The Philadelphia Eagles are slated for a rematch with the Washington Commanders on Monday night of Week 10. In Week 3, the Commanders embarrassed themselves at FedEx Field in a contest that was fundamentally over at halftime. Eagles fans should expect to win, but a repeat performance by the Commanders is unlikely for the following reasons.
Unlike Carson Wentz Taylor Heinicke plays with heart and with his head
Philadelphia Eagles fans are far too familiar with Carson Wentz, from the MVP caliber season in 2017 to a physical and psychological collapse in 2020. Wentz was a quarterback that could create exciting plays outside of structure – especially against Washington – but he was never a great quarterback within the rhythm and timing of the offense, mostly due to his poor footwork. Once he lost his legs and his ability to create plays out of structure, he lost his confidence. Wentz has always had great talent, but his cliquishness, hero ball, and other traits made him replaceable, both in 2017 with Nick Foles and in 2020 with Jalen Hurts.
Unlike Wentz who has a long delivery and tries to do everything his way and struggles in systems, Taylor Heinicke is scrappy, has pluck, and easily wins fans on the team and in the media. Wentz has more arm talent, but Heinicke has mobility and has a far greater rapport with Commanders players and far more familiarity with Scott Turner’s system in Washington.
The Philadelphia Eagles are significantly weaker on defense without Jordan Davis
Jordan Davis – a defensive tackle drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles from the University of Georgia in the middle of the First Round – was signed to be a nose tackle in Coach Jonathan Gannon’s 50 fronts – with five men on the line of scrimmage. 50 fronts are crucial to modern defenses because moving the ball on offense – both in the run game and in the passing game – is virtually dependent on the creation of double teams along the line of scrimmage. Having a fifth body on the defensive line helps, but more than that, Davis is a size-speed nightmare for opposing offenses. At six foot six and 336 pounds he requires a double-team on every snap and has the athleticism to beat the double-team and make plays in the backfield.
In Davis’ absence, Jonathan Gannon has played Marlon Tuipulotu, Javon Hargrave, and Marvin Wilson at nose tackle – head up on the center. Tuipulotu was a nose at USC and he made some plays in the backfield in Detriot, but with an EPA of -0.03, he was costing the Eagles a point for every play that he was on the field. Hargrave got most of the reps at nose tackle in the second half and he was the best fit personnel-wise and scheme-wise for Gannon’s 50 front.
Encouraging sign for DT Jordan Davis who's dealing with a high ankle sprain.— Kelly Green Hour (@KellyGreenHour) November 11, 2022
He has shed any type of walking boot or brace.
Davis is eligible to return off IR week 13, when we face our biggest challenge in run defense, Derrick Henry & the Titans!#FlyEaglesFly
Wilson – a likely one-time call-up from the practice squad – was embarrassed and is unlikely to be called up from the practice squad again. Part of the issue is that in football, like basketball, there are starters, rotational roleplayers, and bench guys. Jonathan Gannon has a solid rotation of defensive linemen but often goes to his bench even early in games while the game is still a contest. It’s a long season, but giving a lot of early-game reps to Marlon Tuipulotu and Marvin Wilson is likely not the solution.
Avonte Maddox might be OUT and Josiah Scott has struggled in the slot
Avonte Maddox is one of the league’s top slot corners and recently received an extension from the Philadelphia Eagles to reward his strong play. Lately, Maddox has struggled, mostly due to being overly aggressive in a position in which he receives inconsistent help over the top, especially from Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Though Maddox has underperformed of late, he is a massive upgrade over Josiah Scott, a scrappy player but one who couldn’t be mistaken for a special player. As his numbers have gotten better with practice, he is still average and pedestrian as a defender and could be a relative liability in run and pass defense.
Tyler Larsen even Nick Martin is a massive upgrade over Wes Schweitzer at center
A big part of Carson Wentz’ difficulties in Week 3 was his issues taking the snap from Wes Schweitzer – an injury replacement for oft injured Chase Roulier. Combined with Jordan Davis missing from the middle of the Philadelphia Eagles defense, Heinicke is likely to have cleaner pockets to throw from with less A gap pass pressure and Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson are likely to have cleaner gaps on inside runs. Marcus Epps and T.J. Edwards are two of the Eagles best run defenders and hopefully Jonathan Gannon will send more A gap pressure – both actual blitzes (even green dog blitzes) – and simulated pressure to complicate life at the line of scrimmage.
If Chase Young plays, he can be an absolute difference-maker
5️⃣ Chase Young is likely OUT; if he's not, he's a difference maker— Allysin Lombard (she/her) 🦅 (@AllysinLombard) November 11, 2022
6️⃣ Jamin Davis finally has a role
7️⃣ Far fewer coverage breakdowns with WJ3 gone
8️⃣ Curl and Forrest are SCARY in their big Nickel package. https://t.co/at8FjtgJcQ
Lane Johnson, when healthy, is likely the league’s top right tackle and he can remove any defender – even Micah Parsons – from relevant snaps. If Young plays on Monday night, he is likely to get snaps on the right edge, or in a NASCAR package and put in stunts with Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen. While Lane Johnson is an all-pro, Jordan Mailata and Landon Dickerson aren’t the best in pass protection – despite being absolute maulers as run blockers.
