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The Eagles are set to kick off the 2017 NFL season in Landover, Maryland on Sunday, where they will attempt to snap a five-game losing streak to NFC East rival Washington.
It’s no secret the Eagles haven’t beaten Washington in nearly three full years. As right tackle Lane Johnson said earlier this week, “We need one against this team,” so there should be no shortage of urgency Week 1.
That’s just a sampling of one of the many storylines from the days leading up to the Eagles’ first game.
The Eagles appear to be completely healthy heading into opening day, which head coach Doug Pederson described as, “a great thing.” Every player listed on the injury report practiced fully all week.
The same cannot be said in Washington, which lists three players as questionable for Sunday, including a pair of starters.
Early indications are both center Spencer Long (arthroscopic knee surgery) and slot receiver Jamison Crowder (hip flexor) will play. Rookie linebacker Ryan Anderson (neck stinger) is less certain but likely to see only a limited number of snaps if he does suit up.
The injuries to Long and Crowder don’t seem like too big a deal, so it’s unclear whether the Eagles gain much of an advantage. For what it’s worth, Pederson doesn’t anticipate injuries being a factor.
“Most teams are usually 100 percent (for Week 1),” Pederson said. “I mean, guys are a little beat up, but for the most part, I think around the league, everybody's pretty healthy going into the first game.”
A chink in Washington’s armor
Washington’s defense will be anything but 100 percent.
The big news out of Washington this week was the abrupt departure of second-year safety Su’a Cravens. Cravens left the team last weekend and is considering walking away from the game permanently. The 22-year-old has time to rethink his sudden retirement, but he will not be on the field Sunday.
Little-known Deshazor Everett takes Cravens’ place. Everett recorded his first career interception against the Eagles last season on a pass intended for Zach Ertz. It’s an incredibly small sample size, however, as Everett played just 78 defensive snaps his first two seasons in the league, according to Football Outsiders.
Even assuming Everett performs capably, he’s not Cravens, a 2016 second-round pick who is in the mold of the increasingly popular safety/linebacker hybrids. His absence threatens to not only weaken the secondary but also take the teeth right out of defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s aggressive scheme.
Key matchup: Malcolm Jenkins vs. Jordan Reed
Were it not for injuries, Jordan Reed might be one of the premier players in the league. Even still, he’s managed 153 receptions for 1,638 yards and 17 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Redskins coach Jay Gruden will flat out admit, “A lot of our offense revolves around 86, our tight end.”
Yet, interestingly enough, Reed hasn’t often been a factor vs. the Eagles. During their Week 16 contest in 2015, Reed racked up 9 receptions for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns. In five other meetings, he has 14 receptions for 102 yards total, with zero touchdowns.
Gruden credits safety Malcolm Jenkins for the Eagles’ success defending Reed. “It’s a great matchup, it always is, when he gets on the field with Malcolm Jenkins,” Gruden said. “Malcolm does one of the better jobs against him than anybody.”
Given the departures of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon in free agency, Reed’s role in Washington’s offense could be more vital than ever. But the Eagles have limited Reed in the past, thanks in large part to Jenkins, whose ability to shadow the 6-foot-4, 246-pound tight end will go a long way toward dictating the outcome of this game.
How good is Kirk Cousins really?
We’re about to find out.
Kirk Cousins has thrown for 9,083 yards and 54 touchdowns over the last two seasons. He’ll earn a whopping $43.89 million between 2016 and ’17 alone. At this point, it’s sort of taken for granted that Cousins has established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.
Is he? It’s certainly not a given Cousins will continue on as one most prolific passers in the league now that Garcon and especially Jackson are out of the equation. Even then, Washington’s record is only 17-15-1 record the last two seasons with Cousins at the helm, including a lopsided first-round playoff exit.
Cousins is headed for free agency next offseason and will make a lot of money regardless, but he still has plenty to prove. He’s had tremendous personnel, yet hasn’t won. I’m not ready to anoint this guy the best quarterback in the division, much less on the heels of losing two 1,000-yard receivers.
How good is Carson Wentz really?
Likewise, while there’s a ton of enthusiasm for the Eagles right now, we’re going to learn quite a bit about Carson Wentz this season. “We're in the second year of a potentially special, young quarterback,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. “We don't even know that yet.”
Wentz is coming off a good-not-great rookie season. He threw for 3,782 yards – the fourth-highest finish in franchise history – and managed to win seven games without much of a supporting cast. He also had trouble pushing the ball down field and tossed 14 interceptions.
The Eagles rebuilt the offense around Wentz, and while the organization isn’t depending on him to become an overnight sensation, it sounds like “progress” is the key word around the NovaCare Complex this season.
“My expectation with Carson is he'll be better in Year 2 than Year 1, he’ll significantly be better in Year 3 than Year 2, and he’ll be significantly better in Year 4 than Year 3,” Lurie said.
If Wentz is the future of the franchise, as was hoped when he was taken No. 2 overall in the draft last year, we should see some growth this season. It starts on Sunday in Washington.