kirk cousins

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

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

1 p.m. on FOX
Eagles -1.5

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.

Fantasy implications in Eagles' Week 1 matchup with Redskins

Fantasy implications in Eagles' Week 1 matchup with Redskins

If you have Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill or Mike Gillislee in fantasy, you're off to a great start heading into the first NFL Sunday of the season. (Here's a crazy stat on Hunt.)

Each week, we'll take a look at the Eagles and their opponent from a fantasy perspective to help with any lineup-related decisions.

Obviously, Alshon Jeffery is a must-start, but what should we expect in his Eagles debut? Which Redskins are in position to feast this Sunday?

We'll evaluate the key players on a matchup scale from 1 to 5 stars:

WR Alshon Jeffery
Jeffery is likely to get a heavy dose of Josh Norman in Week 1. When they last matched up on Christmas Eve 2016, Jeffery caught 5 of 10 targets for 92 yards, including a 37-yarder. 

As Doug Pederson said earlier this week, neither player won the matchup but both had their moments.

Obviously, Jeffery is playing with a better quarterback than he had last season in Chicago. And because his size always makes him a threat in the red zone, one play could allow him to overcome a tough matchup on any given week.

Jeffery has a 3-inch and 18-pound advantage on Norman. But Norman is used to holding in check bigger opponents, and last season he allowed completions on just 45 of 84 targets (53.6 percent).

Because the Eagles have other weapons that match up well with the Redskins' weaknesses, this might not be an explosive debut for Jeffery.

Matchup: 3 stars

Projected Jeffery stat line: 5 catches, 80 yards, 0 TD

• • •

TE Jordan Reed
Reed is a monster when healthy and was Kirk Cousins' favorite target even when he had DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. Reed doesn't have huge numbers against the Eagles because he's had so much trouble staying on the field, but he did destroy them two meetings ago with 9 catches, 129 yards and two TDs on Dec. 26, 2015.

Reed last season missed four games altogether and played sparingly in three others. But in his nine healthiest games, he averaged 7 catches for 70 yards and scored five touchdowns.

Cousins especially likes to involve Reed early in games. Last season, 38 of his 53 catches came in the first half. The year before, when he scored a career-high 11 TDs, he had his most receptions (25), yards (300) and touchdowns (4) in the first quarter.

In 2016, the Eagles' defense actually surrendered the fewest catches (44) and yards (414) to opposing tight ends. The flip side of that fact, though, is that they didn't face many good tight ends. They saw Kyle Rudolph and Jimmy Graham — and that was pretty much it. Reed missed one of the meetings and barely played in the other. 

Matchup: 4 stars

Projected Reed stat line: 7 catches, 90 yards, TD

• • •

TE Zach Ertz
The Redskins last season were so, so, so much worse against tight ends than the Eagles were.

TEs vs Eagles: 44 catches, 414 yards
TEs vs Redskins: 108 catches, 1,119 yards

You did not read that wrong. 

The last three seasons, Ertz has done little against the Redskins in the season's first meeting, then torched them in the second.

2014: 3 catches for 14 yards, then 15 catches for 115
2015: 2 catches for 11 yards, then 13 catches for 122
2016: 1 catch for 22 yards, then 10 catches for 112

The guess here is that the pattern changes in 2017 and Ertz opens up with a big game. The Redskins have a weak defense and won't be able to commit an over-the-top safety to Ertz much if at all. Why? Because the Eagles have a speed threat on one side in Torrey Smith, a deep threat on the other side in Jeffery, and Washington will have to stay home, especially in play-action situations, because of its shaky run defense.

Ertz's matchup: 4.5 stars
Projected Ertz stat line: 6 catches, 80 yards, 0.75 TDs

• • •

RB LeGarrette Blount
There might not be many great matchups for Blount this season because of the Eagles' crowded backfield, but this is one of them. 

Washington's run defense last season was abysmal. The 'Skins allowed 1,741 rushing yards (4.52 per carry) and 15 touchdowns to running backs. And, quite frankly, the run defense could be even worse this season. Chris Baker is now in Tampa Bay, and nose tackle Phil Taylor is out for the season. Washington will go with a weak front three of Jonathan Allen, Ziggy Hood and Stacy McGee. 

I like Blount to score a TD this week and have one of his better rushing afternoons of 2017.

Matchup: 3.5 stars 

Projected Blount stat line: 75 rushing yards, TD, 5 receiving yards

• • •

WR Terrelle Pryor, WR Jamison Crowder
Crowder has the better matchup this week, both because of the cornerback matchup and the fact that he has much more of a rapport with Cousins than Pryor.

Pryor finished with 1,007 receiving yards last season but his year wasn't as impressive as many think. He scored just once in his final 10 games, and in his last eight games averaged 4.5 catches for 59.5 yards. Those aren't even WR2 numbers in fantasy.

Pryor is playing with a better quarterback this year, so I do expect him to exceed last year's totals. But in Week 1, I'd rather be the Crowder fantasy owner than the Pryor fantasy owner.

In three-receiver sets, Crowder will likely spend much of his time in the slot against Patrick Robinson, a winnable matchup for the third-year WR. 

Crowder is listed as questionable for Sunday's game with a hip injury, but he expects to play.

Pryor matchup: 2.5 stars
Projected Pryor stat line: 4 catches, 52 yards

Crowder matchup: 3.5 stars
Projected Crowder stat line: 6 catches, 90 yards

• • •

RBs Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson
Kelley hurt the Eagles last season, rushing 21 times for 122 yards and a TD in the two meetings. When the Eagles and 'Skins first played on Oct. 16, he wasn't yet the feature back, but a 45-yard run late in that game helped push him up the depth chart.