Mailata is still a little slow on his kick-step and at six foot eight and 365 pounds, any false step destroys his leverage and comes with a much higher cost. Dickerson’s issues aren’t as much physical as they are mental. On film, he looks confused and sometimes doesn’t sufficiently and quickly process twists, stunts, and games that defensive lines are executing against the Eagles. If there’s one thing to trust on the Philadelphia Eagles team, it’s that Jeff Stoutland will have his offensive line ready to go.
That being said, if Chase Young plays, he’s an absolute game-changer.
Jamin Davis has a role and the athleticism to be dangerous
In Week 3, the Phialdelphia Eagles faced a Commanders team with a weak quarterback, a poor offensive line, poor linebacker play, and mostly awful defensive backs. Jamin Davis, a linebacker, has speed and athleticism and was often misused early in the season. The Eagles run a RPO offense – often the same plays multiple times a game – and Davis may be a conflict defender depending on his alignment. While Davis is athletic and disruptive, he is also young. Veteran defenders are smart against the RPO and strafe along the line of scrimmage to deprive the quarterback of an accurate read – see Jerry Hughes’ game against the Eagles last week for an example.
Davis is much more aggressive and straightforward – like Clubber Lang that has no strategy, no patience, and goes for the knockout on every snap. The RPO offense was specifically designed to make defenders like Davis always wrong, and while he should be in the gameplan, he shouldn’t keep Shane Steichen and Nick Sirianni up at night.
With William Jackson traded to Pittsburgh expect cleaner coverage on defense
William Jackson, III is a quality man corner that Ron Rivera signed and paid a lot of money for. The issue was that Jack Del Rio mostly runs a zone coverage defense. In a man coverage defense, a great defender can dominate without having to worry about his teammates. Zone coverage, conversely, is based on teamwork and communication as routes are routinely passed from one defender to another.
Jackson seemed to struggle communicating with the Commanders defense and there were a lot of coverage breakdowns when he was on the field – including against the Eagles. Jackson being traded both removed a distraction and ineffieciency as well as giving slot corner Benjamin St. Juste an opportunity to thrive at his best position, boundary corner.
A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith are both elite receivers and should handle William Fuller and Benjamin St. Juste easily enough, but the Philadelphia Eagles will have to beat them as opposed to letting the Commanders beat themselves.
Kameron Curl and Darrick Forrest form an elite safety duo
A side effect of the William Jackson trade is not only the emergence of St. Juste, but also the discovery of Darrick Forrest, a second strong safety with the Commanders. Due to recent injuries at linebacker, Kam Curl is likely to play a stack off ball role – as he is basically a linebacker already – and Forrest is likely to play a traditional strong safety alignment. Curl (8) and Forrest (13) are two of the highest rated safties by PFF and are two players that Steichen and Sirianni should lose sleep over.
Curl has an 85.7 grade in run defense this season and Forrest has an 81.9 grade in pass coverage. Combined with already strong defensive line play, this could complicate life for the Philadelphia Eagles offense. Now that we’ve gotten the rough stuff out of the way, here are three reasons that the Philadelphia Eagles will defeat the Washington Commanders on Monday night.
The Philadelphia Eagles passing game is uncoverable one on one
Though many nitpicky and perfectionist Eagles fans lament the lack of snaps for Quez Watkins, Zach Pascal, etc., the Eagles have an elite trio of receivers that are matchup nightmares for even the best NFL secondaries.
A.J. Brown – the team’s X receiver – can body up boundary corners and high point the most poorly thrown footballs. Brown also has elite escapability and is dangrous after the catch.
Benjamin St. Juste – the Commanders boundary corner – is Brown’s likely matchup for most of the game. St. Juste is good. Brown is better.
Dallas Goedert is a top-five tight end in the NFL and many commenters consider him to be top-two. He is a dual-threat – both as a run blocker and a receiver – but he is absolutely deadly in the passing game, especially the screen game. As the Commanders use a lot of zone coverage, Jamin Davis will likely be responsible for covering his short routes and in the screen game. Davis is super aggressive and he is likely to miss tackles and deeper shots between the numbers should be available.
Jamin Davis might be a disruptor, but he is poor in coverage; Darrick Forrest is likely to carry Goedert’s routes that go deep and between the numbers. This leaves expert route runner DeVonta Smith against Commanders field corner, Kendall Fuller. Fuller has lost a step in his old age and Smith may not have size, but he can get vertical, both in his route tree and climbing over defenders to highpoint footballs – as he did multiple times in Week 3 against Washington.
