Ryan Kerrigan

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.

Eagles-Redskins 5 matchups to watch

Eagles-Redskins 5 matchups to watch

The Eagles haven't fared well against Washington in recent years. In fact, the Birds have lost their last five contests against their division rival, including both games last season. 

The two losses against Washington last season came by a total of 12 points. 

This is a big game for the Eagles. A win could start off their season on the right track, especially before a really tough game against the Chiefs on the road in Week 2. 

So here's a look at five matchups that will play a major role on Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field: 

Lane Johnson vs. Ryan Kerrigan 
You probably remember what happened in the first matchup between the Eagles and Washington last year. Back on Oct. 16, Johnson's 10-game PED suspension kicked in and the Eagles were left with rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle. Eventually, Vaitai ended up having a pretty decent rookie season but it didn't get off to a great start. In fact, his introduction to the NFL was pretty ugly and he can thank Kerrigan for that. Carson Wentz was sacked five times in the game and half of them belonged to the veteran pass rusher. 

After missing both games against Washington in 2016, Johnson is back and hoping for a little revenge. In fact, he's already said the Eagles are going to "whup some ass" in the opener. 

"First of all, [Kerrigan] is a great player," head coach Doug Pederson said. "He's a high-motor guy, a relentless finish. That's what you have to identify with him. It's good to have Lane back. Obviously, that was V's first start last year and he struggled in the game. To have Lane back, a little confidence there. Should be a good matchup all day, and just have to give the guy respect. He's a good pass rusher."

Jamison Crowder vs. Patrick Robinson 
After a terrible start to training camp, Robinson rebounded once Ronald Darby was acquired. That move pushed him inside and he found a home in the slot position for the Eagles. For the most part, that will be a position by committee this season, but against a shifty player like Crowder, Robinson should get first crack, while Malcolm Jenkins will have to deal with tight end Jordan Reed. 

For as much attention as DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon got over the last couple years, Crowder has turned into a really solid option. He had 67 catches for 847 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. Against the Eagles last year, he had five catches for 89 yards and a touchdown. He's a big part of Washington's offense. 

Brandon Scherff vs. Fletcher Cox
Scherff, Washington's right guard, went to his first Pro Bowl in 2016, a year after he was taken in the first round out of Iowa. It's a big matchup, because there's a good chance Scherff will go 1-on-1 against Cox, who doesn't see a ton of 1-on-1 matchups anymore. 

"[Scherff] does the little things right," Cox said. "You just have to study him and watch the things that he's gotten beat on. Just study him and just study their line because I think they have a solid group of guys that play together on the same page." 

Kirk Cousins always seems to bring his best games against the Eagles, so Cox's ability to generate pressure could potentially change the game. 

Zach Ertz vs. Redskins safeties
Ertz had one bad game against Washington in 2016 and one great game. In the first matchup, he had one catch for 22 yards, but the next time, he had 10 for 112. Of course, that second game was in December, when Ertz seems to come alive. But there will be chances for Ertz on Sunday, especially because Washington will be without safety Su'a Cravens, who is contemplating retirement. That leaves Washington with D.J. Swearinger and Deshazor Everett at safety. Neither are known for their cover skills. 

Alshon Jeffery vs. Josh Norman
Expect Norman to travel and stick with Jeffery for the entire game on Sunday. Washington head coach Jay Gruden on Wednesday said he didn't know if that's what he would do, but it seems pretty clear that's what will happen. 

Last year when Jeffery faced Washington as a member of the Bears, Norman stayed with him all game. Jeffery ended the game with five catches on 10 targets for 92 yards. 

"Alshon won his share and Josh won his share," Pederson said. "It's a good battle. I think those two have a lot of respect for each other and it's great competition."

Lane Johnson vs. Ryan Kerrigan a major key for Eagles in Week 1

Lane Johnson vs. Ryan Kerrigan a major key for Eagles in Week 1

Lane Johnson could only watch from home as Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan almost single-handedly beat the Eagles in 2016 — not once, but twice.

“It still affects me today,” Johnson said Wednesday after practice. “It just motivates me to go out there and go play even harder this year.”

Johnson missed both dates with Washington last season because of a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. The result was nothing less than disastrous for the Eagles, who were suddenly rendered powerless to stop one of the NFC East’s most formidable pass rushers.

With Halapoulivaati Vaitai making his first professional start in place of Johnson at right tackle, Kerrigan registered 2½ sacks and five quarterback hits in the first meeting alone. The second time around, Kerrigan went around Matt Tobin and knocked the ball free from Carson Wentz in the final minute, the ensuing turnover closing the book on a late Eagles’ rally.

Kudos to Kerrigan, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, but this was no coincidence. The Eagles finished the season with a 5-1 record when Johnson was in the lineup, and went 2-8 without.

“All last season, you can put a lot of the losses on me not being with the team,” Johnson said. “It's a new year this year, so we're just ready to get started off the right way.”

Johnson just spent the last 13 months discussing how helpless he felt throughout this ordeal. After waiting nine weeks from the time word got out about the suspension until learning his fate, Johnson was struck with the maximum ban four games into the Eagles’ season. By the time he returned, the team was eliminated from playoff contention. To this day, Johnson has an ongoing lawsuit against the NFL and NFL Players Association.

Who can blame the guy for being excited about the opportunity to finally turn the page? The key for Johnson will be to not get too excited.

“I really don't like getting too hyped for a game,” Johnson said. “Usually, if you get too emotional, you don't play as well as what you want. Try to keep it calm, and just go out there and go play.”

The thing is, Johnson’s track record against Kerrigan is kind of spotty. The last time the two faced off in 2015, Kerrigan was not credited with making a single play in the Eagles’ backfield. Earlier that same season, Kerrigan recorded one sack and two tackles for loss. In the five games the two have gone head-to-head, Kerrigan has three sacks and four tackles for loss.

“Kerrigan has always been a good opponent for me,” Johnson said. “A guy that tries hard every play, great motor, so it's going to be a challenge.”

Some give and take is to be expected. After all, Kerrigan is up to 58½ sacks over his six-year career.

“He’s a great player,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “He's a high-motor guy, relentless finish. That's what you have to identify with him.

“To have Lane back, a little confidence there. Should be a good matchup all day, and just have to give the guy respect. He's a good pass rusher.”

Wentz is certainly breathing a little easier knowing Johnson will be in there this time around. By the time injuries had taken their toll on the offensive line, the Eagles were down to their fourth right tackle in the waning moments of their most recent game against Washington.

“We’re excited for Lane to be back,” Wentz said. “We’re excited for, thankfully, right now where we’re at, the entire O-line is healthy. That’s a big perk. A big strongpoint of our offense is that O-line and those big boys up front, so having Lane back, having everybody be healthy to start the year is exciting.

“He’s definitely a rock-solid guy at right tackle, so it will be good to have him.”

Nobody feels worse about Johnson’s suspension than him — except maybe Wentz, who bore the brunt of that absence on the football field. Thankfully for Johnson, the time for apologizing is finally over, and he can make up for it by going out and keeping his quarterback upright.

Atonement begins Week 1 with keeping Kerrigan at bay, but Johnson realizes it’s going to take more than one game to truly make amends.

“This whole season is meaningful to me,” Johnson said. “I’ve let down this team too many times. I’m on a thin leash here, so I need to go out and go play well and just be a good teammate.”