This upcoming game worries me. The Eagles' season has been a disaster to date and it may continue to be one, but the matchups are worrisome.
The much-maligned wide-9 obviously gives you opportunities to run up the middle, all the more so when it is played poorly. If the Redskins can get to the second level the Eagles’ mediocre blockers should be neutralized. What worries me is that the Eagles have been struggling primarily due to failures in scheme. The talent is still there (although Trent Cole not playing is a huge bonus for the Redskins). The beauty of football is that talent doesn't trump game planning and team work. But talent still gets the benefit of the doubt. The Eagles know they are in desperate circumstances and are probably inclined to start tinkering with play calling and game planning. Let's hope they don't get it right this week and suddenly all those good players start producing.
Even if things go well, it is in the nature of the NFL that even a team that is controlling a game is unlikely to be up by more than a score or two except in the very best of circumstances. We know all too well that DeSean Jackson can blow past DeAngelo Hall, LaRon Landy or both at any time. And of course it’s hard to be confident that Rex won’t throw his once per week interception to an invisible linebacker working the underneath coverage on a post route. Even if the Redskins mostly dominate the game one big play like that one each side of the ball could flip the game, and the Eagles match up with the Reskins in such a way that they have a great chance to take advantage of those opportunities.
Division games are supposed to be tough, of course, but what’s really worrying me about a potential loss here is that I also think we’re in for a rough stretch the next three games. In preseason when everyone was talking about the Redskins having one of the easier schedules in the NFL that was largely because of the stretch of games against Carolina, Buffalo, and San Francisco.
Carolina's only 1-4, but we can’t take confidence from the rookie quarterback factor. To the surprise of most everyone, Cam Newton is succeeding immediately as an NFL quarterback. And not just as an athlete, mind you – he is playing the position at an NFL level. Fortunately the rest of the roster is still pretty weak, and the Redskins are certainly the better team. But like I mentioned above close scores are the norm in the NFL, and Newton is better equipped than we would have expected to take advantage of one overly-aggressive and ill-timed Jim Haslett blitz.
Buffalo and San Francisco are both playing very solid football – Football Outsiders ranks them 1st and 2nd by DVOA, respectively. It’s still early in the year and their performance could regress to less than elite status, but its pretty clear these are good teams and haven’t just gotten lucky for a couple of games. The Redskins, who continue to look like a decent but flawed 8-8 team, will have their work cut out for them against quality competition.
Despite my tendencies to worry, I think the Redskins are have pretty good odds of beating the Eagles and burying their season. And even with the next three opponents tougher than we would have expected, the Redskins are at least decent enough that they can compete with anyone. If forced to make a prediction for the second quarter of the season, I would guess that we will see the Redskins go 2-2 over the next four games. That puts us at 5-3 at the halfway point, and very much in contention for a division that has no really solid teams. Three or even four wins, especially if Dallas and New York struggle during that period, could put us in a very good spot. But the potential exists for a rough stretch of games that could be a rude awakening after the relatively good feeling of a 3-1 start.