Kelley had a couple huge games last season, notably the 137-yard, 3-TD performance vs. the Packers. But he also averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry in four of his final six games, which is why a lot of fantasy analysts are high on his backup, rookie Samaje Perine.

This isn't a great matchup for Kelley against a strong Eagles defensive line. Pass-catching back Chris Thompson could end up with the juicier stat line.

Kelley's matchup: 2 stars
Projected Kelley stat line: 45 rushing yards, 0 TD

Thompson's matchup: 3 stars
Projected Thompson stat line: 20 rushing yards, 4 catches, 45 receiving yards

Washington Redskins season preview: Dan Snyder’s undrainable swamp

Washington Redskins season preview: Dan Snyder’s undrainable swamp

Before the Eagles set off on what is sure to be a 100-year-dynasty of NFC East Championships, we’ll take a look at each of their divisional rivals and what they’ve got that could potentially derail the Birds seemingly sure-fire destiny.

Today, we’ll cover Washington, a franchise whose fan base would rather openly root against it than have any sort of long-term success, which appears to be a recurring theme in D.C. these days.

Washington 

What Happened Last Season: Washington choked. Not in epic, headline-grabbing fashion like the Cowboys choked. Not even in regional-camaraderie fashion like the Nats or the Caps. No, Washington had an old-fashioned playoff berth choke, dropping four-of-their-last-six to miss out on the postseason. Which is just a total epic party foul on the part of Kirk Cousins. Even Tony Romo kept his acid-reflux in control until the Wild Card round.

Sure, thanks to a tie with the Cincinnati Bengals, Washington technically had their first set of consecutive winning seasons since Dan Snyder bought the team in 1999. Bragging about that accomplishment would be like Blackberry announcing they’re rolling out a smartphone in 2018 that is entirely touchscreen — no keyboard! YOU LIKE THAT! This franchise has set the bar so ridiculously low, which is great because Donald Trump’s approval ratings could use some company.

What About The Offseason? No team in the NFL had a worse offseason than Washington, and that is not hyperbole. Sure, the Cowboys star player got suspended, the Giants sat on their hands, and the Iggles traded away a beloved role player for the sole purpose of (presumably) hurting my feelings. None of that compares to Washington, which somehow, after all these years, still finds a new foot to shoot.

Washington let DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Chris Baker walk, and their most significant addition was former Cleveland Brown Terrelle Pryor. If as a fan you find yourself uttering the words “the guy we got from the Browns could be huge,” you may need to seek professional assistance. Pryor probably won’t help this team improve over 8-7-1, but that’s not why this summer was an utter disgrace.

Team owner Dan Snyder, presumably self-aware of his reputation as the most horrible person to own a sports franchise, decided to lean-in to that persona with more tilt than Melania Trump wearing stilettos on her way to a hurricane relief site. Despite their most successful (ha!) two-year run in a generation, Washington unceremoniously fired GM Scot McCloughan for the crime of being credited with his own success. Those who remain in the team’s front office then spent weeks slamming McCloughan on his way out, calling him a drunk and telling him “nobody liked him.” The Washington Front Office Exit Interview is apparently being conducted by a group of nine-year-olds over Instant Messenger. The former GM lasted three years in D.C., or as they call it inside the Beltway, “99-and-a-half Scaramuccis.”

The team's only real accomplishment this summer was somehow being only the second most dysfunctional organization located in Washington D.C. But hey, there are good people on many sides. MANY SIDES!

On top of all that, Washington completely bungled their contract negotiations with Kirk Cousins and will be paying him nearly $24 million, which is coincidentally or not the same number of people who have quit or been fired from Donald Trump’s White House. And this organization (Snyder’s, not Trump’s) has been just so good to its soldiers in the past, I’m sure Cousins is beaming with confidence that if he just does his job, Snyder will finally give him that long-term contract he’s so justly owed. Cousins is essentially Bronn from Game of Thrones, just with less charisma. That would make Snyder the Lannisters, and it doesn’t take much to imagine Danny Boy sitting across a negotiating table saying “the Snyder’s always repay their debts.” 

What’ll Happen This Season (Best Case Scenario): Cousins plays well enough to prove his success wasn’t a product of having Jaccpot and Peter Waiter. The defense improves under new coordinator Greg Manusky, proving the last three times he failed as a defensive coordinator totally weren’t on him at all. And Jay Gruden wins a lifetime achievement award for somehow dragging a Dan Snyder owned organization to three consecutive winning seasons. 

Oh, and they’ll sweep the Eagles. Because for some inexplicable reason, Washington has beaten the Birds in five consecutive contests, and I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that my younger sister is dating a Washington fan. THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT, MATT! DM me for his home address, Philly faithful.

What’ll Happen This Season (Worst Case Scenario): Cousins stays healthy the entire year and plays just well enough to earn that multi-year contract -- only to plummet back to Earth in 2018. Or WORSE, he plays absolutely lights out, but when given the chance to sign a long-term contract with the team that franchise-tagged him twice, Cousins instead decides to go to a less dysfunctional franchise, like the one in Cleveland. Or EVEN WORSE THAN THAT, he plays absolutely terrible, prompting Washington to let him walk, and then goes to Cleveland on the veteran minimum where he leads the Browns to six consecutive Super Bowls. I’d like that.

Conclusion: No matter what happens, this franchise will screw it up. Even Reince Priebus looks at their staff and thinks “man, I’m glad I didn’t get stuck working there.” This fish stinks from the head down, and its demise seems an inevitable question of “when,” not “if.” That seems to be a recurring theme in D.C. these days.

Previously: Dallas Cowboys season preview: new faces but with same choking hazard