In Week 17 of the 2020 campaign, the then Football Team defeated a then 4-10-1 Eagles bunch at Lincoln Financial Field to clinch a shaky-but-still-real NFC East title. That was Ron Rivera's first year in charge of Washington and the franchise seemed to be in the early stages of a much-needed turnaround. Philadelphia, meanwhile, would go on to fire head coach Doug Pederson and appeared rather lost.
The two-plus years since have been far kinder to one club than the other and, unfortunately for Rivera, his group is the one that's sinking.
This Sunday, the Eagles will face the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. The Commanders, on the other hand, will face TVs to watch said Super Bowl as they're left to wonder once again if they'll ever find themselves competing into February.
Now, every path to the NFL's title game is different, but Philly advanced to this upcoming edition through many actions that Washington would be wise to attempt to replicate.
With that in mind, here are five lessons the Commanders could learn from their (much more functional) nemesis...
1) Find a quarterback — and then cater the entire offense to that quarterback's skill set
This one's obvious and so is the next one. From there, hopefully, you'll leave a bit enlightened. But let's get the clear stuff out of the way first.
In Jalen Hurts, the Eagles certainly lucked out. The 2020 second-round pick is an MVP finalist, multi-talented and far more unassuming than an athlete of his caliber typically is.
That said, Philadelphia has made sure to accentuate Hurts' effectiveness.
Following a poor start to his first year as head coach in 2021, Nick Sirianni passed play-calling responsibilities off to an assistant and approved a scheme shift that leaned heavily on the run, featuring standard ball carriers as well as Hurts. That choice eventually produced a playoff berth before producing one of the league's most prolific rushing offenses ever in 2022.
It would've been easy for Sirianni to continue pushing his ideas forward and, if Hurts didn't develop, use the excuse that he didn't draft Hurts and cut ties with him. Instead, the Eagles' boss assessed what made the signal-caller special and ensured those qualities would be emphasized much more often.
The payoff for that flexibility — which has paired perfectly with Hurts' solid growth as a thrower — could soon result in a Lombardi trophy.
Barring an unforeseen event, the Commanders will enter 2023 with a quarterback of their own that'll need assistance from the staff.
If Sam Howell is the top guy, for example, then allowing him to run — he was successful in this area at North Carolina and in his lone professional start — would be smart. If, say, it's Jimmy Garoppolo, then embracing play-action and quick reads over the middle would be prudent.
Regardless of who gets the majority of snaps, it's time for Washington's system to be more malleable. A Hurts-like explosion is probably much too much to ask for, yet wanting the folks on the sidelines to assist the leader of the huddle isn't.
2) Never stop cramming the roster with established players who can help
Aside from the draft-allergic Rams of 2021, picking out college prospects who rapidly rise to contributor status is a requirement for contenders. By recently hitting on the likes of Hurts, Devonta Smith, Dallas Goedert, Miles Sanders and Josh Sweat — plus nailing long-ago selections such as Brandon Graham, Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson — Philly has routinely checked that box.
That hasn't stopped the organization from further supplementing its roster via free agency or the trade market, though.
Scooping A.J. Brown from the Titans this past offseason was a genius transaction, as was signing James Bradberry when he was released in May.
Haason Reddick, meanwhile, inked a contract with the Eagles a couple of months before Bradberry's arrival and has proceeded to rip off 19.5 sacks (including the playoffs) for his new club.
And lastly, there's C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who was acquired in a trade with the Saints in late August to reinforce an already-reinforced secondary.
Of course, it doesn't make sense for every outfit to so aggressively pursue upgrades and it's not like Rivera intends to just sit around and do nothing with his depth chart in the coming months.
The Eagles, however, have been particularly hungry — and enacted such an approach without truly knowing what they had in Hurts, mind you — and ended up assembling a stacked, weakness-free team.
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3) A hell of a center makes a hell of a difference
If there's an offense that knows what it's like to deal with tumult in the middle of its offensive line, it's Washington's.
Serious injuries to Chase Roullier and Tyler Larsen — both have been placed on injured reserve for two consecutive years — have caused the Commanders to turn to a combination of unwanted veterans, overmatched youngsters or out-of-position substitutes.
In other words, the anti-Kelce experience that Philadelphia has enjoyed.
The Birds' nest is never in danger as long as Kelce's at center and, thanks to an insane span of durability, danger hasn't really been felt for more than half a decade. Kelce is a five-time All-Pro who, even at age 35, is capable of neutralizing the sport's top interior defenders and rolling from sideline to sideline to pummel would-be tacklers.
In their review of 2022, Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew expressed a desire to solve their center struggles. Perhaps those decision-makers should, if possible, aim to identify a player who can make that spot an unassailable strength as opposed to merely making it functional. Kelce, for one, has glamorized the gig.
4) Not all sneaks have to be sneaky!
Credit to the 2022 Eagles for revolutionizing the QB sneak, which had widely been executed in the same manner across all tiers of football nationwide for seemingly forever. By transforming the standard dive into a rugby-like scrum, Hurts and co. converted more than 90% of their 32 sneaks in the regular season and have opponents questioning the legality of how they're pulling it off.
Despite Philly's near-automatic ability to move the chains in one-yard-to-go situations, the Commanders never adopted their foe's style and suffered on a handful of third- and fourth-and-shorts because of their lack of go-to play. Remember how they were stuffed on back-to-back runs on the goal line in San Francisco in Week 16, for instance? Where was the copying in what's consistently referred to as a copycat league?
There's a grander point in this lesson as well and it relates to the Eagles' willingness to innovate.
As mentioned, a sneak on a Thursday night between two Wyoming high schools has long resembled a sneak on Sunday afternoon between two pro squads. Philadelphia didn't accept that and brainstormed a way to improve their odds on them.
For Washington, there has to be somewhere — a slight adjustment on kick returns, a fresh attitude toward calling timeouts, etc. — where they can gain an edge (however small) by self-scouting or getting creative. This year, the Eagles found their lane with sneaks. Why can't the Commanders discover a quasi-cheat code in 2023?
5) Keep loyalty from becoming a liability
Here's another discussion that prominently involves Hurts.
Just 10 months after agreeing on a gaudy contract extension with Carson Wentz, Philadelphia elected to draft Hurts, knowing that outsiders — and its own market and fan base — would, essentially, freak out. Wentz being hugely responsible for the city's first-ever Super Bowl didn't prevent the front office from spending notable capital on another quarterback.
No one's quibbling with that call now.
The same goes for firing Pederson, another key figure in that sprint to the championship. Yes, Pederson's records after claiming his ring only got worse, but another operation might've been a tad more forgiving when it came to employing him for an extra try or two.
The transition to Sirianni, who's endeared himself to the city with his cocky personality and confident game management, has been seamless.
Washington isn't a total flop these days, as many parts of its makeup on and off the field have reached satisfactory levels. Those in power can't let such progress cloud their plans if noticeable upgrades are available. After all, the Eagles originally achieved it all due largely to Wentz and Pederson — and they're on the brink of doing so again without either of them.