Eagles-Redskins: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Redskins: Roob's 10 observations


LANDOVER, Md. — A crushing performance by the defensive front seven, a shaky performance by the offensive line, more strange Doug Pederson play-calling, some superb special teams and lots of Zach Ertz, Carson Wentz and Nelson Agholor and much more in our season-opening 10 observations of the Eagles' 30-17 win over the Redskins (see breakdown).
Bring on the Chiefs!
1. This was a win for the Eagles' defensive front, which absolutely dominated the Redskins on Sunday. The Skins' running backs ran 13 times for 34 yards (2.6 per carry), and the front seven racked up four sacks and pounded Kirk Cousins into his worst game ever against the Eagles. Then the Eagles finished the 'Skins off with a Brandon Graham sack, a Cousins fumble and fumble return TD for Fletcher Cox in the final minutes. Nice exclamation point. Total domination. Cousins started the day with the fifth-highest passer rating ever against the Eagles, but he and the 'Skins' offense were just overmatched. The Eagles held Washington's offense to 10 points and 264 yards in its own stadium, the fewest yards the 'Skins have had against the Eagles in nine years. And thanks in large part to that front seven, the Eagles ended that ugly five-game losing streak to their division opponents down I-95. All in all, a monster performance for Graham, Cox, Jordan Hicks and Co.
2. There is work to do on the offensive line. This was just a shaky, inconsistent effort up front. I know fans like to pick on Jason Kelce, but the breakdowns were across the board up front. It's a good thing Wentz is so good at making something out of nothing — like he did on the 58-yard TD pass to Agholor and that 23-yarder down the left sideline to Ertz — but the O-line has to be better and more consistent and has to be able to give Wentz time in the pocket. Wentz has the ability to stand in there and make plays when things are breaking down around him, and he did a lot of that Sunday, but over the long haul? This effort from the offensive line was simply unacceptable.
3. Very tough to see Ronald Darby go down with what is believed to be a long-term injury just 18½ minutes into his Eagles career (see story). Rookie third-round pick Rasul Douglas, who was inactive Sunday, will likely move into a significant role, quite possibly as a starting outside corner with Jalen Mills, with Patrick Robinson staying in the slot. Now, if the Eagles felt Douglas was ready to start and play at a high level, they wouldn't have traded Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick to the Bills for Darby. But this is the hand they've been dealt. The Eagles were one of the NFL's healthiest teams last year, and those sorts of things have a tendency to even out over time. Regression to the mean and all that. There are a few other ways the Eagles could go. They could activate Dexter McDougle and play him in the slot and move Robinson outside. Or play Mills in the slot with Robinson and Douglas or McDougle outside. However they line up, this is a huge blow to the Eagles' secondary.
4. Speaking of Mills, he really built on his strong preseason with a terrific game Sunday. The Redskins were targeting him much of the game, with Terrelle Pryor in particular, but Pryor — a 1,000-yard receiver with the Browns a year ago — was really a non-factor with six catches for 66 yards. Cousins kept trying to challenge Mills deep with Pryor but Mills won those battles, and when he didn't, Cousins just missed him. Mills hung in against Jamison Crowder as well when matched up with him. Mills then made a potential game-saving interception in the end zone — the first of his career — in the fourth quarter. Mills isn't a rookie, but he's a 23-year-old making his first career opening-day start, and it was a very good one.
5. I liked the concept of the Eagles' offense early. First quarter, the Eagles had seven running plays and nine passing plays. Nice balance. LeGarrette Blount had a little head of steam going. Then Doug Pederson did what Doug Pederson often does and forgot about the running game. Over the next two quarters, the Eagles ran 33 plays — 27 pass plays, six runs. Not surprisingly, the Eagles struggled to get into a rhythm offensively during that span, and that 13-0 lead gradually disappeared. In the fourth quarter, nursing a two-point lead, the Eagles had to try to run the ball and they had four carries for no yards. When you don't run the ball for a long period of time, it's not easy to dial it up and have success. This has to change.
6. Wentz, I thought, played very well considering the chaos that was happening around him. He rarely had a clean pocket but still managed to complete 67 percent of his passes (26 for 39) for 307 yards with two TDs and the one INT on a tipped ball. He repeatedly turned pocket breakdowns into positive plays and made something out of nothing. He played better than his numbers. And his numbers weren't bad at all (see report card).
7. For all the talk about Agholor, nobody really knew what to expect once the games meant something. But Agholor indeed looked like a different guy Sunday. You could just sense his confidence, and it all started on the broken play just 3½ minutes into the game, when he found open space on a scramble drill and settled under a Wentz throw on one of those he-just-made-it-up plays, caught the football naturally and easily, then ran into the end zone for a career-long 58-yard touchdown. Agholor had surpassed his career high in receiving yards by the middle of the second quarter and finished with six catches for 86 yards. Agholor has looked like a different guy since OTAs and I have to give him a ton of credit for finding his way and reinventing himself after going through some pretty heavy stuff and openly discussing his self-doubt last year. Everybody has their own path, and on Day 1 of Year 3, Agholor showed he can play this game.
8. The two new receivers, Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery, combined for four catches for 68 yards (and a two-point conversion) — not terrible but probably not what the Eagles were hoping for. But it's not all that unexpected. This group played very little football together during the preseason, so it's not surprising that the Eagles' three leading receivers — Ertz (8 for 93), Agholor (6 for 86) and Darren Sproles (5 for 43) — are all guys Wentz was with last year. Smith and Jeffery both came close to making some big plays, and you have to hope that with more time together those plays will be made.
9. Special teams had another terrific day Sunday, with a turnover in the punting game that led to the Eagles' second touchdown and then a punt downed at the 1-yard line by Jaylen Watkins with seven minutes left in the game that gave the Redskins — down by two — an impossibly long field. I know this: Eagles special teams will always be elite as long as Dave Fipp is running the show.
10. It was great to see Ertz begin a season with a big performance. Much has been made about how Ertz always starts slowly and finishes strong, but he was huge Sunday, with big catch after big catch and no drops. Ertz's 93 yards are the most he's ever had in any game the first seven weeks of the season. I'm on the record as saying Ertz will catch 100 passes this year. He's ahead of that pace. I think huge things are in store this year for the fifth-year tight end.

