NFL Preview - Washington (3-7) at Philadelphia (6-4)
By Scott Garbarini, Associate NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Philadelphia Eagles enter the final six weeks of this NFL season with their sights set on another postseason berth. The Washington Redskins, on the other hand, are simply trying to make it through the year in one piece.
The bruised and battered Redskins head to Philadelphia this Sunday to take on the playoff-hopeful Eagles in the second and final regular-season meeting between the two NFC East members of 2009.
Washington took the field against the rival Dallas Cowboys last Sunday minus a trio of difference-making players in running back Clinton Portis (concussion), tight end Chris Cooley (ankle fracture) and massive defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (sprained ankle), then was forced to endure another significant injury when Portis' trusted backup, Ladell Betts, tore his ACL in the first quarter. Right guard Chad Rinehart went down to a season-ending broken leg later in the contest, while starting cornerback DeAngelo Hall suffered a sprained right knee that has left his status for this week's matchup in question.
The Redskins had already lost six-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Chris Samuels, veteran guard Randy Thomas and second-year safety Chris Horton for the season, and there's a chance that both Portis and Cooley will join those three on injured reserve before year's end.
Despite its depleted roster, Washington held a six-point lead on the NFC East- leading Cowboys before a late touchdown lifted Dallas to a 7-6 win. The loss was the fourth in five games for the hard-luck Redskins and dropped the team to 3-7 on the season.
With Betts done for the year and Portis still having lingering effects from his concussion, which the six-time 1,000-yard rusher incurred in a November 8 loss at Atlanta, seldom-used special-teamer Rock Cartwright will handle most of the backfield duties on Sunday. The eighth-year pro acquitted himself well when called upon against the Cowboys, amassing a healthy 140 yards from scrimmage.
Philadelphia will also be without its main ball carrier for Sunday's showdown, with proven playmaker Brian Westbrook ruled out because of a concussion of his own, one he sustained in the Eagles' 27-17 triumph over the Redskins back on October 26. The standout back, who's missed three of the team's last four games, will be held out for another two weeks before undergoing a further evaluation.
Rookie LeSean McCoy has filled in for Westbrook and came through with a career-best 99 yards on 20 carries to help Philadelphia rally for a much- needed 24-20 victory at Chicago last weekend. The second-round draft choice accounted for the go-ahead points with a 10-yard touchdown run with 5:31 to play.
The Eagles were able to rebound from back-to-back tough losses to Dallas and San Diego and stayed a game back of the first-place Cowboys in the division standings. The Eagles are also one of three teams, along with Green Bay and the New York Giants, currently atop the pack in the race for the NFC's two Wild Card berths.
Cooley's injury also came in that Week 7 encounter between these clubs, and he'll sit out at least one more game as he recovers from a resulting surgery. Haynesworth, the anchor of Washington's front seven, figures to be a game-time decision.
The Redskins hold a 77-66-5 lead in their all-time series with the Eagles, but as previously mentioned, were 27-17 home losers when the teams met for a Monday night affair in Week 7. Washington swept a home-and-home against their longtime NFC East rival last season, including a 23-17 road win when the teams met in Week 5 and a 10-3 triumph at FedEx Field in Week 16. The Redskins are 2-0 in Philadelphia since last losing there in 2006.
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.
Eagles head coach Andy Reid is 13-8 versus the Redskins since taking over in 1999, while Washington's Jim Zorn is 2-1 against both Reid and the Eagles as a head coach.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Although quarterback Jason Campbell (2126 passing yards, 10 TD, 9 INT) attempted a season-high 43 throws in last month's loss to the Eagles, the Redskins would prefer not to be so reliant on the pass this time around. The former first-round pick did put up 284 yards and two touchdowns with his team forced to play from behind nearly the entire way, but was sacked six times as Washington's patchwork front line failed to hold up. Sophomore tight end Fred Davis (23 receptions, 1 TD) established personal-bests of eight catches and 78 yards upon taking over for Cooley in that game, and expect Campbell to look his way against an Eagles squad that has often struggled in defending that position this year. Washington also possesses a pair of reliable receivers in veterans Santana Moss (40 receptions, 2 TD) and Antwaan Randle El (34 receptions), while Cartwright (135 rushing yards, 13 receptions, 1 TD) showed good hands out of the backfield with a seven-grab, 73-yard performance last week. The versatile 29-year-old is also plenty fresh, as the 13 rush attempts he garnered in the Dallas game exceeded his combined total over the previous three seasons. Zorn will be hoping his new top back can provide a spark to an offense that ranks just 25th in total yards (309.6 ypg) and is averaging an anemic 14.6 points per game.
