Reporting Grant Paulsen
I remember listening to the radio one time and hearing somebody who had gotten in trouble say something that stuck with me until this day. “What I did was wrong. But it’s what I did, not who I am.”
I’ve been thinking about that quote a lot this week because the Philadelphia Eagles have struggled immensely over the past month, losing four straight games. They’ve played bad football at times and they’ve looked miserable defensively. But while 1-4 is what they’ve done up to this point, it is not who they are.
They are playing losing football. That doesn’t mean they are losers.
Nothing has crippled the Eagles more than turnovers. Philadelphia is -10 in turnover ratio, tied for dead-last in football. You can’t be that bad in the turnover battle and expect to win games. If you don’t believe me look at the top five teams in turnover margin so far this season. They are a combined 21-3 after 24 games. Coincidence? Not at all.
Philadelphia is immensely talented but with 22 players added by way of the draft, free agency and through trades, the Eagles haven’t yet started to play like a team. That doesn’t mean Philadelphia doesn’t have enough weapons to put on another offensive clinic at FedEx Field. The Eagles boast the NFL’s 3rd-ranked offense, racking up 450-yards and 25 points-per-game. They’ve compiled 28 more first downs than their opponents and out-gained their adversaries by over 400-yards over the past five weeks.
Michael Vick has thrown for 315 yards and rushed for an additional 75 in each of the past two games. No other quarterback in league history has ever done that. In addition to his lethal skill set, the Eagles have three other key offensive play-makers who will likely end up in the pro bowl at season’s end.
Running back LeSean McCoy has scored a touchdown in each of Philadelphia’s first five games, something no other Eagle has ever done. The Pittsburgh product is averaging 5.8 yards-per-carry. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is second in the NFL in catches (32), and DeSean Jackson was the leagues second-rated receiver in yards-per-catch a year ago. He’s scored on the Redskins as a receiver, rusher and return man over the past few seasons.
The good news for the Redskins is that Philadelphia’s defense is not as good as the team’s offense. The unit is riddled with stars, including new defensive linemen Jason Babin (seven sacks) and Cullen Jenkins (five sacks), but it isn’t playing well. Only two NFL teams have been worse at stopping the run than the Eagles, who seem to be preaching quarterback pressures over being balanced and stout along their front.
If the Redskins are going to beat the Eagles this Sunday at FedEx Field, where Philadelphia has felt at home over the past several seasons, Washington will have to keep the Eagles’ quartet of game-changers on the sideline. The best way to do that will be to pound the football with Ryan Torain, who is coming off a 135-yard season-debut in St. Louis.
The Eagles have won 9-of-11 games in Washington, beating the Redskins by an average margin of 13.9 points in those nine games. If they are going to run that streak to 10-of-12, Philadelphia will need to get quality line play from a couple of elevated reserves. Left tackle Jason Peters has been ruled out of Sunday’s game, and his likely replacement King Dunlap is listed as questionable. If neither suits up, right tackle Todd Herremans would move across the line to start on the left.
On the defensive line the Eagles will be missing Trent Cole, a defensive end who has already amassed 60 sacks in his six-plus seasons in the NFL. In his career against the Redskins, Cole’s posted five sacks and made 71 tackles. He’ll be replaced by former Virginia Tech standout Darryl Tapp.
Washington is slightly better off on the injury front. The Redskins haven’t ruled anybody out for Sunday’s divisional tilt but wide receiver Anthony Armstrong, tight end Chris Cooley and running back Tim Hightower are all questionable to play. Armstrong says he expects to play, Cooley has called himself “fine,” and Hightower said he was hoping to start the game.
A victory would keep the Redskins in sole possession of first place in the NFC East and would bury the Eagles even lower in the NFC pecking order. How badly does Philadelphia have to end their losing skid this weekend? Five teams that have begun a season 1-4 have eventually made the playoffs. No team that started a season 1-5 has ever played in the postseason.