Colt McCoy to injured reserve, Gruden's guys have played undisciplined football, something that neither Jay Gruden, a rookie NFL HC, nor his three QBs, Griffin, McCoy, and Kirk Cousins, could afford. Add to that the controversy surrounding the team's name, and Dan Snyder's overall unpopularity (seriously, the only owner I can think of with as much vitriol surrounding him is our friend Jerruh in the Metroplex), and you have a maelstrom surrounding these 53 men at a time when they are playing for pride.
This past offseason, Chip Kelly decided that he could no longer work with DeSean Jackson and released him March 28. There were rumors of criminal activity, Jackson disrespecting his HC, and a failure to adjust to the new regime in Philadelphia. Jackson signed with Washington on April 2. Despite recent social media musings, there have been no such reports of issues in Washington (or perhaps they've been lost in the media coverage of everything else going wrong in northern Virginia). Jackson has 50 receptions for 957 yards and 5 TDs for Washington, but Philadelphia is rolling right along with Jeremy Maclin (78 receptions, 1,207 yards, 10 TDs), and Jordan Matthews (56/709/7), despite losing Nick Foles to a clavicle injury in their game against us and rolling with Mark Sanchez since then.
Despite losing their starting QB and DeMeco Ryans to injuries here at NRG Stadium, the Eagles were in control of their playoff destiny until a devastating loss on Sunday Night Football to the Dallas Cowboys last week. Despite their short week, Washington presents an opportunity for Philly to right the ship and return to their winning ways. The key to this is an ability to contain and constrain RGMe's abilities to create things outside the pocket and to blanket Jackson, someone they have experience practicing against. If they can force the 'Skins to rely solely on Alfred Morris, they should be able to win the game, provided their own guys show up, especially if their numerous offensive weapons, like RBs LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles, WRs Riley Cooper, Maclin, and Matthews, and TEs Brent Celek and Zach Ertz, combine to wreak havoc.
These teams last met in late September in a close game (37-34 Philly). That game got off to a surprising start, with Chris Polk returning a kickoff 102 yards for a TD before the Eagles' O even stepped on the field. The Kirk Cousins hype train was in full effect back then, as he threw for 427 yards and 3 TDs, but the 'Skins' D rolled over and died, allowing Foles 3 TDs and 325 yards. Cody Parkey's FG ended up being the difference-maker.
Ironically, if you examine the two teams, head-to-head, there aren't many categories where one is significantly better or worse than the other, however, PHI is 5th in total offense while WAS is 12th. PHI is 7th and 8th, respectively in passing and rushing yards per game, while WAS is 10th and 20th. In WAS' favor, they are 10th in total defense compared to PHI's 26th, and 17th and 7th in passing and rushing yards allowed per game compared to PHI's 28th and 18th. The major difference is in scoring defense. Philly allows 24.8 points per game, good for 22nd in the NFL, while Washington allows 26.4 points per game, which is 26th. The real issue is that Philly scores 29.7 PPG (4th in the NFL), while WAS can only muster 18.4 (26th). It's common sense that to win, you have to score more points than you allow, which helps explain why so much of the focus is on Washington's offense, even though, realistically, the defense deserves a share of the blame.
Since this is "Thursday Night Football," the game is only available on NFL Network and NFL RedZone, but those of us who have the channels can tune in to see these division foes battle it out and wonder whether PHI can win and hopefully spoil the Cowboys' playoff dreams.