The Redskins travel to Philadelphia Saturday for a showdown with the Eagles. The NFC East matchup has major playoff implications -- if Washington wins, they're in. If the Eagles win Saturday and win their final game against the Giants, they'll be the ones representing the division in the postseason.
For an expert preview of Saturday's action, our Redskins Insider Tarik El-Bashir compares notes with CSNPhilly.com's Eagles reporter Dave Zangaro. Here are their keys to the game:
1. Put the ball in DeSean Jackson’s hands. All of the Redskins are going to be super motivated given what’s at stake, but no one will be more amped up than Jackson, who can help lift Washington into the playoffs while simultaneously sticking a fork in Chip Kelly and Philadelphia. Jackson is healthy, in sync with quarterback Kirk Cousins and on a roll, having hauled in four touchdown passes in the past five games, including a scintillating 77-yarder last week against Buffalo. Philly’s pass defense, meanwhile, has allowed 30 touchdowns (T-29th) and has some injury concerns at corner. Indeed, all signs point to another big game for Jackson against his former team. (He’s averaged 122 yards in two prior meetings vs. the Eagles.)
2. If the Eagles do manage to blunt Jackson’s impact, the Redskins could find an opportunity on the ground. Philly’s 30th-ranked run defense yielded a combined 382 rushing yards to the Bills and Cardinals the past two weeks. But to take advantage of that vulnerability, the Redskins will need a strong performance from Alfred Morris and/or Matt Jones—something they haven’t gotten on a consistent basis this season. Overall, though, the Redskins’ ground attack has been trending in the right direction. In fact, after mustering a season-low 14 yards at Carolina, it’s averaged a 100 yards per game over the past four contests. Not great, obviously, but much better.
3. Ryan Kerrigan and Co. must get after Sam Bradford. In the teams’ first meeting—a 23-20 Redskins’ victory in Week 4—Washington’s pass rush sacked Bradford five times for a combined loss of 37 yards. The Redskins also pressured Bradford 15 times, according to ProFootballFocus.com. The result? Bradford had a mixed afternoon, tossing three touchdown passes while completing only 53.6-percent of his 28 pass attempts. The Eagles’ signal caller has been more consistent of late as his comfort level in Chip Kelly’s offense has grown. The Redskins’ pass rush, meanwhile, has also shown signs of improved consistency, and it had another big game last week, sacking Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor five times. If the Redskins make Bradford uncomfortable, it could be a long day for the Eagles, who haven’t won a game in which Bradford was sacked multiple times.
1. Stop DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed. The Redskins' two biggest weapons have been dynamic recently. Together, they form such a dynamic duo because safeties have to make sure Jackson doesn't blow the top off (among players with 20 catches, Jackson is third in the league with an 18.8 yards per catch average), which means they can't help as much on Reed, who has become nearly as deadly as any tight end in the league. Byron Maxwell is a question mark coming into the game because of injury, which means the Eagles are light in the secondary. And who's gonna cover Reed? Kiko Alonso? Mychal Kendricks?
2. Sam Bradford needs to play better. Bradford, statistically speaking, had one of his best games of the year the last time these two teams played. He threw for 270 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. But Bradford's problem all season has been inconsistency. He made some great throws last week against Arizona but was responsible for three turnovers. During his career, Bradford hasn't been involved in very many big games, so this is something relatively new for the 28-year-old. This game won't just determine the NFC East; it could also determine his future in Philadelphia.
3. The Eagles' special teams needs to make an impact. At times this season, the Eagles' special teams, in general, have been dynamic. At other times, they haven't played up to the high level we've all seen since Chip Kelly took over in 2013. They have to make at least a couple plays against the Redskins on Saturday in a game that should be close. It could really end up being the difference. Darren Sproles is someone to keep an eye on. The recently name Pro Bowler is the best return man the Eagles have had since … DeSean Jackson. If he breaks off a punt return Saturday, it could be the difference in the game and the division.