The first Monday night game of the 2013 NFL season will take place in our nation’s capital when the Philadelphia Eagles square off against the Washington Redskins at 6:55 p.m. ET on ESPN. This Week 1 matchup is all about firsts for both teams. Not only is this the first game of the season for both teams, it marks Chip Kelly’s debut as the Eagles’ head coach and Robert Griffin III’s first game back since injuring his knee in the Redskins’ playoff loss to Seattle in January.
These long-time NFC East division rivals have met 158 times with Washington holding an 81-71-6 lead in the all-time series. The Redskins swept both meetings last season, winning by a combined score of 58-26. This will be the first time the Redskins and Eagles have opened the season against each other since 1996. Philadelphia won that game, which was played at RFK Stadium, 17-14 behind 269 yards passing and two touchdowns from Eagles quarterback Rodney Peete.
Four Things to Watch
There has been no more talked about, analyzed and scrutinized body part in the NFL this offseason than the surgically repaired right knee that belongs to Robert Griffin III. He sustained the second significant injury to his right knee late in the Redskins’ 24-14 Wild Card game loss to the Seahawks back on Jan. 6. RG3 has already proven what he can do returning from major knee surgery, as he won the Heisman Trophy two years after tearing his ACL as a sophomore at Baylor, but the degree of difficulty and the stakes have been raised. Everyone, from the player to his head coach to his doctor, are saying RG3 is ready, but no one will know for sure until we see how No. 10 handles his first snap, his first drop back, and, perhaps most importantly, his first scramble out of the pocket.
Can the Eagles’ offense fly like Kelly’s Ducks?
Chip Kelly made his reputation first as Oregon’s offensive coordinator and then later the Ducks’ head coach. In four seasons as the head Duck, Kelly’s Oregon teams piled up the yards and points, finishing in the top five in the nation in both total and scoring offense in each of the past three years. Can Kelly’s immensely successful and equally entertaining offensive system, not only work, but also thrive in the NFL? Only time will tell, but everyone can’t wait to find out.
Washington’s Secretary of Defense
The Redskins’ defense ranked 28th in the NFL last season in yards allowed and fared even worse (30th) against the pass. This unit was impacted greatly by several key injuries, and perhaps no loss was more important than when linebacker Brian Orakpo went down with a torn left pectoral muscle. The injury cost the two-time Pro Bowler 14 games last season, and the results without Orakpo on the field speak for themselves. Having Orakpo back out there is not a cure-all for the Redskins’ defensive issues, but his presence in the starting lineup shouldn’t be underestimated either.
Putting the “D” in Philadelphia?
Compared to Washington’s defense, Philadelphia’s wasn’t near as bad statistically speaking, with the exception of one category. The Eagles were tied for 29th in points allowed (27.8 ppg), although the offense’s propensity to turn the ball over should take some of the blame here. Regardless, Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis basically started over from scratch as free agency brought in five new starters. The secondary alone is pretty much brand new and will be the center of attention considering the Eagles’ surrendered an NFL-worst 33 touchdown passes in 2012. The defense’s performance during the preseason can be characterized as uneven, but all that matters now is how well this unit plays from here out.
Philadelphia Key Player: Michael Vick, QB
As important as running backs LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown, wide receiver DeSean Jackson and the Eagles’ two-tight end sets are to Kelly’s offense, the motor that makes everything hum is the quarterback. Kelly’s Oregon teams had productive quarterbacks from Jeremiah Masoli to Darron Thomas to Marcus Mariota. Vick, 33, beat out the younger competition during training camp and wants to prove to everyone that he can still be a productive, reliable starting quarterback in the NFL. Early success running Kelly’s offense would not only go a long ways towards building the Eagles’ confidence, but also improving Vick’s future outlook, especially considering he’s signed for just this season.
Washington Key Player: Fred Davis, TE
The last two seasons have been interesting for Davis. The tight end was on his way to a potential Pro Bowl invite in 2011 before he was suspended the final four games for failing repeated drug tests. Then last season he played in just seven games before a torn Achilles tendon ended things in October. When fully healthy and focused, Davis has shown himself to be a valuable weapon in the passing game. His size (6-4, 247) and athleticism can help open things up for Pierre Garcon and the other Redskin receivers and also give Robert Griffin III even more reason to stay in the pocket, which is a good thing considering this is his first game back from a serious injury.
With apologies to Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll, Chip Kelly's debut on the NFL sidelines tonight is arguably the most anticipated one by a former college coaching superstar since Steve Spurrier did the same for the Redskins back in 2002. Spurrier won his first game, 31-23 over Arizona at FedEx Field, and Kelly will try to do the same on the very same turf, but as the visiting team. While a lot of attention will be paid to how Kelly's offense fares, just as many eyes will be focused on Robert Griffin III and how fluid he is on his surgically repaired knee.
In the end, however, I think it will be another Redskin offensive player, running back Alfred Morris, who will determine the outcome of this one. Morris finished second in the NFL in rushing last season as a rookie, and I believe he will be too much of a load for Philadelphia's new-look defense. With Morris leading the way on the ground, RG3 will be able to stay in the pocket and look for the open man. The Eagles do make a little noise of their own on offense, but the defense can't get enough stops to help Kelly collect his first NFL win.
Washington 27, Philadelphia 21