Washington will do its best to attempt to establish a running game and slow down an aggressive Philadelphia defense that is tied for second in the league with 30 sacks and has produced 23 takeaways, a number exceeded only by New Orleans for the most in the NFL this year. Energetic end Trent Cole (39 tackles, 8.5 sacks) took down Campbell twice in the teams' earlier meeting, while linebacker Will Witherspoon (62 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PD) returned an interception for a touchdown in addition to notching a sack and forced fumble in his first outing since coming over in a midseason trade with St. Louis. Cole has picked up at least one sack in seven of the Eagles' first 10 games. Philly's potent pass rush is one reason the club stands fifth overall in pass efficiency defense, with the play of cornerbacks Asante Samuel (27 tackles, 5 INT, 8 PD) and Sheldon Brown (27 tackles, 4 INT, 11 PD) factoring in as well. Both will be entering Sunday's tilt banged up but available for duty, but nickel back Joselio Hanson (29 tackles, 1 INT, 5 PD) won't be in uniform as he continues to serve a suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancers. Weakside linebacker Akeem Jordan (53 tackles, 1 INT, 5 PD) may also miss a third straight game because of a hyperextended knee, which would mean an extended role for grizzled vet and one-time Redskin Jeremiah Trotter (9 tackles).
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
While Philadelphia ranks only 11th in total offense (354.7 ypg), no team in the NFL this season has been better at coming up with the big play. The Eagles have delivered 15 gains of 40 or more yards thus far, with fleet-footed wideout DeSean Jackson (42 receptions, 728 yards, 7 total TD) contributing more than his share of game-changing segments. The Redskins know first-hand of the flashy sophomore's home-run ability, since Jackson had a 67-yard touchdown run and a 57-yard scoring catch in the Eagles' win at FedEx Field last month. The 22-year-old also stepped up with a key 48-yard touchdown connection with quarterback Donovan McNabb (1929 passing yards, 14 TD, 5 INT) in the second half of last week's ousting of the Bears, and ended the game with 107 yards on eight catches. Tight end Brent Celek (50 receptions, 5 TD) has emerged as the top pass-catcher in Reid's trademark West Coast scheme, with rookie Jeremy Maclin (37 receptions, 4 TD) and slot receiver Jason Avant (27 receptions, 2 TD) having also developed into trusted targets for McNabb. McCoy's (452 rushing yards, 3 TD, 23 receptions) quick transition to the pro game has enabled the Eagles to take it slow with Westbrook and offer a necessary change- of-pace to an offense that's often reliant on the pass.
The Eagles may utilize a more run-oriented approach this week, however, considering Washington has surrendered a league-low 161.6 passing yards per game but has had its troubles in containing enemy backs. Dallas put up 153 rushing yards on the Redskins a week ago and took advantage of the glaring absence of Haynesworth (27 tackles, 3 sacks), a two-time All-Pro who regularly draws double teams from the opposition. His space-eating skills have allowed steady middle linebacker London Fletcher (90 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) to roam free and make tackles, while also boosting the impacts of end Andre Carter (45 tackles, 8 sacks) and rookie outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (34 tackles, 7 sacks), the team's top two pass rushers. With Haynesworth out last Sunday, the Redskins registered just one sack of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Washington is also hoping that Hall (43 tackles, 4 INT, 7 PD), the defense's most accomplished cover corner, can suit up and headline a secondary that limited Philly to 140 net yards through the air back in Week 7. Forcing turnovers has been a lingering problem, however, and the Redskins come into this game rated a dismal 25th versus the run (128.4 ypg).
Even though both teams will be employing backup running backs, don't be hesitant to use either McCoy or Cartwright this week, and the latter could turn out to be an astute waiver-wire pickup for the fantasy stretch drive. Jackson's knack for long-gainers and huge game against the Redskins earlier this year make the young speedster a must-play, with Maclin worth consideration as a third receiver or flex option. Philadelphia's Celek and Washington's Davis are each solid choices at the tight end spot, but avoid all other Redskin receivers unless desperate. The inconsistent Campbell is also a very risky proposition as a starting quarterback, but McNabb should be able to generate some points even with a matchup against a tough pass defense. Start the Philadelphia defense if you've got it as well as Eagles kicker David Akers, who ranks in the top five in scoring this season.
Credit the Redskins for continuing to play hard through all the injuries and turmoil, and don't expect Zorn's bunch to lay down in a divisional game against a fierce rival. Still, the Eagles simply are the better team here, boasting a noticeable advantage in offensive playmakers and a more opportunistic defense that should have its way with Washington's suspect front line. Last season's two losses in this series suggest this won't be a walk in the park, but Philadelphia's superiority in overall talent and home-field edge should be enough for the Birds to earn a needed win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 20, Redskins 13
11/25 17:10:04 ET