Redskins, Eagles out to establish themselves as contenders
LANDOVER, Md. -- While the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants are waiting to play their prime-time Sunday night game, two teams that think they can also challenge for the NFC East title will resume their rivalry Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field.
The Washington Redskins, coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in nearly two decades, have won five straight against the Philadelphia Eagles, but four of the five have been by a touchdown or less.
Last December, the visiting Eagles trailed 27-22 and drove to the Redskins' 14-yard line in the final minute, but Ryan Kerrigan sacked then-rookie Carson Wentz to force a fumble and seal the Washington win.
"We just have to learn to finish. We've got to execute," Eagles second-year coach Doug Pederson said. "All part of coming to Washington is how well do teams ... how well can we handle crowd noise, how well can we execute our offense and defense in the game plan. Just try to keep it simple, keep it small, focus on the details."
Wentz (43 of 68 for 493 yards, one touchdown and one interception in two games against Washington) returns to Landover with several new weapons.
In the backfield, LeGarrette Blount had a career-high 299 carries last season with New England and led the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns. He'll be part of a running back by committee approach that includes speedy Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood.
After catching 52 passes for the Chicago Bears a year ago, 6-foot-3 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery signed a one-year deal with the Eagles.
"He is a big target, still runs well. Just really excited, obviously excited back in OTAs and through camp and watching he and Carson (Wentz) work," Pederson said. "He is going to have a significant role."
Philadelphia also added wideout Torrey Smith, who had 20 receptions with the 49ers. They join tight end Zach Ertz, who had 70-plus catches each of the past two seasons.
Right tackle Lane Johnson is back after missing last year's games for a suspension and the Eagles, with a healthy offensive line, should be able to cut down on the nine sacks Wentz endured in two games against the Redskins in 2016.
Cousins, once again playing under the Franchise tag rather than a long-term contract, has some new targets as well.
Gone are veteran receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Replacing them will be free agent signee Terrelle Pryor Sr. and second-year player Josh Doctson, who missed all but two games last year with an Achilles injury. Jamison Crowder (67 catches last season) operates out of the slot.
Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Reed is healthy to begin the season and, when he plays, remains one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league.
The Redskins' offense sputtered in the preseason. They'll try to establish the run with Rob Kelly, but it will likely come down to Cousins. In five games against the Eagles, he has completed 124 of 195 passes for 1,579 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions, good for a 102.9 passer rating.
"I've always respected their pass rush, not only their players they have -- which they have great pass rushers -- but also the scheme," Cousins said of the Eagles. "I've always respected Coach (Jim) Schwartz and their defense and the way they come after you. Just constantly put pressure on you, even sometimes with only three or four rushers, you still feel them."
Someone who might provide the Eagles some additional insight on the Redskins is quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who was among Washington's final cuts before being signed to the Eagles' practice squad.
Both teams feature newcomers on defense. For Washington, that includes new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky; defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, a first-round draft pick; and pass rusher Junior Galette, who signed in 2015 but missed consecutive seasons with torn Achilles tendons.
"The important thing is stopping LeGarrette Blount and the running game, and they have a good running game with him," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "When they bring in Sproles and Smallwood and all those guys, we have to somehow figure out how to get them third-and-long, try to make them one-dimensional."
One player missing Sunday will be Washington's Su'a Cravens, the expected starter at strong safety. Cravens, 22, was placed on the exempt/left squad list Sunday after initially shocking the organization by saying he wanted to retire.
Philadelphia endured a distraction of its own this week after former NFL general manager Michael Lombardi called second-year coach Doug Pederson (7-9 a year ago) the least qualified coach in the NFL.
Updated September 7, 2017