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NFL Preview - Washington (8-6) at Philadelphia (4-10)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - No RG3, no problem.
That was the case for the surging Washington Redskins in last week's dismantling of the Cleveland Browns under fellow rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins.
The Redskins will take their season-high five-game winning streak to the road once again Sunday against the NFC East-rival Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Robert Griffin III is ready to play and was back at practice this week, but no official word has been made even though all signs point to the Rookie of the Year candidate going back under center.
"I'm ready to play whenever they want me to play. If it's this week, next week, couple weeks, whatever they say goes so I'll be ready," Griffin said after Wednesday's practice. "I think I just have to prove it to them on the (practice) field. It's just up to them to decide. I always expect to play."
Head coach Mike Shanahan said RG3 will be evaluated Thursday to see if there's any swelling of the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. If doctors give Shanahan the heads-up to start the young QB then he will announce it at the proper time.
Griffin, the No. 2 overall pick back in April's draft, has taken the NFL by storm and was stopped in his tracks in an overtime win versus the Baltimore Ravens two weeks ago. His knee was bent awkwardly on a scramble and he was removed from the game in favor of Cousins, who preserved the 31-28 victory.
Griffin was able to practice sparingly leading up to the Cleveland game and was informed of Shanahan's decision to sit out Saturday night. Griffin wasn't too pleased with the choice and watched Cousins complete 26-of-37 passes for 329 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in his first start.
"(Cousins) did a good job staying poised and staying confident in there," Griffin said. "I couldn't be any happier for this team or for Kirk."
RG3 said he was able to get "healthier by not playing" in the Browns game and will most likely get back to work against an Eagles team he dismantled in a 31-6 victory back on Nov. 18. Griffin completed 14-of-15 passes for 200 yards and four touchdowns for a 158.3 rating -- the only rookie in NFL history with a rating that high. Cousins, of course, will handle snaps if RG3 doesn't.
Because of Griffin, who has an NFL rookie record 748 rushing yards, the Redskins have the best ground attack in the NFL with 164.8 yards per game. But another rookie has made a significant impact for the Redskins as running back Alfred Morris seems to have secured the job for years to come. Morris is third in the NFL and first among first-year players with 1,322 yards on 280 carries, and should take great pleasure in facing Philadelphia's 20th-rated run defense, which is giving up 122.0 yards per game.
Morris holds Redskins rookie records for carries (280), rushing yards (1,322) and rushing touchdowns (nine).
Washington controls its own destiny for its first NFC East title since 1999 and hasn't won six in a row in the regular season since a seven-game run back in 1996. The Redskins won five in a row to close out the 2005 campaign, then defeated Tampa Bay in the playoffs.
The Redskins are tied with New York and Dallas atop the division standings, and have the best division mark at 3-1. They can clinch their first playoff berth since 2007 with a win combined with losses by the Bears, Giants and Vikings. Washington closes out the regular season at home versus the Cowboys.
Sunday's game could potentially be Andy Reid's last at home as Eagles head coach as rumors continue to swirl that the longest-tenured coach in the league will be given his walking papers.
Reid, who is in his 14th season with the organization and has the highest win total of any coach in club history, has compiled a 140-100-1 (.583) record in his time with Philadelphia. He has battled through adversity both on and off the field as well, which has put a cloud over the twilight of his tenure. His son, Garrett, passed away during training camp due to a heroin overdose and authorities recently announced there were several vials of steroids found in his dorm room.
To make matters worse, the Eagles haven't been able to stay healthy with concussions to quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy, a rib injury to wide receiver DeSean Jackson and injuries across the offensive line.
There was a spectrum of positive light cast upon the Eagles when it was learned that McCoy will return to the starting lineup Sunday. McCoy suffered a concussion in the first meeting with the Redskins in garbage time when the game was out of reach.
"I'm going to keep a close eye on him," Reid said of McCoy. "It won't be a normal workload like you'd see during the season. He's coming off an injury, I understand that, so I'll keep a close eye on it. He'll work in as the starter and then Bryce (Brown) has some valuable experience that he's gained over the last few games here so he'll be in there."
