With the Cowboys already having secured a Thanksgiving Day win, an Eagles team that is still less than full strength find themselves once again needing to beat an inferior opponent to keep pace. And, as he did last week, Donovan McNabb will need to provide the same steadying influence for his young teammates.
On paper, this would appear to be a relatively easy game for the Eagles. The Redskins lug a 3-7 record to Philadelphia as well as an array of baggage. The team's front office has stripped Coach Jim Zorn's play calling responsibilities and handed them to a consultant in an apparent attempt to get him to quit. This has failed on both counts as Zorn remains on the sidelines and the offense has not looked a whole lot better. Also, the Eagles defeated the Redskins 27-17 last month in Washington.
Appearances can sometimes be deceiving, though. Washington has historically played its best football against the Eagles, including a sweep of their season series a year ago. They also possess one of the better defensive units in the NFL, which just last week in Dallas held the division leading Cowboys scoreless until the games final minutes.
Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott has already needed to patch some holes and will be closely watching his starting cornerbacks, who come into the game nursing injuries. Last week the defense overcame several blown assignments and players in unfamiliar positions to contain the Bears enough to win. Their cause will be aided by the Redskins own injury woes as they are missing three of their top playmakers. Running backs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts along with Chris Cooley will all be out of the line-up, so the team will look to Rock Cartwright and Fred Davis to replace them.
Besides the confusion created by the dysfunctional coaching situation, QB Jason Campbell is playing with little confidence. The Eagles will try to capitalize on that by getting in his face and forcing him to make bad throws. Injuries have forced the Redskins into using a patchwork line that has had difficulty protecting Campbell, so the Eagles ability to capitalize and take pressure off the inexperienced linebackers and defensive backs will be key.
On offense, the Eagles will be without Brian Westbrook again, but rookie LeSean McCoy has done a nice job and continues to look more comfortable. Considering the Redskins strong pass rush, Leonard Weaver figures to take a fair amount of snaps to help protect McNabb, but both players will be used to attack a vulnerable run defense. If McCoy has early success, his first 100-yard rushing day could be in the offing.
Although the Redskins have a stingy pass defense, the Eagles offense revolves around the pass, so do not expect them to back off. McNabb will move the ball around, with a heavy concentration to DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant. The Redskins have been very effective keeping opposing tight ends in check, but that does not mean the Eagles will ignore Brent Celek altogether.
The Redskins will try to control the clock and look to the defense to give them a chance to win. Although the Skins are stout against the pass, they create very few turnovers. If the Eagles take care of the ball, McNabb and cast should be able to score points, while the defense will have enough to hold down the Redskins struggling offense.
Expect the Birds to grab an early lead and win the turnover battle. Also expect Rock Cartwright to have success on the ground, bouncing outside the tackles to daylight and for the Eagles to be periodically stalled by the Redskins defense. Both may frustrate Eagles fans, but they will ultimately prevail.
With tougher games are on the schedule ahead and the Cowboys 1 1/2 games up, securing a win against a last place team at home is paramount. Clearly the Eagles are not at full strength, so a professional workmanlike effort guided by the veteran leaders like last week in Chicago is what the team needs to stay within striking distance until missing players get back on the field.