WEEK 2 MATCHUP

It's only the second game of the season. It's only one game. But it sure feels like much more than that. For a Week 2 matchup, this is a game that could vault Washington into the national focus. That is, if the Redskins (1-0) can beat Philadelphia (0-1) tonight. Not only could the Redskins take a two-game lead over the team everyone picked to win the division, but they could also establish themselves as a serious threat.

They know that people aren't sure if they are one. Not after a 31-23 win over Arizona.

''I saw Inside the NFL [Thursday night] and everyone picked the Eagles to beat us,'' Redskins safety Sam Shade said. ''This is one of those games where we have to show people we're a good team and we play hard. [They're skeptical] because everything is new. Coach Spurrier is new, a lot of the guys on offense are new and the defensive players we have are good, but we haven't played together long. It's a matter of seeing if we can play together and beat a team that some people think we can't beat. We can be a good team.''

And they can prove it with a win tonight, in Steve Spurrier's Monday Night Football debut. That note is of less importance to anyone than having a 2-0 record. If the Redskins want to be taken seriously, they must win a tough game, one that can serve as a springboard for the rest of the season. This is that kind of game.

We know: they're all important.

But some games are bigger. A loss would not be devastating. In fact, it would still put the Redskins on a pace to win eight or nine games, which is how many I thought they'd win. A win would do so much, though, in establishing Spurrier and the team. Plus, it's a crucial home game, the sort they've spent too many years losing. The Redskins are 8-8 at home the past two seasons, a major reason why they've also missed the playoffs in both years. They entered this season a pedestrian 23-16-1 at home in the past five years.

They've posted one winning record at home in the past four years--they were 6-2 in 1999, when they won the NFC East. It's not a coincidence. If the Redskins want to win the division, a win tonight would prove they're more than capable. They can recover from a loss; they could skyrocket with a win.

'It's a coming out party for us,'' Redskins tackle Jon Jansen said. ''It's the first game where the whole nation will be watching coach Spurrier's offense and Marvin Lewis' defense. Guys talk about games where everyone is watching that gives you the best chance to make the Pro Bowl. This is one of those deals. The spotlight is on you. Other players start to learn you names off games like these.''

Player to watch on offense: Receiver Rod Gardner. He's not the key to the game--Stephen Davis is. But if Gardner has another strong game, look out. He'll be facing one of the best corner tandems in the league with Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor. Both can match Gardner's size, but his strength will help him outduel Taylor. If Gardner wants to reach the elite level, a big game tonight would help. Plus, given the Eagles' talent in the secondary, Gardner might be the only wideout capable of hurting them.

Player to watch on defense: Linebacker LaVar Arrington. Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said he doesn't believe in spying--as if he'd tell us if he did. But it's safe to assume that Arrington's quickness make him a key in stopping runs by McNabb. Actually, the Redskins have an advantage because of the overall speed they have at linebacker. Most teams can't defend McNabb with that kind of speed, which should cut down on his running.

Why the Redskins will win: Because, in Spurrier's Monday night debut, they'll show what their offense is really about-- Stephen Davis. Philadelphia's weakness is stopping the run. The Eagles back four is outstanding and Washington doesn't need to attack them downfield. The Redskins need to overpower them up front. Corey Simon is a strong defensive tackle, but Philly lacks another true run-stopper up front. And we all know where their ex-run stuffing middle linebacker is these days. They haven't replaced Jeremiah Trotter and weakside backer Shawn Barber's strength is not stopping the run. Washington should spread the field, forcing Philly into a nickel defense, then run Davis. It'll work. The Redskins also should run right at outside linebacker Ike Reese, who might be forced into action if Carlos Emmons can't play. The holes are there on this defense. Washington has the ability to find them.

Defensively, Washington has succeeded in stopping Donovan McNabb by making him sit in the pocket and read defenses. McNabb has posted a quarterback rating of 71.1 or higher only once in six starts versus Washington. Last year, the Redskins showed numerous coverages and blitzes, confusing McNabb. They showed man, then dropped into zone after the ball was snapped. They played man on one side and zone on the other. And they changed it up often. Look for more of the same tonight.

Don't be afraid of: James Thrash. The ex-Redskins wideout is a nice receiver, don't get us wrong. But he's not an elite one. In two games against Washington last season Thrash caught just six passes for 47 yards.

Signs of trouble: Stephen Davis' groin acts up and the Redskins can't run the ball. . . Shane Matthews is forced to throw often into arguably the NFL's best secondary. . . Donovan McNabb gets hot early; and he finds tight end Chad Lewis in the red zone and on third downs. . . Eagles receiver Antonio Freeman gets involved even more in the offense.

Key matchups: RG Brenden Stai vs. DT Corey Simon; LT Chris Samuels vs. Hugh Douglas; SS Sam Shade vs. TE Chad Lewis; DE Bruce Smith vs. LT Tra Thomas.

Key stats: In 18 of the past 21 meetings between these teams, the game has been decided by seven points or less. . . . Philadelphia is 13-4 on the road in its last 17 regular-season road games. The Eagles are 5-0 in prime time games under coach Andy Reid. . . .Redskins end Bruce Smith has recorded just six sacks in his last 19 games.


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