Redskins dealing with numerous injuries heading into Week 7 vs. Eagles

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Redskins dealing with numerous injuries heading into Week 7 vs. Eagles

ASHBURN, Va. — Quinton Dunbar takes pride in the way Washington Redskins defensive backs coach Torrian Gray makes every member of the secondary prepare as though he's starting.

"When you get in, you are expected to play like a starter," Dunbar said.

That approach has come in handy this season. Already 2015 All-Pro Josh Norman, fellow cornerback Bashaud Breeland and safety Stefan McClure have gone down with injuries, and second-year safety Su'a Cravens left the team to contemplate retirement.

It's possible Breeland, who sprained his left knee Sunday against San Francisco, and Norman, who has been out with a broken rib, play Monday night.

If they can't go, Washington will lean heavily on Dunbar, Kendall Fuller and rookies Montae Nicholson, Fabian Moreau and Joshua Holsey against quarterback Carson Wentz and the NFC East-leading Eagles.

"It'll be a great challenge because he's playing extremely well," Gruden said.

"Our guys will have to step up. That's just the way it is. There's a lot of teams around the National Football League this time of year that are dealing with key injuries at certain positions and we just had a couple of them at the corner spot. Fabian, Dunbar, they'll have to step up and play well (along with) Holsey, Fuller."

Breeland began the 49ers game as the top cornerback with Norman out and took a block at the knee from offensive lineman Joe Staley. Gruden said Breeland escaped serious MCL damage and is a quick healer, so he could be ready to face the 5-1 Eagles.

Norman will ramp up his running and exercise this week, and Gruden said "there's a chance" he plays Monday.

The news isn't so good for rookie defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, who could miss three weeks or more with a Lisfranc sprain in his left foot, and kicker Dustin Hopkins, whose right hip rotator muscle strain will force the Redskins to work out free agent kickers this week.

Even with all the injuries in the secondary, Washington hasn't yet had to look for external help because it has four 2016 or 2017 draft picks on the roster and able to take on extended roles.

"We are as strong as our weakest link and we always talk about not having the drop-offs," said Fuller, a 2016 third-round pick. "Anybody who is in there, we trust to make plays."

The Redskins have had no choice but to trust their young players, including Dunbar, a 25-year-old converted receiver. Injuries to D.J. Swearinger and Nicholson on Sunday almost forced Fuller to move from cornerback to safety where he saw no snaps at practice, and Moreau had to take over on the outside when Breeland was hurt in the second half.

Moreau, a third-round pick who missed the start of training camp with a torn pectoral muscle, said players follow Swearinger's lead to be ready for any situation.

"We got dogs," Moreau said. "We all trust each other. We all feed off of him, and we know that."

Of all the young defensive backs, no one has made a bigger leap than Dunbar, who was a receiver at Florida. Gruden joked that Dunbar isn't "really smart enough to know the magnitude of the situation he's in" and just goes out and plays.

Dunbar said after what he went through growing up that football's a pleasure for him and he doesn't blink. But he has made incredible strides since shifting to cornerback.

"Mentally I'm a thousand times better," Dunbar said. "I always had the physical attributes, man. It was more mental for me -- just breaking down the offenses, learning what's coming and stuff like that."

That'll come in handy against Wentz as the 3-2 Redskins try to close the gap and keep this a competitive division race.

From the coverage to the pass rush, Washington's defense must be better against Wentz than it was in a 30-17 loss in Week 1.

"We've got to figure out a way to contain Wentz," Gruden said. "He killed us with the off-schedule plays, and he's been doing that consistently throughout the year. That's why they're 5-1. It's a big game for us. We know that."

Roob's Random Points, part 1: Eagles' power ranking, playoffs, I-95 traffic tips

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Roob's Random Points, part 1: Eagles' power ranking, playoffs, I-95 traffic tips

Are the Eagles the best team in football? Parking in Northern Liberties? Carson craziness? And Modern Baseball's final shows?

