I had an opportunity to pick through the game between the Eagles and Jaguars last week. Both teams are future opponents of the Redskins this season, though the Jaguars game isn't until Christmas. Right now, I'll focus just on the Eagles, and what we learned from that game last week.
The Eagles are a team that's struggling with the balance on their offensive line. Their starting C and RG last year were Jamaal Jackson (best player on the unit), and RG Stacey Andrews. Jackson is out for the balance of this season, and Andrews was traded to the Bills after losing his starting job. Replacing them: Nick Cole at RG and third year man Mike McGlynn at Center. The Eagles benefit from having great depth on the line, but playing two largely inexperienced players there has caused them to have to reverse their protections.
To do this, the Eagles moved their offensive strength from the right to the left. They set the strength of their protections to the offensive left, which means that the centerpiece of the protection unit is now the more experienced LG Todd Herremans instead of Cole. This doesn't change the role of either tackle, who have been very durable for them. RT Winston Justice is the best player on the line, while LT Jason Peters probably hasn't justified a first round pick in a trade, though in today's market, I doubt a 1st rounder could net a player of similar quality.
Essentially, the Eagles are a two tight end offense, because of the unique skills of WR Jason Avant. Avant plays a wing back type position in a lot of sets (the team will also go empty and use RB LeSean McCoy in similar positioning). Avant blocks like a fullback, and is actually useful in pass protection where he can full on block a guy and still release into the route once QB Michael Vick is at the top of his drop. He's actually a better blocker than the team's starting TE, Brent Celek.
I think the Redskins have a major advantage in that their defensive strength takes away the offensive strength of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Redskins have done a good job preventing the big play this year, specifically, big plays made worse after the catch. They've also done a good job of getting quick pressure on the quarterback. The former is how the Eagles have won their last two games, and the latter is how those defenses have stopped drives against them. If the Eagles are going to pick on the Redskins defense, they'll have to be patient and run plays in the defensive void between the linebackers and the safeties. Michael Vick has improved in many ways since we last saw him, but he struggled a lot with his accuracy to stationary targets and receivers going over the middle in that game. If he misses on passes thrown to the void in the Redskins defense, it's hard to see how the Eagles are going to be able to consistently move the ball.
The one matchup issue that scares me is RB LeSean McCoy, who looks to be a completely different player with Michael Vick as his quarterback. With the need for contain defenders for Vick, McCoy is getting more open field than ever before, and he's really making defenses pay. He's averaging 6.1 yards per attempt and leads the league in rushing TDs, matching his total from last year in just three games. The Redskins don't really have a way that they can plan on stopping McCoy (Landry is on double duty this week, I suppose), so perhaps their best bet is to hope that Andy Reid doesn't stick with the run with the hope of a big play passing game in his arsenal. I like our chances.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles defensive line may be the strength of their entire team: they are strong both on the interior and on the outsides. Rookie first rounder Brandon Graham is already in the defensive rotation, though he's likely their third or fourth best option at that position right now after Trent Cole, Juqua Parker, and Darryl Tapp.
There are big plays to be had against Asante Samuel. Teams on the Eagles schedule to this point haven't gone after him, but he's playing as nosy as I've ever seen him right now, and while the Eagles mix their coverages well, he's not always getting safety help behind him. On the alternative, the Eagles are fantastic at sniffing out screens, with every one of their front seven members aware of these possibilities on every play. The Redskins don't run very many screens so this may not be an issue.
I believe SLB Akeem Jordan is the weakness in the front seven, and that CB Ellis Hobbs is the weakness in the secondary for the Eagles. FS Nate Allen, who the Eagles took with the Donovan McNabb pick, is still a rookie, but has been fantastic in his first month as a professional football player. I'd like to see the Redskins test him early and often because if he gets to attack, the Philadelphia secondary is going to win it's matchups with the Redskins offense.
For the Redskins, LaRon Landry is going to have to have a big game in the box: he's responsible for both Vick and McCoy in the rushing attack, and when they throw, he'll get help from Rocky McIntosh and London Fletcher, who will also be responsible for Celek. That numbers game doesn't favor the Redskins (too many weapons), but in terms of talent, I think it does. Our defenders are better than their comprable offensive players.
Obviously, DeAngelo Hall is going to need to step up on the outside, because Carlos Rogers can't cover both Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson, and those are the guys who will really help you. Kareem Moore is going to have a better game than he did last week in the deep field, and the Redskins will need him. Phillip Buchanon is also going to have a major role in this game when Carlos Rogers is covering Avant in the slot. Buchanon will likely be the target of the passing game for the Eagles. He's been pretty good this year, a few plays in the Texans game as the exception.
I think, match-up wise, the Redskins are in a good place in this game. They will need to raise their level of play as a team to stay in this one, but the things that teams can exploit against the Redskins defense are not the strength of the Philadelphia offense. They can try to exploit our weaknessess by playing away from their strengths, but I think that benefits us in the long run. Obviously, this is going to be a close game, and in the two minute situations, only one team has Donovan McNabb at quarterback.
This time, it's not the Eagles.