Birds Slot CBs Will Be Key Vs. Commanders
The Eagles (6-1) on Sunday face off against pesky divisional foe the Washington Commanders (3-4) in an NFC East rematch for the final time this season.
The Eagles, fresh off a convincing 31-17 win over the high-flying Miami Dolphins that sent ripple effects across the league, will look to avenge the closely contested affair from four weeks ago, a game in which an undermanned Commanders team pushed the previously undefeated Eagles to the brink in overtime before losing 34-31.
As for the reeling Commanders, they return to the confines of FedEx Field a week after a disconcerting 14-7 loss to the rival New York Giants. While running room figures to be scarce, the Commanders will look to rekindle their passing game with receivers Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel, who combined for 27 targets in the first meeting.
With the Week 8 clash almost upon us I’ve provided some musings intertwined with keys to victory:
Man On The Inside
With veteran Bradley Roby on the mend, the Eagles figure to continue piece-mealing their personnel at slot corner for at least another week.
Josiah Scott, plucked from the Steelers’ practice squad last week, got the start against the Dolphins, but the 24-year-old split duties with rookie Eli Ricks.
The pair combined for 30 snaps, with Ricks logging a career-high in defensive snaps – 13 inside, one outside – and together bottled up the short-to-intermediate levels to ground a high-octane Dolphins passing attack predicated on timing and lethal when compiling yards after the catch.
Ricks, who’s new to playing inside, was on the field for the Eagles’ final defensive play, staying in Tyreek Hill’s hip pocket on a 4th-and-10 pass and knifing in at the last second to deflect a short throw to the right, effectively ending the game.
On the heels of a breakthrough showing, Ricks appears poised for a more prominent role against the Commanders.
“I’m gonna be in on first and second down more this week,” Ricks told Inside the Birds this week. “I’ve really only been in only on pass downs, so I haven’t really had to worry about the run fits. So, this week, I gotta be ready for that. I’m gonna get more reps. And that’s one thing I haven’t had to do, really at all, this year.”
Whether it’s Scott or Ricks manning the inside, they are likely to see a healthy dose of Samuel and Dotson. The former, in particular, could serve the Commanders’ X-factor Sunday afternoon, as Samuel is proficient on jet sweeps and quick hitters, which accentuate his explosiveness in space and ability to produce yards after the catch. Samuel and Dotson are tied for the second-most targets (39) behind McLaurin.
Containing Commanders Front
In the initial matchup, the Commanders notched three sacks and eight quarterback hits, with edge rusher Chase Young proving to be most disruptive, evidenced by his sack and two quarterback hits.
While the Eagles, who have surrendered five sacks and nine quarterback hits over the past two weeks, boast the league’s most imposing offensive line – and reserve Sua Opeta admirably replaced an injured Cam Jurgens mid-game in the first meeting – the Commanders have the personnel to overwhelm in the trenches.
The trio on Montez Sweat, Chase Young and Jonathan Allen have combined for 13 1/2 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and 26 quarterback hits.
With Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts presumably less inclined to manufacture yards with his legs while working through a bothersome left knee, he needs his protection to ensure the offense remains on schedule.
Similar to their matchup at MetLife two weeks ago, the front five won’t have the luxury of selling out to eliminate a single player like it did against Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald in Week 5.
Keep Feeding Dallas Goedert
Goedert on Sunday night turned in his second-most notable performance of the season, corralling all five of his pass targets for 77 yards and his second touchdown of the 2023 campaign. His performance, of course, occurs in the wake of garnering eight targets against the Jets and a season-best performance out west, in which he accrued eight catches, 117 yards and touchdown against the Rams.
There’s enough evidence to suggest the Eagles’ tight end has reclaimed a marquee role in the passing offense after he was a relative non-entity the last time these two teams met, logging just a pair of receptions for 25 yards on four targets.
The Eagles curiously failed to exploit a vulnerable Commanders second level, instead settling for puzzling red zone decisions and egregiously missing a wide-open Goedert on multiple occasions. An already shoddy Commanders second level will be undermanned without linebacker Cody Barton, who’s out with an ankle injury.
As the Eagles look to establish a rhythmic passing offense, they’ll look for Goedert to take advantage of the short-to-intermediate levels. I’m expecting early involvement, with a high probability of a deflating catch-and-run as he plows his way through the Commanders’ defense.
The 28-year-old should be able to rack up 80-plus receiving yards and find the end zone in this divisional clash for the third time in four weeks.
Eagles leave FedEx with a 31-20 win, sweeping their divisional foes. A tidal wave of Eagles pass rushers will put Commanders quarterback Sam Howell under duress and there won’t be much an overmatched Commanders offensive line can do to help.
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.