How the Eagles and Redskins have changed since their first meeting

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How the Eagles and Redskins have changed since their first meeting

Back in Week 1, the Eagles and Redskins looked like two evenly matched teams, and they wound up playing a very evenly matched game. It took Brandon Graham's stripping the ball from Kirk Cousins and Fletcher Cox's returning it 20 yards with 1:29 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Eagles a 30-17 lead. Otherwise, the game was close.

But this is Week 7. A lot can change in the NFL in 43 days — and it has. The Eagles are on a four-game winning streak and their confidence only appears to be growing. And while Washington has won three of its last four, the injury report reads like a short story these days. These teams are not remotely the same, the Redskins in particular.

It’s worth looking at position-by-position because the differences are rather striking in several cases.

QUARTERBACKS
Do we still think Cousins is a better quarterback than Carson Wentz? If nothing else, Wentz is closing any perceived gap between the two. Cousins is completing a higher percentage of his passes for more yards per attempt, and it’s not particularly close — 66.5 percent and an 8.4 average, compared to 60.9 percent and 7.7 for Wentz. But Wentz has also led the Eagles to a 5-1 record, while Washington enters this week at 3-2. I know who I’d take, and it’s certainly close regardless — although, technically, Cousins is still the more efficient and prolific passer of the two.

Marginal edge: Washington

RUNNING BACKS
It’s almost as if Darren Sproles switched uniforms. Sproles is out for the year, depriving the Eagles of one of the most unique weapons in the NFL. Or so we thought, anyway, because Chris Thompson is doing a lot of Sproles-like things in Washington. Thompson has become the focal point of that offense, leading the team in rushing (175 yards), receiving (340 yards) and touchdowns (4). Conversely, the Eagles have shifted to a power running game led by LeGarrette Blount, who entered the week ranked third in the NFL with 5.57 yards per carry. With the statuses of Robert Kelley and Wendell Smallwood up in the air, both backfields could be incomplete.

Edge: Even

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS
Zach Ertz has 405 yards receiving and four touchdowns. Nelson Agholor has 321 yards and four scores, while Alshon Jeffery has 317 with two trips to the end zone. After Thompson, Washington’s leading receiver is Vernon Davis with 225 and one touchdown. Even Torrey Smith has 210 and a score. The Eagles have played one more game than the Redskins, but still. Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson have proven unable to replace the production left behind by DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon when the duo chose to leave as free agents. Jamison Crowder has oddly gone missing as well, and Jordan Reed just looks like a shell of his former self.

Distinct edge: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINES
For my money, the Eagles have the best offensive line in the NFL right now. They replaced Isaac Seumalo at left guard, mostly with Stefen Wisniewski, and the rest of the unit has been playing at or above expectations ever since. Washington’s O-line is pretty good, too, when everybody is healthy — but that won’t be the case on Monday night. Left tackle Trent Williams is delaying knee surgery, so he won’t be 100 percent if he suits up at all. Meanwhile, Williams’ backup, Ty Neskhe, was already ruled out for this game. This situation has the potential to take a turn for disastrous for the Redskins.

Edge: Eagles

DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN
First-round draft pick Jonathan Allen landed on injured reserve for Washington this week, joining outside linebacker Trent Murphy, who also missed the opener. Those are some of the more disruptive players up front for Washington, though defensive tackle Matthew Ioannidis has emerged as an interior pass-rusher and is tied with Ryan Kerrigan for second on the team with 3½ sacks. The Eagles have remained pretty much the same up front, boasting the No. 1 run defense in the NFL so far this season. Cox and company have been as advertised.

Slight edge: Eagles

DEFENSIVE BACKS
The Redskins’ offensive line could devolve into a mess but their secondary already looks like a disaster. All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman is out, and the other half of that tandem, Bashaud Breeland, is hobbled by a knee injury and is questionable to play. Starting safety Deshazor Everett is questionable, too, so that’s three-quarters of the secondary that either isn’t playing or won’t be 100 percent. The Eagles, on the other hand, are only getting healthier. Rodney McLeod and Corey Graham have been back after missing some time, and Ronald Darby could return to the lineup on Monday. Plus, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson and Malcolm Jenkins are all playing at a high level.

