Eagles

Eagles-Redskins Since They Last Met: Redskins worse at 3 position groups

Eagles-Redskins Since They Last Met: Redskins worse at 3 position groups

The Eagles are a one-point favorite on the road in Week 1 when they open the season against the Redskins. The line opened with Washington favored by three, but the gap has closed in the days leading into Sunday, mostly because of the Eagles' additions and Redskins' subtractions this offseason. 

Washington's most important player, Kirk Cousins, is still around, but the 'Skins have a different look than the teams that won the last five meetings.

Here's a rundown of the Redskins' changes since their last matchup with the Eagles, Week 14 of 2016.

Receiver overhaul
The biggest changes for Washington come at wide receiver, where Pierre Garcon (49ers) and DeSean Jackson (Bucs) are no longer around (see story)

Garcon has long been labeled a possession receiver, but in reality, he's a reliable receiver who does more than just catch passes and fall down. He's the kind of guy who can make tough catches in traffic in key moments, and he's always hurt the Eagles. In the last nine meetings between these teams, Garcon caught 63 passes for 706 yards and four touchdowns. That's an average of seven catches for 78 yards. 

Replacing Garcon is Terrelle Pryor, who had a breakout season of sorts last year with the Browns. As mentioned in Friday's Eagles-Redskins fantasy implications, Pryor really slowed down the second half of last season, averaging 4.5 receptions for 59.5 yards in his last eight games and scoring once in his final 10.

Still, Pryor (6-6/240) offers Cousins another big target to go with Jordan Reed, another Eagles-killer. 

With Jackson gone, the Eagles' game plan in the secondary could differ. Jackson still commands an over-the-top safety and is the kind of deep threat that Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson haven't yet proven to be. 

Crowder is a pretty good receiver, though, and he has a favorable matchup with slot corner Patrick Robinson (see five matchups to watch). Last season, Crowder had 55 grabs for 725 yards and six TDs through 11 games, then was a non-factor in Weeks 12-17, averaging two catches for 24 yards.

Nightmare of a tight end
Reed is entering the season healthy and was not listed on Washington's injury report. A healthy Reed can be quite the headache. He's been better on a per-game basis the last two seasons than even Rob Gronkowski, but a lot of injuries — mostly concussions — have caused Reed to miss six games the last two seasons and exit several others early.

Reed will be a tough cover, but the Eagles do have two very good safeties who no longer have to worry about a 60-yard bomb to DeSean when facing the Redskins.

No team allowed fewer catches (44) or yards (414) to tight ends last season than the Eagles.

Defensive line changes
Washington used its first-round pick (17th overall) on defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, a versatile 6-foot-3, 283-pounder out of Alabama. He's listed on the depth chart at end but could move around the line. Washington is hoping that he adds a dynamic element to the line, but will he do so in his NFL debut?

Right end Chris Baker departed for Tampa Bay, leaving Stacy McGee, a lesser run stuffer, at the other D-end spot.  

In three-receiver sets, Washington will go to some 4-2-5 looks and move outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith up to D-end. 

Kerrigan has 9½ career sacks against the Eagles, including 3½ last year.

Safety retires
Su'a Cravens, 22 years old and set to enter his second NFL season as a starting safety for the Redskins, abruptly retired at the beginning of September. There goes last year's second-round pick.

In his absence, Washington turns to Deshazor Everett, who to this point has been mostly a special teams standout.

Washington's cornerbacks — Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland — are the same as the last matchup with the Eagles, but both safeties are different. In the last meeting, the Eagles saw veterans Donte Whitner and Duke Ihenacho. This time it will be Everett and D.J. Swearinger.

Carson Wentz feels 5-1 Eagles 'just wired different this year'

Carson Wentz feels 5-1 Eagles 'just wired different this year'

There's something special going on around here, and Carson Wentz isn't afraid to say it.

“We’re made different this year," Wentz said after practice Thursday. "We have a different character make-up in that locker room, and nobody’s going to ever settle for anything less than greatness. So we’re going to go out there every day and attack it.”

The Eagles, 5-1, go for their fifth straight win Monday night against the Redskins, who they beat on opening day at FedEx Field.

