It’s here. Week 1 of the NFL season is finally upon us. To quote the great Brian Dawkins, “can you feel that?” Yes, B-Dawk, I can fucking feel it.
The Eagles will open their season with a familiar foe, albeit with a new name, the Washington Football Team. The Birds have taken six straight against Washington, dating back to week 1 of the 2017 Super Bowl season.
Matchup to watch: Washington’s D-line vs. Eagles O-line
On paper, there’s really only one matchup to be worried about heading into this contest: The Eagles battered offensive line vs. Washington’s young and fast defensive line. I laid out this matchup in depth in this article, so I won’t reiterate the points I made there.
We’ll find out very early on whether this offensive line is up to par.
Lane Johnson is still a question mark for week 1, which is concerning. Doug Pederson said that Johnson is feeling really good heading into the weekend, but the head coach would not commit to Johnson suiting up on Sunday. The same goes for running back Miles Sanders, defensive end Derek Barnett and rookie wideout Jalen Reagor, who will all likely be game time decisions.
But it does appear newly acquired Javon Hargrave will not play Sunday, he’s still not practicing due to pectoral injury he sustained during camp. Luckily, the team still has Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson to lean on with Hargrave sidelined.
Obviously, the team won’t throw any of these questionable guys out there week 1 if they’re not 100%, Pederson reiterated that point in his Friday morning press conference. Regardless if these guys can go Sunday, the Eagles should still be able to pull off the victory.
Containing Terry McLaurin is the No. 1 priority for the Eagles defense
Aside from their strong defensive line, Washington doesn’t really have any notable strengths. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin is one of the few legit offensive weapons the Football Team has. Darius Slay will probably stick with McLaurin for the majority of the game; it’ll be a great early test for him.
Dwayne Haskins will be under center, and while he presents some real potential at quarterback, he still feels like a project at this point and not someone who can pick apart a defense. He does have a strong arm, though, so expect Washington’s offense to take some shots to McLaurin early and often. He had a field day against the Eagles secondary last season, with two of his three 100-yard performances coming against the Eagles.
He averaged 25.5 yards per reception against Jim Schwartz’s defense last season. Despite the improved secondary the Eagles will be rolling out this season, Washington will still try to take advantage of them with McLaurin’s speed.
While the deep bombs from Washington are a foregone conclusion, the Eagles defensive line should be able to dominate the line of scrimmage and get hits on Haskins. Even if Barnett and Hargrave aren’t out there, Washington’s offensive line should be no match for the Eagles front-four. Getting consistent pressure will force Haskins to actually read the defense, which isn’t a strength of his at this point in his career. The more pressure the Eagles can create, the less Washington will be able to take their shots to McLaurin.
How can the Eagles offense attack Washington’s defense?
On the offensive side of the ball for the Eagles, as long as their o-line can protect Carson Wentz, I expect Wentz to have a pretty solid outing. This offensive coaching staff is smart enough to find ways to mitigate Washington’s pressure, too. Screen plays, play action and getting Wentz outside of the pocket will probably be a focal point in week 1.
In 2019, Wentz had the highest QBR in the NFL when outside the pocket, finishing the year with a 94.4 mark. So, even if Washington is getting past the big guys up front, forcing Wentz to improvise and make plays on the run plays into his best trait as a quarterback.
Washington’s secondary is not very good either, with the exception of safety Landon Collins. At corner, Ronald Darby and Kendall Fuller will be the likely starters. We already know what Darby brings to the table, he posted a 39.8 coverage grade on Pro Football Focus last season. Fuller is the better player, but that’s not really saying much. He posted a 66.3 coverage grade from PFF last season. Fuller is listed as questionable right now, so we won’t know if he’ll actually suit up until Sunday most likely.
Even if Reagor can’t go, DeSean Jackson, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Greg Ward should be able to get the job done. Jackson always seems to have his best games against Washington, so don’t be surprised if Pederson gives Jackson the ball frequently in this one. I’m excited the see what kind of improvements both JJAW and Ward have made this offseason. We’ve heard a lot of good things about both throughout camp, and I’m anxious to see if the praise translates to production on the field.
If Sanders can’t go, Doug will probably veer away from running the ball. Instead, I envision him utilizing Boston Scott’s and Corey Clement’s receiving ability out of the back field. Like I said earlier, relying on the screen game will probably be a pivotal part to this week’s game plan. Expect both Scott and Clement to get in on that action if Sanders is unable to go.
The Eagles should finish the first week of the NFL season 1-0. Unless Washington’s defensive line utterly dominates the Eagles up front, this game shouldn’t even be close.
I think the game will be somewhat close through the first half, but once the Eagles offense gets in a groove, the Eagles should pull away in the fourth. I’m predicting a 24-10 victory in week 1 for the Birds. I know I made a different score prediction in this week’s episode of “The Pulse of the City”, but it’s the Friday before football and I’m feeling good. Suck it easy, Washington.
Predictions from the Full Scale writers:
Ryan Haynes: 23-13 Eagles
Anthony DiRenzo: 28-17 Eagles
Connor Longen: 28-13 Eagles
Tyler Grace: 27-17 Eagles
Mike Bednarek: 23-17 Eagles
That’s a full sweep from us. Go Birds.