Redskins vs. Eagles: 5 Things To Watch for on Sunday
The matchup Sunday afternoon between the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles is one of four this weekend that pits two teams with no shot at the playoffs this season. Still, there is plenty to watch for between two teams that have had very disappointing seasons.
The Redskins started the season looking like a legitimate contender in the NFC East after a 3-1 start but have won just twice in their last 11 games. The Redskins seem to be a quarterback short of being a playoff caliber team. Through 12 starts, Rex Grossman has thrown for just 2,895 yards and 19 interceptions.
The Eagles are a team that just never really put it together until it was too late. The Eagles started the season 4-8 until their recent three-game winning streak. They have also had three different multi-game losing streaks.
Both teams will be playing for two things on Sunday, a higher draft pick and pride. For the Redskins the season couldn't end any sooner, but for the Eagles it's a season that will make fans wonder what if. What if the Eagles had figured things out sooner? Maybe we would be talking about the Eagles' Super Bowl chances rather than what silver lining Eagles fans should take away from Sunday's season finale.
1. Juan Castillo
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The last four games of the season have been career making for Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. His defense had allowed at least 28 points in six of the first 12 games of the season, all resulting in losses.
In the first 12 games, the defense wasn't making open field tackles, they weren't forcing turnovers and they weren't making stops in the red zone. Now the defense is making open field tackles as well as making timely stops and turnovers.
The Eagles have given up just 36 points in the last three weeks combined against the Miami Dolphins, the New York Jets and the Dallas Cowboys. In the last three games the defense has racked up 16 sacks and forced seven turnovers.
Just a few weeks ago, most experts where speculating which defensive minded head coach that was getting the boot this offseason would be the Eagles defensive play-caller in 2012. Even with Steve Spagnuolo and maybe even Leslie Frazier being on the open market, Juan Castillo may have already saved his job.
Andy Reid will be thinking, why fix something when it's not broke? It may have taken Castillo 12 games to get things figured out but with a very short offseason and a slew of new players to add to the mix, that was to be expected.
Sunday's performance will be very telling on if Castillo will save his job or if the Eagles will go after a big name like Spagnuolo.
2. Early Preview of Next Year's Secondary
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With Kurt Coleman out for the season finale with a biceps injury and Asante Samuel missing his second straight day of practice on Thursday, it looks like we will get a glimpse of the future in the Eagles secondary. Dominique Rodgers-Cromarite will start in place of Samuel and Jaiquawn Jarrett will make the start at strong safety in place of Kurt Coleman.
It is still unclear if Jarrett will be able to win the starting job over Coleman next season but it is very likely that the Eagles will be moving Samuel this offseason, freeing up Rodgers-Cromarite to start on the outside opposite of Nnamdi Asomugha next season.
The Eagles coaching staff has very high opinions on both players. Jarrett was one of the best tacklers in the open field in last April's draft class and Rodgers-Cromarite has a rare size-speed combo that allows him to man up against any receiver.
These two future Eagles starters will team up Nate Allen, Nnamdi Asomugha and Joselio Hanson to give us a glimpse of how good this unit can be down the road.
3. The Continued Improved Play from the Linebackers
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The Eagles defense has come on late due to several factors. Juan Castillo is starting to figure what works and what doesn't as a defensive coordinator, the defensive line has been dominant but the one factor that has really boosted the play of the defense has been the play of the linebackers.
It's been a five man job with Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney and Akeem Jordan playing the base formations and Casey Matthews and Keenan Clayton playing in the nickel packages. The change has resulted in three straight Eagles wins and much better tackling out of all five players.
Last week against the Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles fab five linebackers racked up 14 solo tackles. All five players are sticking to their assignments and taking proper angles on ball carriers.
The play in both pass coverage and run support has been solid during the Eagles' current three-game winning streak. Another solid performance out of this group may change the Eagles' approach in free agency and in next April's draft. They will still draft at least one strong-side linebacker, it just may come later in the draft than most people would expect.
4. Jason Babin
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Of all the offseason acquisitions the Eagles made last summer, Jason Babin has had the biggest impact. He was brought in to do just one thing, rush the passer. 2011 has been a huge success in that area for Babin.
Babin will go up against a very mediocre Redskins offensive line that has given up 40 sacks this season. Allen goes up against the Detroit Lions and Ware goes up against the New York Giants Sunday night.
The Eagles may not have playoff aspirations thanks to a stellar performance out of the New York Jets last week, but at least Eagles fans have a chance to see their stud pass rusher make a run at this year's top sack mark.
5. LeSean McCoy vs. Maurice Jones-Drew
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The Eagles have another player chasing the league lead in a major stat category. LeSean McCoy is the NFL's second-leading rusher, although he is trailing Maurice Jones-Drew by 128 yards.
McCoy has had a pretty special season. He has 1,309 and 17 rushing touchdowns to go along with 315 receiving yards and three more touchdowns in the air.
McCoy has a chance to end his monster 2011 season on a high note on the first day of 2012. He will go up against the 19th ranked rushing defense that is allowing about 120 yards per game on the ground.
Although it appears unlikely that McCoy will be able to top Jones-Drew as the league's leading rusher, he has already established himself as one of the NFL's premiere backs.