Very distinct edge: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS
Both teams suffered key losses this week, with kicker Dustin Hopkins going on IR for Washington and Chris Maragos down for the Eagles. The Eagles were also hit with the losses of Caleb Sturgis and Sproles, but Jake Elliott has since nailed down the kicking duties, while Kenjon Barner is a capable fill-in returning punts. The Redskins didn’t have great special teams before losing Hopkins and they surely aren’t going to be better off now.

Edge: Eagles

OVERALL
The last time these two teams met, the Eagles looked slightly superior on paper and wound up winning a game that was determined in the final two minutes. This time, the Eagles appear to have a rather sizable advantage, not to mention they're playing at home, so you would think the margin of victory would be greater. Granted, this is a game between two NFC East opponents and division games are usually tough, so it might not turn out that way. But given the state the Redskins are in entering this contest, there’s a reason the expectations are a convincing win for the Eagles this time around.

Edge: Eagles

Eagles-Redskins thoughts: A win away from commanding conference lead

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Eagles-Redskins thoughts: A win away from commanding conference lead

Eagles-Redskins
8:30 p.m. on ESPN
Eagles  favored by 4.5

The Eagles can become the first team in the NFL to six wins in 2017 — if they complete a series sweep of the NFC East rival Redskins on Monday night.

No need to pinch yourself, because you're not dreaming. At 5-1, the Eagles entered Week 7 with the league's best record. They're on a four-game winning streak and are set to kick off a three-game homestand. And the Eagles already knocked off Washington on the road in the regular-season opener, so confidence should be sky high.

With another victory over the Redskins, not only would the Eagles take a commanding three-game lead in the division standings, they also would continue to stake their claim as the hottest team in pro football.

Not the same Redskins
Back in Week 1, when the prospect of a new season gave hope to all 32 teams, Washington was a tough opponent. The Eagles would eventually win the initial meeting by a final score of 30-17, but they led by only two points until just under two minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

But much has happened over the past month-and-a-half, and the Redskins do not appear to be as strong of an opponent now. Frankly, they've been decimated by injuries.

Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and kicker Dustin Hopkins went on injured reserve this week. All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman is out as well, while fellow starting defensive backs Bashaud Breeland and Deshazor Everett are among six players listed as questionable. The questionables also include left tackle Trent Williams, who is desperately trying to delay knee surgery.

The 'Skins certainly have enough weapons on both sides of the ball that they still pose a threat. However, there's no denying their roster has been weakened by injuries, and their depth will be put to the test against the Eagles.

Bombs away
The injuries to Washington's secondary may be especially problematic, given the way the Eagles attacked this area during the previous meeting.

The Eagles managed to score 30, and seven of those were the result of a defensive touchdown, but the offense easily could've been much worse. Carson Wentz had receivers open deep down the field on multiple occasions yet repeatedly overthrew or underthrew the likes of Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith.

Wentz completed 26 of 39 pass attempts for 307 yards with two touchdowns in the opener, despite missing on some big gainers. In other words, the outcome could've been far worse.

Think Wentz will miss on those shots again should they present themselves? Don't count on it. The second-year quarterback has been connecting on a higher rate of his deep targets of late, while throwing for 526 yards and seven touchdowns in the last two contests. As long as he's in that kind of rhythm, Wentz is capable of doing some serious damage against this group.

An emerging threat
Starting running back Robert Kelley — officially questionable — remains among the many injuries to Washington this week. That being said, his absence has led to something of a silver lining in the form of a breakout season for Chris Thompson.

Thompson has sneakily become one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL. His 515 yards from scrimmage are less than 200 behind his career high with 11 games to play. His whopping 18.9 yards per reception were good for fourth in the NFL entering the week.

This is a so-called third-down running back, who with 340 yards receiving through five games is currently on pace to eclipse 1,000 on the season.

Thompson has become by far the Redskins' biggest weapon, leading the team through the air, rushing with 175 yards on the ground, and touchdowns with four. Find a way to slow Thompson and keep him from getting into the open field and the Eagles will likely slow the entire offense.

We're No. 1
Of course, the Eagles probably aren't too concerned about Washington running the ball against them. After all, nobody else has had much success doing so.

The Eagles may have the NFL's 29th-ranked pass defense through six weeks, but that's at least partially because they boast the league's best run D. Allowing only 67.5 yards per game on the ground, the Eagles are forcing opponents to put the ball in the air, and while that's led to some statistical production, it's also played right into their hands.