Wentz, in only his second season, has elbowed his way into the NFL MVP conversation. His emergence as the unquestioned leader of this team has mirrored the team's emergence as one of the NFL's elite teams.

Wentz spoke Thursday about how he sensed something different, something special, as far back as spring workouts.

“You could just see it, even going back to OTAs," he said. "You could see the competitive nature, even in practice. You couldn’t wear pads. You couldn’t even press cover outside. You could just see the competitive nature.

"And then through training camp, it just kept getting elevated even more. You could just see it from the leadership on down. We’re just wired different this year.”

When Wentz tells his teammates to strive for greatness, they listen, because here's a kid who in just 22 career games has established himself as one of the NFL's best young quarterbacks. He has 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions this year and has posted a passer rating of 90 or higher in five of six games.

“It’s something that we always strive for," Wentz said. "And really, in everything we do in life, you strive for greatness.

"When we’re sitting where we’re at right now, we can just never let that slip. We can never let that slip from our preparation in the film room, the meeting room, the weight room, in practice, so that’s just something I feel like we have to always keep focusing on.

"Never settle, never settle, and just keep striving for that greatness.”

Wentz said he didn't feel anything lacking last year, when the Eagles went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for a third straight year.

It's just that head coach Doug Pederson is in Year 2, coordinators Frank Reich and Jim Schwartz are in Year 2 and Wentz is in Year 2.

The whole program is in Year 2 and there's a confidence, an attitude, a swagger that was nowhere to be found last year or really the last few years.

“I think it was just a natural growth," Wentz said. "You go back and look at last season again. We were so close in so many of those ballgames but [it's] just the natural growth that’s taken place both from coach and just really all of us being in this together and having a year under our belt."

Ronald Darby gets cheers from fellow DBs in 1st practice since injury

Ronald Darby gets cheers from fellow DBs in 1st practice since injury

There was a little more buzz around the Eagles' defensive backs at practice on Thursday. 

All eyes were on No. 41. 

For the first time since he left the season opener in Washington following a gruesome right ankle dislocation, cornerback Ronald Darby practiced on Thursday. He was limited and it seems rather unlikely he'll be able to play on Monday night, but it was still a boost for his teammates to see him back out on the field. 

"We were all just joking and letting him know the spotlight was on him," safety Rodney McLeod said. 

Doug Pederson said the "stars have to align" for Darby to play on Monday night against Washington (see story). So it seems unlikely. Still, it was a good sign to get him back to practice.

Darby was with the team from the start of Thursday's practice and went through the entire warmup and stretching period. He wore high black socks and didn't appear to have any sort of brace on his injured right ankle. 

When the Eagles broke into the individual portion of practice, Darby went through all of the backpedal drills; he was the last to go through each. 

So how did he look? 

"He looked good," corner Jalen Mills said. "The guy had some clean breaks. We did a couple deep-ball drills, you know, he jumped up and high-pointed the ball. A lot of DBs, we got excited when we saw him, cheering him on. He looked good."

Mills was maybe a little overly excited about how good Darby looked on Thursday. It was, after all, just his first day back. 

Defensive back Jaylen Watkins said Darby looked "better" but acknowledged it's "going to take time." Watkins pointed out Darby's recovery is largely about being able to trust his ankle and getting back into a groove. 

"He didn't do much but I think this is his first time being back with us in that capacity," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "I think he looked decent. I don't really know what to compare it to. Hopefully he feels good. I'm just concerned with him not having any kind of setbacks. I think he looked fine." 

What all of his defensive back teammates agreed on was that it was pretty crazy to see Darby practicing just seven weeks after he was carted off the field in Washington. At the time of the gruesome injury, it looked to be pretty obvious that Darby's season was over. 

When the play happened, Mills was on the other side of the field so he didn't see how bad the injury looked until after the game. He credited the training staff and Darby's dedication for getting him back on the field so soon. 

"In that moment, what you feel, for him to even be back out there at all, to have a possibility to get him back, is great," Jenkins said. "Because I think at first glance, everybody probably thought he was done for the season. Obviously, whenever he is 100 percent, he's going to instantly make our defense better."