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NFL Preview - Washington (1-2) at Philadelphia (2-1)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - When Andy Reid was appointed head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles back in 1999, he needed a franchise quarterback to build the team around.
Following the mess Ray Rhodes left with a 3-13 club a year before, the Eagles were granted the No. 2 selection in the draft and took a chance on Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb. Much to the dismay of a throng of disappointed Philadelphia fans attending that year's draft, McNabb changed the smattering of boos into boisterous cheers for 11 years wearing midnight green.
McNabb made Reid's decision to draft him more than a decade ago an intelligent one, but now he'll attempt to make the coach's choice to trade him this past Easter Sunday to the NFC East-rival Washington Redskins foolish. The veteran's much-anticipated return to Philadelphia will finally take place this Sunday afternoon from the familiar grounds of Lincoln Financial Field, a place McNabb defeated then-Atlanta signal-caller and current Eagle Michael Vick in the 2004 NFC Championship Game.
Eight playoff appearances, five NFC title games, a trip to Super Bowl XXXIX and six Pro Bowl selections are some of the accolades McNabb achieved in his up-and-down tenure in the City of Brotherly. Often times McNabb didn't receive the adoration from the fans or media, yet he was still able to shake it off with his infectious smile. While shaking off defenders on the field, he set numerous Philadelphia marks, including wins (92), attempts (4,746), completions (2,801), passing yards (32,873), passing touchdowns (216) and games played by a quarterback (148).
Vick has his own story to tell in this matchup, since he wasn't supposed to begin a new era at quarterback for the Eagles. Kevin Kolb was named starter soon after McNabb landed in Washington and was even signed to a big deal following the move. However, a concussion and some wavering performances landed Kolb back on the bench holding a clipboard behind a resurgent Vick, who earned starting status following a win at Detroit in Week 2.
Vick almost rallied the Eagles back against Green Bay in the season opener and said he learned a lot from McNabb about staying in the pocket and making timely decisions during their time together last season. Now the former incarcerated star gets to show McNabb what he's digested from the one who lobbied for Philadelphia to obtain his services a year ago.
The speedy left-handed Vick, who spent 18 months in a federal prison for his role in a dog-fighting ring, has transformed himself into another exciting quarterback in south Philly, following in the footsteps of Randall Cunningham and McNabb. He has the Eagles in first place and riding a modest two-game winning streak after another win in Jacksonville last week. Vick has accounted for seven touchdowns this season (6 passing, 1 rushing) and arguably has even more weapons at his disposal since his days with the Falcons.
McNabb never had that go-to receiver, besides a short stint with Terrell Owens and the past few years throwing to current Eagles DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. He still took the Eagles to the brink of many Super Bowl appearances with the likes of Todd Pinkston, James Thrash, Freddie Mitchell and Na Brown, to name a few. The Redskins can only hope he does the same thing with the corps of wideouts they're rolling out right now under first-year head coach Mike Shanahan.
After winning Shanahan's debut versus Dallas, Washington has dropped back-to- back games to Houston and St. Louis. McNabb has been average at best, with two touchdown passes and an interception and a 89.2 passer rating in those games.
Veteran wideout Santana Moss and tight end Chris Cooley have been McNabb's favorite targets through the first three games, as Moss leads the group with 290 yards on 22 receptions and Cooley is right behind with 14. Look to see McNabb go to Cooley early to get the butterflies and anxiety out of the way, since this has to be one of the biggest games of his career.
McNabb said during the week he's going to treat this week like any other, but facing a former longtime employer for the first time happens just once in a lifetime.
The Redskins hold a 77-67-5 lead in their all-time series with the Eagles, but were swept by their longtime NFC East rival in last year's home-and-home. Philadelphia took a 27-17 decision when traveling to FedEx Field for a Monday night affair in Week 7 of last season, and completed the sweep with a 27-24 victory at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 12. The Redskins had won in Philly in 2007 and 2008.
A win on Sunday will give the Eagles their first three-game winning streak over the Redskins since 2001-04, when they beat Washington seven consecutive times. In addition to their regular season advantage, the Redskins won the only postseason meeting between the clubs, a 20-6 road triumph in a 1990 NFC First-Round Playoff.
Reid is 14-8 versus the Redskins since taking over in 1999. Shanahan was 2-1 against the Eagles during his tenure with the Broncos (1995-2008), but lost in his only previous visit to Philadelphia (1995). Shanahan is 1-0 against Reid head-to-head, with the win a 49-21 Broncos' shellacking of the Birds in Denver in 2005.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
McNabb (833 passing yards, 2 TD, INT) threw for only 171 yards in a win over Dallas, redeeming himself from two horrible losses to the Cowboys in 2009, and exploded for 426 yards in an overtime setback to the Texans. He then responded with a touchdown pass and an interception in last week's loss at St. Louis, Washington's first road game of the season. McNabb has been sacked five times this season, three against Houston, and did not have rookie tackle Trent Williams for the Rams game. Stephon Heyer made the start and may do so again in Philadelphia this week. Williams, though, has made progress with his injured knee and was limited in practice this week. Besides the return of McNabb in Philly, running back Clinton Portis (140 rushing yards, 2 TD) has been unhappy with his adjusted role as the Redskins' starting running back. Portis will most likely see more work on third down, with second-year running back Ryan Torain working first and second downs. Portis has been hampered by a wrist ailment suffered in Week 1, but has been able to play in every game. He still considers himself a feature back and believes he's still on the same wavelengths as the coaching staff. Portis, who missed eight games last year with a concussion, has carried the ball a team-high 38 times this season. Torain is next in line with seven touches.
