Eagles

Eagles-Redskins thoughts: Matchup of QBs with something to prove

Eagles-Redskins thoughts: Matchup of QBs with something to prove

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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.

Injury report
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.

How simply navigating locker room can be a difficult task for some Eagles

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Tom Finer | NBC Sports Philadelphia

How simply navigating locker room can be a difficult task for some Eagles

As soon as a towel-clad Jaylen Watkins walked out of the showers and into the Eagles' locker room Thursday afternoon, his shoulders slumped and he let out a near-silent sigh. 

He approached the horde of reporters near his locker stall before he locked eyes with one who was standing directly in his space. The two chuckled as they awkwardly sidestepped each other to swap positions. 

The media contingent that covers the Eagles is one of — if not the — biggest in the entire league. That's great news for fans, who have plenty of options. 

It's not great news for Watkins, who just wants to get changed. 

See, Watkins' locker is positioned just to the left of team leader Malcolm Jenkins'. Jenkins holds court with reporters a couple times per week, which can be a slight inconvenience for Watkins and Patrick Robinson, who also shares a wall with him.

And Watkins knows whenever there's a political story in the news, reporters are going to want to talk to his outspoken teammate. 

"I guess that's what comes being next to Malcolm," Watkins said. "You get good insight on stuff, but you also have to deal with the baggage that comes with him." 

NFL locker rooms are weird places and it's not because of the nakedness. After all, locker rooms are meant for changing. But trying to change while a group of media members slowly infringes upon your personal space makes it a little strange. 

But for three 45-minute windows each week, reporters fill the room. On any given Wednesday or Thursday during the week at the NovaCare Complex, there can be as many as 30 to 40 media members in attendance. It's just a part of the deal in Philadelphia.

For Shelton Gibson, this is all new. 

The rookie receiver said reporters weren't allowed in the West Virginia locker room. They met with players in a different space.

Being placed next to Torrey Smith has been a great thing for Gibson and the two have become close. But Smith is one of those guys who draws a crowd. 

"It's funny," Gibson said. "Last week I was looking at it. It's just like, you can't interrupt. You're not hoping that he'll hurry up or anything. It's just funny because it just be a big ass [crowd] around your locker." 

While Watkins normally stands behind the media scrum, waiting for his moment to pounce, Gibson has taken a different approach. While waiting for the crowd to disperse, he takes walks. He'll find a teammate in another part of the locker room to visit. Sometimes, though, he will hang around as Smith gets interviewed. He wants to see how the veteran handles it all and he always comes away impressed. 

In the middle of the locker room, on the right side, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are neighbors. Two of the best defensive players on the team, they are both pretty popular interview subjects.

So just about every week, one of them will walk out of the showers and see a seemingly impenetrable wall of camera and recorder-holders in their way. As veterans, though, they're beyond patiently waiting. 

"It's cool, man, because I just tell everybody to move out the way," said Graham, one of the more jovial players on the team. "That's all. That's my cue to have a little fun with the reporters." 

Watkins has dealt with this long before he was placed next to Jenkins. In fact, during his first training camp in 2014, he was in a popup stall in the middle of the floor. The locker on the wall nearest to him belonged to LeSean McCoy. It used to be annoying, especially when he didn't have a good day of practice, but there's not much he can do about it. 

After practices, the coaching staff will tell the players if that day is a media day. When Watkins knows it is, he hurries into the locker room as fast as he can and if he's lucky, he gets out before Jenkins gets in. 

But sometimes it backfires. Sometimes when Watkins goes to the cold tub and for treatment, he'll get back in the room at the same exact time Jenkins is about to start answering questions. 

And then the waiting begins. 

"So I just kind of stand by the side and let it happen," Watkins said with a shrug. "I'm used to it now."

5 statistical Eagles milestones within reach Monday night

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USA Today Images

5 statistical Eagles milestones within reach Monday night

Five statistical milestones within reach Monday night, when the Eagles host the Redskins at the Linc:

• Carson Wentz has thrown 13 touchdown passes this year and needs just three more to match his total from the entire 2016 season. He threw four against the Cardinals and three against the Panthers, and with three TDs Monday night against the Redskins, he would become the first Eagles quarterback in 64 years to throw three TD passes in three straight games. Bobby Thomason did it against the Steelers, Giants and Colts in 1953.

• Zach Ertz has 54 career catches against the Redskins. The only player to catch more passes against the Redskins in his first five NFL seasons was Cardinals split end Sonny Randle, who caught 56 from 1959 through 1963. So with three catches Monday night, Ertz will have more catches than anybody has ever had against the Redskins in his first five years in the league. 

• The Eagles have allowed 80 or fewer rushing yards in four straight games for the first time since 2010. If they hold the Redskins to 80 yards fewer — and the 'Skins had only 64 in the opener — it will be the first time the Eagles have held five straight opponents to 80 or fewer rushing yards since 1992, when they had a five-game streak. The last longer streak was in 1991, when they held seven straight to 80 or fewer rushing yards.

• The Eagles have scored 28 or more points in four straight games for the first time since 2004. If they score 28 Monday night, it will be their first five-game streak since one over the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The last longer streak was a six-gamer in 1953.

• LeGarrette Blount goes into Monday night with four straight games with 12 or more carries and a 4.5 or better yards-per-carry average. The only player in his 30s to put together five such games in a row is Fred Taylor of the Jaguars, who did it against the Jets, Texans, Eagles, Titans and Texans again in 2006.