The Eagles are just 4-10 on the season and suffered a 34-13 loss to Cincinnati last Thursday in a game that was mired by turnovers. Rookie quarterback Nick Foles, who's played admirably this season in place of Vick, was intercepted once for an Eagles team that lost all four of their fumbles. Brown did not lose the football versus the Bengals, but has coughed it up four times already this season, losing three of them.
Philadelphia hopes a few extra days of rest will help in trying to spoil Washington's chances of a division title. Although the Redskins trounced the Eagles a few weeks ago at FedEx Field, Philly has won five of the past seven meetings dating back to 2009. These two NFC East rivals have split the previous seven encounters at the Linc.
Washington hasn't swept the Eagles in a season since 2008.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Redskins racked up nearly 400 yards (361) of offense in the first meeting with Philadelphia and did it mainly on the ground (169 yards). RG3 was able to keep a handful of drives alive with scrambles on third down and ran for a game-best 84 yards. As previously mentioned, Griffin threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers.
Philadelphia has played average pass defense, sitting 13th in the league (219.5 ypg), but had trouble stopping Bengals running back BenJarvus Green- Ellis, who reeled off 106 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. The Eagles were able to hold Morris to 76 yards on 20 carries and are just 20th in run defense, giving up 122.0 rushing yards per game. Morris, though, has been on a mission and will probably crack the 100-yard mark again on Sunday. The sixth- round draft is also making a case for Rookie of the Year.
Another reason Morris could go off is that Philadelphia did not surrender a 100-yard rusher for the first 12 games of the season, but has allowed one in each of the past two. The Redskins, who lead the NFL with 164.8 rushing yards per game, are fourth in total yards (389.8) and fifth in points (27.2).
If the Eagles can protect the football Sunday they might have a chance to spoil Washington's hopes for a division title. That means Foles has to play smart, make the correct reads and give his receivers a chance to make plays. Foles made his first NFL start against the 'Skins and went 21-of-46 for 204 yards and two interceptions. The Eagles are tied for 31st in the NFL in both turnovers (34) and turnover differential (-22).
Quarterbacks, such as Griffin, can get by smoothly with a talented backfield and a stingy defense. The Eagles have one of those and the return of McCoy this week should take a big load off of Foles' shoulders. Foles, though, has been improving each week.
Save a loss to the top-rated run defense in Tampa Bay, Brown actually has turned heads with his limited experience in both college and in the pros. He has been working diligently on holding onto the football and the Eagles are hoping it pays off.
Philadelphia's defense has been the Achilles' heel all season. From the hiring and firing of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo down to the ineptitude of the wide-nine defense, the Eagles have one of the more inconsistent stop units in the NFL. Philadelphia did see a bright spot in safety Colt Anderson and he's expected to start for a third straight week. Anderson is a special teams stud and has no fear in throwing his body into a ball carrier. He will start alongside Kurt Coleman, who is back from injury.
"Colt came in and we asked him to fill in at the line of scrimmage and be a physical player there and he did a nice job of that," Reid said. "Right now Kurt is a little bit more stout in there (than Nate Allen) and we need that. We need that this week."
Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans leads the team with 107 tackles, while rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox needs to plug some gaps to slow down Morris. Cox also leads all rookie DTs with 5 1/2 sacks and aims for a third straight game with a sack. When defensive end Jason Babin was waived, Brandon Graham had to prove he was not a bust a few years ago. Graham has stepped up his play and posted 2 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble versus Cincinnati.
The Eagles could use some pressure up front with Griffin back in the fold and rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks played well as a spy in the last meeting.
The Redskins haven't won five road games in a season since winning seven back in 1991, when they won Super Bowl XXVI. It's not a guarantee the Redskins will make another run to greatness, but getting that fifth win away from home on Sunday is. Morris has been a load for opposing defenses and the Eagles' season couldn't end any sooner. With all the distractions with Reid, injuries, a paltry secondary and a QB change, another loss for the Eagles will make their 2013 draft pick that much better.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Redskins 31, Eagles 21
12/20 15:17:41 ET
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