Facing McNabb is always tough because of his ability to run, avoid the sack and launch the deep ball. He'll be trying to do all three and then some in his return against a much-improved Eagles defense. End and tackles leader Trent Cole (18 tackles, 3 sacks) is a good candidate for laying a good hit on McNabb the opportunity arises. He has four sacks in the last three meetings with the Redskins, but former Washington quarterback Jason Campbell is long gone and now residing in Oakland. With Williams' status at tackle unknown, Cole will look to take it out on Heyer. End Juqua Parker (5 tackles, 4 sacks) leads the Eagles in sacks and owns six in his last five games dating back to last season. The return of middle linebacker Stewart Bradley (5 tackles) has helped out in both run defense and pass coverage, as the Eagles were torched by opposing tight ends across the middle in 2009 when Bradley was lost for the season due to a knee injury. Ernie Sims (11 tackles) has also been a pleasant surprise to the linebackers in his first year since coming over in a trade with Detroit. Cooley is a quick tight end, but Philadelphia has the speed in Sims and fellow outside linebacker Akeem Jordan (10 tackles). Rookie safety Nate Allen (11 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT), who will be forever linked as the draft pick the Eagles obtained for McNabb, had an interception in each of his first two games as a pro.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
Vick has recorded a quarterback rating of 100 or better in all three games this season and passed for 291 yards and three touchdowns in the Eagles' 28-3 road win over the Jaguars. He is second on the team with 170 rushing yards so far, averaging 7.4 yards per carry, and scrambled for a touchdown this past Sunday. The always-dangerous Vick won his only start against the Redskins back in December of the 2006 season, throwing for a pair of touchdown passes. While most eyes will be on Vick, running back LeSean McCoy (209 rushing yards, 4 TD) is hoping to get back on track after posting 54 yards on 11 carries last week. He had 120 yards and three scores the previous week against the Lions and will try to penetrate a thick Redskins line. Washington also has talented linebackers to fill the gaps, something Eagles guard Nick Cole may not be able to prevent due to a knee injury. He started last Sunday against the Jaguars but was replaced at right guard by Reggie Wells in an attempt to rest the knee and according to Reid, will be limited in practice this week. Plays won't be limited for Jackson (13 receptions, 318 yards, 2 TD) or Maclin (11 receptions, 4 TD) on Sunday, and tight end Brent Celek (9 receptions) is counting on taking advantage of the added attention to his teammates.
Jim Haslett is starting to feel the pressure as Washington's defensive coordinator and his unit sits 11th overall against the rush, 31st in pass defense and last in yards against. Rams rookie Sam Bradford was able to throw for 235 yards with a touchdown and a pick by Redskins safety Kareem Moore (6 tackles, INT) last week. If Bradford, who led his team to a home win for the first time in two years, can have an ideal performance against this defense, Washington is in for a long day if it's not prepared for Vick and the Eagles' speedy offense. The Redskins blew a 17-point lead to the Texans because of poor pass defense and found themselves down by 14 points last week in the Gateway City. Defensive end Phillip Daniels (3 tackles) said that playing behind a large deficit is draining and giving up momentum early in the game can be detrimental. Imagine then what Sunday's atmosphere will be like if Philadelphia takes an early advantage. St. Louis converted seven third downs on Sunday, leaving the defense on the field gasping for air. That's what reserve receiver and return man Brandon Banks has been doing for the Redskins during practice, serving as Vick's decoy. Banks is getting the first-team defense ready for what could possibly go down Sunday.
Vick has taken the fantasy world by storm with his double threat to run and cannon-like arm. He was swiped up in most leagues after the season opener versus the Packers, when even some of the opposing players admitted that covering Vick was a tall task. His receivers and tight end are always going to see action, but Celek has yet to find the end zone. He may this week in Philadelphia's trips to the red zone. McCoy and Philadelphia's defense should make big plays too, especially since McNabb is back in town.
Whether he downplays it or not, McNabb is going to reach even further inside to grind out a win in front of fans he once called his own. There's no way he has a mediocre performance Sunday, so keeping him in the starting lineup is a wise strategy. Moss and Cooley have been McNabb's most reliable options through the air, and Portis seems to find the end zone every time in this rivalry. Even with Portis' "new role", start him on Sunday.
Much like bar tabs across the nation on a football weekend, emotions will be running high Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field when McNabb enters the stadium for the first time as the enemy. It's unclear what reception the former Eagles great will receive from the sellout crowd, but Philadelphia's defense won't be waiting with open arms. McNabb isn't wearing the protective red jersey like he did during training camp and practices from 1999-2009, so the defense will be teeing off whenever the chance surfaces.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 27, Redskins 20
09/30 19:28:28 ET