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NFL Preview - Philadelphia (3-6) at Washington (3-6)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Former Grateful Dead vocalist Jerry Garcia used to belt out "every silver lining has a touch of grey" in one of many hits.
Garcia was looking on the bright side of a difficult situation, but knew a silver lining was temporary or prone to time.
The same interpretation works with the Philadelphia Eagles after quarterback Michael Vick went down in last week's loss to the Dallas Cowboys with a "significant" concussion. Fans have been clamoring for backup and rookie Nick Foles to step in under center, which could lead to a possible case of be careful what you wish for.
Having optimism with a quarterback change can go as planned or the complete opposite, and the Eagles will discover that sooner or later. Well, that may have come and Foles is expected to make his first NFL start Sunday against the NFC East-rival Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Foles hopes to get by, and some may even say survive, behind an offensive line that is minus four starters due to injury and similar to a turnstile at Great Adventure.
Foles made his debut in a 38-23 home loss to the Cowboys, which he completed 22 of his 32 pass attempts for 219 yards with a touchdown and an interception returned for a score. Marching out to the field to a standing ovation from the home crowd, Foles displayed flashes of promise and a quick delivery. With all signs indicating that Vick will sit this one, Foles has to be ready.
"Preparation is very important," Eagles coach Andy Reid said this week. "Going against a good football team in the Redskins, another NFC East rival, a loud place. It's important that he has a silent count down and understands that, which he worked on during the preseason, and that he has his fundamentals down and knows his game plan."
Philadelphia can only hope Foles maintains a little grace even if he struggles, but knows it will be a lesson learned no matter what the result for the long-haired signal caller. Foles, however, is not alone in this uphill battle for the disappointing 3-6 Eagles, who were preseason favorites to have at least six wins at this time and not six defeats. Vick, who hasn't been ruled out as of Thursday, has been one of the culprits for Philly's flop with nine interceptions and 10 fumbles, five of which have been lost.
"Whoever you think the starter may be, you'll have a game plan [for him]," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "For a guy like Mike, you got to have a second game plan."
Playcalling has been questioned each week, especially during a five-game losing streak, the longest in Reid's tenure and first since the beginning of the 1998 season. Eagles fans cringe when the name Rich Kotite surfaces, but he was the last one responsible for a six-game losing streak for this franchise. The Eagles teased with a 7-2 record to start the 1994 season, then lost seven in a row to close out the campaign and the Kotite era.
It has been speculated Reid's job is in jeopardy and owner Jeffrey Lurie said last season's 8-8 finish was unacceptable. The Eagles are just two losses away from matching that mark.
Washington will introduce the rival Eagles to a rookie quarterback of their own in Robert Griffin III, the second overall pick in April's draft. In what will most likely be the first of several meetings with the Eagles, Griffin has single-handedly made the Redskins a more dangerous bunch regardless of what their 3-6 record shows.
In keeping with the Grateful Dead references, RG3 has been Washington's fire on the NFC East mountain. With a lack of targets and less-than-stellar defensive support, Griffin is the lone offensive threat and had time to make some adjustments during the team's bye week.
"I promise you I'll come back and I'll be a better quarterback the second half of the season for us, for this team," Griffin said. "Prayerfully, everybody else comes back with the same mindset."
The Redskins share last place in the division with the Eagles and entered the break riding a three-game losing streak. It dropped a 21-13 setback at home to the Carolina Panthers and hasn't fared to well at FedEx Field lately, losing nine of their last 10 games there.
It's time for the Redskins to make a move with seven games on the slate and players believe there's still a chance to make something happen now instead of looking forward to 2013. Cornerback Josh Wilson, who's part of a pass defense rated 30th in the league in yards allowed (301.7), believes the Redskins are still alive and finishing at 10-6 is not far-fetched. His teammate, nose tackle Barry Cofield, said the Redskins "just haven't played well enough" and hopes the team will play its best football down the stretch.
Washington's defense has struggled against opposing pass attacks, as well as keeping yards to a minimum. The 'Skins are 28th in yards permitted (397.9) and are allowing 27.3 ppg, but are eighth in runs defense (96.2).
The Redskins are facing an Eagles team that is eighth in total yards (373.3), but averaging just 17.3 ppg. The Eagles, though, have won three straight and five of the last six meetings with Washington. They also have won five of the past six matchups at FedEx Field and six of their past seven games against teams from the NFC East teams.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The bye week is in the past for the Redskins, and if they intend on making a dent in the NFC playoff rave they'll have to win three straight games against division foes. Philadelphia is first on the list and perhaps the easiest in a stretch of games that include Dallas and New York. Griffin has been the centerpiece for Shanahan's offense and has the Redskins second in the NFL in rushing yards with 164.6 per game. RG3 leads all rookies with a 65.6 completion percentage and a 93.9 QB rating.
The first quarterback in league history with at least 1,900 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in the first nine games, Griffin has six rushing scores and needs 178 yards to surpass Cam Newton's NFL record for rushing yards by a rookie quarterback (706 in 2011). He could do that by the third quarter against an Eagles defense that has been poor in tackling and allowing 112.7 rushing yards per game. That should only make Washington more hungry, as it has rushed for 100-plus yards eight times (NFL high) this season.
Rookie running back Alfred Morris has rushed for 793 yards and five touchdowns this season. He needs 57 yards to become the 12th rookie since the NFL merger to rush for 850 yards in his team's first 10 games of a season. He could accomplish that feat by halftime. Morris is second among rookies in rushing yards. The Redskins may be forced to run the football because wide receiver Pierre Garcon is nursing a foot injury and veteran wideout Santana Moss suffered a concussion against the Panthers.
"He had a concussion," Shanahan said. "He's going to go through the protocol of that just like everybody else has and we'll see in time."
Washington is only 24th in passing yards this season with 217.2 ypg.
The Eagles can run the ball as well when they want to with LeSean McCoy. A premier running back in the NFL, McCoy has been used sparingly the last few weeks, especially in the second half of games the Eagles still had a chance to win. With just three games of 20-plus touches this season, McCoy is averaging 16.2 carries per game in the previous five weeks.
If the Eagles have any plans on making Foles' possible first NFL start any easier, hitching the wagon to McCoy would be an ideal strategy. Plus, it would take less pressure off of an offensive line that has been criticized for the majority of the season. On a positive note, injured guard Danny Watkins returned to practice after nursing an ankle injury.
While having a solid run game is a recipe for success on offense, it's pertinent to have a defense that can suffocate opposing backfields. The Eagles are the lone team in the NFL that hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher, which is hard to believe being that they are allowing 112.7 rushing yards per game and 338.0 total yards per contest. DeMeco Ryans leads the defense with 70 tackles and rookie Mychal Kendricks has been a plug against the run, but still needs improvement against the pass.
Sacks are still hard to come by for Philadelphia and it will be even tougher trying to contain the elusiveness of Griffin III. A year after registering a career-high 18.0 sacks, Jason Babin leads the team with just 3 1/2 in 2012. Fellow DE Trent Cole has five sacks in the past six meetings with Washington.
Both the Eagles and Redskins are still mathematically alive for the playoffs, but it's still a longshot with such an improved NFC this season. In predicting a winner that boils down to just a coin flip or which team runs the ball better, Philadelphia has the better legs in McCoy. Griffin III, however, will give the Eagles a glimpse of what they'll have to deal with over the next decade or so.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 24, Redskins 16
11/15 12:42:05 ET
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