Fuller is likely to get help from Bobby McCain over the top but Smith can beat double teams. In short, the Commanders can afford to double only one reciever at a time – even from a two-high shell and Brown, Goedert, and or Smith will eat well on Monday night. The only cause for concern is quick pressure packages but Jalen Hurts made great throws against pressure in Houston and Sirianni and Steichen finally schemed answers for quick pressure into the playbook.
Miles Sanders, et. al. should run wild against a light box
The RPO offense is designed to always be right. One type of RPO is called a box count RPO. If the box is light – five or six defenders – Jalen Hurts makes the give, usually to Miles Sanders. If the box is heavy – seven or eight defenders – Hurts keeps the ball and looks to run or throw based on leverage and route concepts. A big question in this game is how Jack Del Rio will fill the box. Last season, Patrick Graham, then the New York Giants defensive coordinator consistently loaded the box, forcing Hurts to throw and he had one of his worst games as a passer.
This season is different. A.J. Brown is a $10 million difference maker and Hurts has improved the timing and rythym of his throws as well as his platform finally throwing with his legs and getting real zip on the ball. If Del Rio gives the Philadelphia Eagles a heavy box an undersized Rachad Wildgoose, Danny Johnson, Jeremy Reaves, Christian Holmes, or Percy Butler is in tight splits with inside leverage against our slot receivers – which is unlikely – or the Commanders are using an extra linebacker or as brought a safety into the box – which is more likely.
Look at what Miles Sanders did to Derek Stingley 😭 pic.twitter.com/jxlN9scWsM— Nico (@elitetakes_) November 4, 2022
With all of the Commanders injuries on defense, their starting linebackers are likely Jamin Davis and Jon Bostic. Kam Curl might replace Bostic to add more athleticism to the second level. The Commanders third linebacker, assuming no one else is healthy, is Nate Gerry, who Eagles fans should be familiar with from his abysmal 2020 season in Philadelphia. To be fair, everyone played poorly that season.
One of the best developments of Shane Steichen as a coordinator and Jalen Hurts as a quarterback is his move from box RPOs and leverage RPOs – where decisions are made pre-snap – to movement RPOs – where decisions are made post-snap based on whether the conflict defender bites on the run action. Assuming Jack Del Rio doesn’t use tight split corners and safties from the slot and assuming Steichen is no longer using box RPOs and leverage RPOs, he will likely need to bring Forrest into the box which limits his ability to double the Eagles receivers.
With Shaka Toney, David Mayo, Cole Holcomb, and Milo Eifler injured and likely missing Monday night’s action, the Commanders are weak at the second level. Steichen and Sirianni love using multiple tight ends and with that weakness at the second level, Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra, Noah Togiai, and perhaps even Tyree Jackson should be activated as run blockers against the Commanders weaker box in run defense.
While Eagles fans shouldn’t expect nine sacks, there could be nine turnovers
The Philadelphia Eagles have a historically great defense. T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White are playing great at linebacker, enough to prevent Third Round draft pick Nakobe Dean from seeing playing time aside from special teams. James Bradberry might be the perfect Cover 4 defensive back and he and Chauncey Gardner Johnson are performing at a high level leading the Eagles to a +15 turnover margin that is tops in the league by a country mile. Marcus Epps is making plays at strong safety, especially in run support and Darius “big play” Slay is locking down the NFL’s best receivers – including Justin Jefferson in Week 2.
While the Eagles miss Jordan Davis in run defense, Javon Hargrave, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Josh Sweat and Haason Reddick are great pass rushers. On top of that, recent trade acquisition Robert Quinn recently had an 18 sack season. The Eagles game plan is to develop an early lead on offense and unleash their pass rush on defense when opposing teams are basically forced to throw the football.
Javon Hargrave in his last 2 games:— PFF (@PFF) November 4, 2022
🦅 5 sacks
🦅 12 pressures
🦅 24.5% win percentage pic.twitter.com/fIGdypDGtV
Though this is under-reported, the majority of the turnovers that the Eagles have created this season have been created by pressuring the quarterback. Jonathan Gannon will never be Buddy Ryan or the late and great Jim Johnson. Eagles fans need to get over it. The design of the Eagles defense is to force opposing offenses to work the ball down the field slowly, methodically, and painfully, fighting both the clock and a double-digit deficit.
When the Eagles have struggled, it’s because they give up big plays – usually about three a game – where the entire defense breaks down and no one tackles.
The Texans game on Thursday night was a trap game; Eagles fans should not expect to see a repeat performance of defensive incompetence. Within that context, Gannon has done a great job of blitzing situationally and marrying an agressive front with aggressive coverage on the back end. Gannon is likely to blitz situationally on Monday night and Heinicke is not a good enough to make defenses pay for pressure. Taylor Heinicke will throw at least two interceptions though he may be sacked only once due to his mobility in and out of the pocket.