As the Commanders look to shake off an ugly loss to the Lions in Week 2, a formidable division rival is set to come to town in Week 3.
Jalen Hurts and the Eagles should present multiple problems for Washington's struggling defense, highlighted by Hurts' ability to hurt defenses on the ground as well as through the air by utilizing A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and a deep offensive line. The book on the Eagles last year was to stop the run at all costs and force Hurts to beat defenses with the pass.
As Robert Griffin III explained it to the Sports Junkies Monday, it might not be as easy to load up against the run this time around.
"You want to force the young [quarterback] to beat you with his arm, so should [Washington] load the box? 100% they should load the box, but based on what I've seen [with the secondary], I don't want any of those guys on AJ Brown, let alone DeVonta Smith," Griffin said.
When defenses "load the box," it typically means they're bringing in more defenders to the center of their formation than the offense has to block. So if an offense runs against a loaded box, there should be an available defender to make the stop assuming all other gaps are filled by his teammates.
The downside to that kind of defense comes on the outside, where corners can get left on an island against wide receivers and be forced to contain their matchup in man-to-man coverage. Last year, the Eagles didn't have the personnel to consistently beat man-to-man coverage on their wide receivers, but life is much different with Brown on your side.
"I think that's the conundrum that they're in with Philly," Griffin said. "If you man them up and load the box, you're gonna have all day, A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith running past guys. Then you have Dallas Goedert at tight end, Quez Watkins at receiver, the Eagles have a really good roster and they're set up for teams that say, 'Hey, we're gonna load the box and force you to throw it.'
"A.J. Brown is a man-to-man killer. He can beat you down the field, he can beat you on out-routes, in the middle of the field and he's a strong finisher. Do you really want one of Washington's corners manned up on him, and he's one broken tackle away from hitting his head on the goalpost? I don't think that's what they want."
Brown had a field day against the Lions in Week 1, totaling 11 catches for 155 yards on 13 targets. He accounted for over 63% of Hurts' total passing yards for the game. Meanwhile, Washington's secondary was just torched by Amon-Ra St. Brown (9 rec, 116 yards, 2 TD) in Week 2 and gave up eight yards per carry to the Lions' rushing attack.
If the Commanders find themselves needing to load the box because they can't stop the run, Brown could go crazy against all that man coverage. If defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio decides to play more zone to keep Brown contained, it'll make it that much harder to stop Hurts and the Eagles' ground game.
"You have a quarterback who had 90 yards rushing the first week, you have an offensive line that is an extremely physical group," Griffin said. "They're gonna try to replicate, if not do more than the last two teams have against this Commanders front, and that's a bad situation."
Griffin doesn't expect the Commanders to give the Eagles a man-to-man look every play. But as the Commanders learned in Week 2, if you don't stop the run it's hard to get stops in general. The Eagles held the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL in 2021 and recorded four rushing touchdowns in Week 1 against Detroit.
"I know these coaches hate getting points scored on them," Griffin said. "So he's not gonna just load the box and dare Jalen Hurts to beat him every single play, but I do think they're gonna make a concerted effort to stop the run, which they have to do against Philly otherwise it's gonna get ugly quick."