Thanks to injuries and some just plain poor play, the NFC East is threatening to imitate last year’s overall poor performance of its South conference mate. Dallas and Philadelphia, the presumed division favorites, have been waylaid by QB woes (Tony Romo’s injury in Big D) and shaky play (the Eagles’ 0-2 start), turning the championship race into an unpredictable mess.
Fortunately, there are still some givens in life, such as 1-2 Washington’s struggles, which just about everybody expected. Philadelphia earned its first win of the season last week, and while an uninspiring, 24-17 triumph over the Jets isn’t exactly reason for wild celebration, it prevented an 0-3 beginning to the season and a two-percent shot (historically, at least) at the post-season. Washington owns a win over St. Louis but has little else on its resume and is struggling with familiar problems on offense, beginning with the quarterback position. Still, a win Sunday would put it in a good position in what has become an exceedingly unpredictable NFC East.
Philadelphia at Washington
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
TV Channel: FOX
Point Spread: Philadelphia -3
Three Things to Watch
The Eagles made much of their acquisition of Sam Bradford during the offseason, and coach Chip Kelly felt the oft-injured former Ram had the quick release and good decision-making skills to run his rapid-fire offense. Through three games, Bradford has been inconsistent and even timid. He has completed 62.4 percent of his throws but is averaging a mere 5.8 yards/attempt and has thrown just three touchdowns, against four picks. Granted, he hasn’t received much help from his wideouts, who lack deep-pass potential and have dropped several passes, but Bradford has not been what the Eagles hoped he would become in this offense.
Perhaps part of it is the lingering effect of the torn ACL he suffered last year, although the team isn’t too interested in hearing that. “Part of being a pro is you have to deal with being hurt and certainly you’ve got to deal with injury,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said.
2. One Fatal Flaw
A look at the Washington statistics would indicate the team should be better than its 1-2 record. It has outgained rivals by a total of 283 yards in the three games, matched opponents’ six TDs with a half-dozen trips to the end zone and is only a field goal behind in total points. Washington is averaging 5.4 yards/play to other teams’ 5.1 and has a 44.4-30.6 advantage on third downs.
So, what’s the problem? Turnovers. Washington has a minus-five margin in that key category, with interceptions a key culprit. Kirk Cousins has thrown four, while the Washington D has yet to pick off an enemy aerial. “As far as quarterbacks throwing picks, that’s going through your progressions and getting the ball out, making accurate throws and good decisions,” head coach Jay Gruden said last Friday. “It’s easier said than done, but we’re going to demand it.”
3. Return Engagement
One of the things that jump-started the Eagles last week in the Meadowlands was Darren Sproles’ electrifying, 89-yard punt return in the second quarter. The Eagles were sputtering offensively to that point, but Sproles took some pressure off the beleaguered unit with his big play, the sixth time in his career he has taken a punt to the end zone. Two weeks after containing St. Louis’s dangerous Tavon Austin, Washington must make sure Sproles doesn’t provide a similar boost this week.
The Eagles have not been that impressive, to be sure, and injuries to linebacker Kiko Alonso and defensive end Cedric Thornton, along with the loss for the season of kicker Cody Parkey, haven’t helped. But the win over New York last week saved the season — for now — and gave the team hope in the mediocre NFC East. A win over Washington would re-establish the Eagles as a force in the division, especially since it hardly seems to be filled with juggernauts.
The same goes for Washington. If it can cut back on turnovers — and finally force a few — it can overcome the problems it has had early in the season and make some progress in the division, too. It’s hard to determine the true personalities of these two teams. But this is an important early benchmark for each and for the division.
Prediction: Philadelphia 27, Washington 17
— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)