Perhaps it's more perception than reality this year, especially with so much uncertainty in the NFC East. Still, the difference between a 1-3 or 2-2 record is big. Terrance Knighton big. That's at stake for the pair of teams meeting at FedEx Field Sunday afternoon. By the end of the day, either the Washington Redskins (1-2) or the Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) could be tied for first place in the division or sitting alone in the basement.
The Redskins scenario is more dire based on the schedule and momentum. Sunday marks Washington's third home game in the opening four weeks. The idea of protecting the house means compiling wins. Suffer a loss Sunday and the Redskins will have dropped two of those three games. Then note what's on deck: Two very tough road games against the Falcons and Jets, who own a combined 5-1 record entering Week 4.
Washington looked out of sorts in its lone road tilt this season, last week's mistake-prone 32-21 setback at the New York Giants. Despite playing without high profile running back DeMarco Murray, the Eagles ran past the Jets 24-17 in Week 3.
With that as a back drop, let’s get to our “Nickel Coverage” preview of this key NFC East showdown.
1 – Secondary must be primary: The Redskins secondary has been anything but a “unit” in every sense of the word. First, it was Bashaud Breeland's one game suspension, while Duke Ihenacho was lost for the year in the first quarter of the Miami season opening loss. Chris Culliver was suspended for the St. Louis win and just when he returned, DeAngelo Hall went on the shelf for the next several weeks with a toe injury.
On Tuesday, the Redskins put young slot corner Justin Rogers on injured reserve. He played in only one game (Miami) and missed the next two and now the rest of the year with plantar fasciitis.
What’s next? Washington is running out of qualified bodies. The Redskins signed promising wide receiver turned cornerback, Quinton Dunbar, from their practice squad on Tuesday.
The Eagles bring Jordan Matthews (22-231-TD) to Landover. Matthews caught two touchdown passes last year in a Eagles win in Philadelphia over the Redskins.
Philly still has veteran Riley Cooper and rookie Nelson Agholor but Matthews is who should scare you.
2 – Providing a rush : This game will be probably won and lost for the Redskins based on the type of pass rush they get against the statuesque Sam Bradford.
The Eagles have only allowed two sacks so far in three games and despite their run offense issues, pass protection has been pretty good. As it should be. The Eagles line features stud left tackle, Jason Peters, one of the best centers in the NFL in Jason Kelce and right tackle, Lane Johnson who was Chip Kelly’s first draft pick at number four overall in 2013.
Evan Mathis is no longer in Philadelphia which has certainly hurt, but make no mistake about it, the Redskins have to get home or significant pressure on Bradford.
Last week, the Redskins had no sacks, two quarterback hits and eight hurries according to ProFootballFocus.com. Stephen Paea was good for a 2nd game in a row and Ryan Kerrigan is getting closer and closer to making a huge impact.
The Redskins need more. They need Jason Hatcher back to the Hatcher of the first two weeks and they need Trent Murphy or Preston Smith to step up. Otherwise, the Redskins are going to have to gamble more with the blitz.
3 – Back to basics: The Redskins have to get back to what they did so good in the first two weeks before they ran into a proverbial brick wall on Thursday night. The Redskins ran for 161 net yards and then 182 net yards in their first two games.
In the loss to the Giants, they were only able to muster 88 net yards of rushing offense on 20 carries. The average per rush was there at 4.4/attempt but the commitment to it was not as strong, based on trying to attack the Giants depleted secondary.
The Eagles are allowing 87 yards per game, which means the Redskins will have to work on softening them up in the first half to exploit some gaps after halftime.
I would expect Alfred Morris to have a larger role than he has the last two weeks. That’s not because the Redskins feel like they owe it to him, but because of Matt Jones’ ball security woes.
4- On top of turnovers : Needless to say, if you are not going to create any turnovers, you better not make them on offense. You have very little chance if you are a negative in turnover differential. The Redskins defense only has one takeaway this year and that has to quickly get better. They haven’t had one since Preston Smith’s sack/forced fumble and recovery of Ryan Tannehill in the first half of the season opener.
In the meantime, the Redskins gave up three balls against the Giants, one against the Rams and one in the Dolphins loss during the second half or since the Redskins first and only defensive takeaway.
5 – Solid special teams – Darren Sproles is such a weapon against good special teams units, and the Redskins could never be confused with that description. Sure, it’s mostly due to injury. It’s not getting any easier with the losses that are piling up every week.
Somehow, someway, the Redskins cannot allow Sproles to gash them. The Eagles as a team last year had six special teams touchdown with Sproles having two of them. Sproles had a punt return for a score last week as well.
The Eagles blocked four punts last year. The Redskins just allowed the Giants to pulll off that trick last week.
Neither team enters Sunday with their opening week kicker. The Eagles added Caleb Sturgis, who beat out former Redskins kicker Kai Forbath and others to replace the injured Cody Parkey. The difference between 1-3 and 2-2 could be at stake if Sturgis or Dustin Hopkins takes the field for a field goal in the final seconds No pressur, fellas.
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Chris Russell is a senior writer for Breaking Burgundy. You can find him on Twitter @russellmania621.