You can find it all in Part 1 of this week's 25 Random Points! Look for Part 2 at some Random time in the near future!
1. Watching football all day Sunday, it was impossible to ignore the reality that the Eagles are as good as anybody out there. One after another, the teams you wondered where the Eagles stacked up against lost. The Packers lost Aaron Rodgers and then lost meekly to the Vikings. The Falcons, once unbeatable in Atlanta, lost at home to the Dolphins. The undefeated Chiefs lost at home to the Steelers. The Broncos, who come to the Linc in a couple weeks, lost at home to the winless Giants. The Redskins barely hung on at home against the winless 49ers. And meanwhile, the Eagles just keep on winning. If I had to rank the 32 teams right now, the Eagles would be at No. 1. I'm sure the Chiefs would have something to say about that based on a head-to-head win and an identical 5-1 record. But as far as where everybody is today? You can make a compelling case that the Eagles are the best team in football. Yep.
2. A big theme on Twitter since Thursday night has been fans saying, "Calm down, don't get carried away, settle down, it's only six weeks." You know what? This team hasn't done anything since 2008 and they're now 5-1 with four straight wins, a hot quarterback and the best run defense in the NFL. There's nothing wrong with getting excited!
3. Of all the areas he's improved, Carson Wentz's interception ratio is the most dramatic and most important. He's seeing the field better but more than anything he's just not forcing throws like he did last year. With three INTs in 207 attempts, he's got the sixth-best INT ratio in the NFL out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks (1.45 per 100 attempts). This after ranking 17th out of 36 last year (2.31). Based on all 281 QBs in NFL history who've thrown 750 passes, Wentz now has the eighth-best career INT ratio at 2.09.
4. I'm crushed that they shut down the giant free parking lot behind the Acme across the street from the Piazza where Germantown Avenue hits 2nd Street. There is now officially nowhere to park in Northern Liberties.
5. Once the Phillies were eliminated from playoff contention, Philly's streak of consecutive seasons without a team advancing in a postseason series increased to 21. That goes back to a 76ers team led by Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday eliminating the Bulls in an Eastern Conference first-round series on May 10, 2012. That streak includes six Phillies seasons and five 76ers, Flyers and Eagles seasons. Not only is that streak about to be smashed to smithereens, I also wouldn't be surprised at all if all four teams advance in a postseason series over the next year.
6. Speaking of the Smithereens, they are without a doubt one of the most underrated American rock bands of the last quarter century. Here's my Smithereens Top 10: 1. Strangers when we Meet, 2. Behind the Wall of Sleep, 3. A Girl Like You, 4. Only a Memory, 5. Blue Period, 6. Yesterday Girl, 7. Top of the Pops, 8. Time Won't Let Me, 9. Drown in my own Tears, 10. House we used to Live In.
7. The Eagles are only the 10th team since 1970 with 750 or more rushing yards gained and fewer than 400 rushing yards allowed after six weeks.
8. Wentz's current streak of eight straight games with one or more touchdown passes and one or fewer interceptions is the longest by an Eagles quarterback since Randall Cunningham had a 12-game streak in 1990.
9. If he throws three touchdowns Monday night, Wentz will become the first Eagles QB to throw three TD passes in three straight games in 64 years — since Bobby Thomason in 1953 (three at Pittsburgh, four vs. the Giants, three vs. the Colts). Only one QB has thrown more than one TD pass against the Redskins this year. Wentz. Of course.
10. Attending one of Modern Baseball's final three shows over the weekend was a genuinely moving experience. Modern Baseball — or MoBo, as they're affectionately known because MoBa looks stupid — is a beloved Philadelphia pop-punk band whose lyrics by co-songwriters Brendan Lukens and Jake Ewald are deeply personal and resonate in a powerful way with the 17-to-22-year-olds who make up most of their massive world-wide audience. MoBo over the past seven years made a completely unexpected and meteoric rise from playing basements at Drexel to 20,000-seat arenas opening for Brand New. But the band is going on hiatus — perhaps temporary, perhaps permanent — because, as Ewald wrote on the band's Facebook page, "The project we started as a source of joy and positive expression had become something that was slowly eating away at our mental health and our friendships." But I'll tell you what … seeing 1,500 fist-pumping, body-surfing kids at Union Transfer joyously singing along to literally every word to every song Friday night really makes you realize just how much this band meant to so many people. A powerful, profound experience.
11. I once sat on a flight next to the manager of a Hard Rock Café. He had a great quote: "We're not a restaurant. We're a T-shirt store that also sells hamburgers."
12. LeGarrette Blount played in his 100th career regular-season game on the final day of last year with the Patriots. Thanks to the wonders of the Pro-Football Reference, we can compare his rushing average in all his games since No. 100 with every other running back since 1950. The result? Blount's rushing average of 5.6 after his 100th career game is the highest by any NFL running back in Game 101-on since Doak Walker averaged 6.2 yards from 1953 through 1955.
12½. Pro Tip: When there's an accident on 95 South near Center City, take the 2nd Street ramp off 95 and then turn left on Market and get back on 95 South. Even if you haven't passed the accident, the ramp is so long — 9-10ths of a mile — it will get you past a ton of blocked traffic before dropping you back on 95 South.