One-dimensional offenses have led to plenty of opportunities in the Eagles' secondary, which entered the week tied for 11th with six interceptions. The Eagles' 14 sacks are also tied for 15th.

These aren't incredible rankings, either. Still, it goes to show what can happen when offenses are forced to repeatedly throw the ball for lack of another option against even a suspect secondary. Often times, it's an approach that will eventually lead to mistakes — like Brandon Graham's sack of Kirk Cousins that resulted in a 20-yard fumble return against Washington in Week 1.

Controlling their destiny
Washington is an opponent that's there for the taking. And as long as the Eagles take care of business, they will remain squarely in the driver's seat in the NFC East, and the entire conference for that matter.

The Eagles are the only team with two wins in the division, and the Cowboys are currently the only other team without a loss. In terms of the entire NFC, the Eagles are also a perfect 4-0 going into this game, while only the Falcons (3-0) remain unbeaten in conference play.

This game is all about control. If the Eagles control the Redskins, they will control the East, and they will be well on their way to controlling a conference that's very much up for grabs.

In other words, the Eagles need to take what is rightfully theirs on Monday.

Scott Laughton credits longtime skating coach Dawn Braid for NHL rebirth

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Scott Laughton credits longtime skating coach Dawn Braid for NHL rebirth

VOORHEES, N.J. — After spending nearly the entire 2016-17 campaign at Lehigh Valley, Flyers center Scott Laughton looks like a whole different player this season. But the demotion and time spent in the minor leagues aren’t the only reasons behind his NHL rebirth.

Laughton also became a far better skater.

Through eight games, Laughton has two goals and one assist with a plus-one rating — hardly the kind of numbers that typically garner a lot of attention. However, the former first-pick is centering a quality fourth line for the Flyers, a grouping that has been strong in its own end while also generating impressive offensive opportunities at the other. Laughton leads the club’s forwards in shorthanded time on ice as well, playing a huge role in a penalty-killing unit that’s managed to ward off all but one of the last 13 power plays it’s faced.

The difference is apparent, and Laughton knows it, too. Some of that comes with age and experience — he’s only 23, with 117 NHL games under his belt. Yet Laughton directs much of the credit for his growth on the ice to his longtime skating coach, Dawn Braid.

“Worked with the same skating coach I have been for the last six, seven years,” Laughton said Friday of his offseason regimen. “She actually just got hired with Arizona. She was a skating coach there.

“I've been working with her. I did a lot of tight edges, a lot of tight work, and I did a lot of crossovers to try and develop speed. I think everything kind of comes together though — your off-ice training combined with that — and just getting stronger as I get older. I'm getting older and coming into my body.”

A former figure skater, Braid was named the Coyotes' skating coach in August 2016, become the NHL’s first full-time female coach in the process. From the sound of things, the hiring was long overdue.

Braid had built a following around the league, and from players vastly more acclaimed than Laughton.

“She works with (Islanders center and four-time All-Star) John Tavares and helped him,” Laughton said. “She's got (Stars center Jason Spezza). She's got a bunch of guys. A lot of guys go to her. She's like Barb Underhill in Toronto. They were partners.

“I've been skating with her since I was in my first year of juniors, so I really like her.”

It sounds like Laughton is getting an education in more than how to be better on his skates. As Braid has worked with more NHL stars and teams, she begins teaching more than just being quicker and more fluid on the ice.

There are applicable hockey lessons and techniques involved in their training.

“I think she's really incorporated puck work,” Laughton said. “It used to be no pucks. She watches game film and things like that, and sees what's going on in the game and tries to help you that way.”

Whatever Laughton is doing, it appears to be working. A year ago, he couldn’t crack the Flyers’ main roster, managing to appear in just two games. He finished with 19 goals, 20 assists and a plus-17 rating in 60 games for the Phantoms in 2016-17, with an additional two goals and one assist in five playoff tilts. Despite finishing with a 39-33-10 record and missing the postseason, the big club never felt as though Laughton was needed.

It’s early into the 17-18 campaign, but it’s already difficult to imagine this Flyers squad without Laughton’s contributions — so, give the assist to Baird on this one.