The Philadelphia Eagles' much-anticipated 2013 season is set to begin with a pivotal Monday Night Football matchup against the defending NFC East champion Washington Redskins. The game will feature Michael Vick against Robert Griffin III in what could be a shootout.
Vick will be incorporating Chip Kelly's new high-tempo offense, one that was highly successful at the University of Oregon. Meanwhile, Griffin says he is now 100 percent following last year's devastating knee injuries. The battle of the two highly-talented NFC East quarterbacks is a must-watch for football fans, and the game could easily come down to which player turns the ball over the fewest number of times.
Aside from the two quarterbacks, there will be other individual matchups that could decide the game. The Redskins return two ferocious pass-rushing linebackers that could make trouble for Vick. And this will be the initial test of the Eagles switching to a 3-4 defense. Ultimately, it will always come down to the performance of the quarterbacks, although here are five other matchups that will prove vital.
Matchup #1: RB Alfred Morris vs. ILB DeMeco Ryans/Mychal Kendricks
Alfred Morris burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2012, setting a Washington Redskins single-season record with 1,613 rushing yards. He also scored 13 times on the ground, averaging an impressive 4.8 yards per rush. Morris is a big, physical back who checks in at 220 pounds. He's a limited receiver but he's a load for any linebacker to bring down in the open field.
DeMeco Ryans was one of the better linebackers in the NFL last season, playing the middle linebacker position in a 4-3 base defense. This year, he will be asked to transition to one of two inside 'backers in the 3-4 defense. Ryans is entering his eighth NFL season and he's a step slower than he was when he debuted, but he's still an integral part of the Eagles' defense.
Playing next to Ryans will be Mychal Kendricks, a young player who had his ups and downs as a rookie in 2012. Kendricks is extremely fast for his position and he's clearly quick enough to get to Morris. Kendricks did miss 14 tackles a year ago, which ranks him tied for fourth-worst at his position, per Pro Football Focus.
Morris rushed for 76 and 91 yards in his two games against the Eagles last year, scoring one touchdown. He averaged slightly under four yards per rush, which gives the edge to Philadelphia for stopping him. To make life easier for RGIII, the Redskins may rely heavily on Morris in this game.
Matchup #2: WR DeSean Jackson vs. CB DeAngelo Hall
Remember what happened on a Monday night in Washington three years ago? DeSean Jackson torched the Redskins for an 88-yard touchdown (video) on the first play of the game. The throw by Vick traveled an incredible 63 yards in the air, setting the tone for a 59-28 romp highlighted by an amazing six touchdowns from Vick.
The Redskins were completely overmatched for 60 minutes, giving up scores to Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and LeSean McCoy through the air. The Eagles return all of those players, save for Maclin who is on IR. But Jackson vs. DeAngelo Hall will be an intriguing matchup.
To win the game, the Eagles will absolutely need Jackson to make some plays. He's at his best in the first quarter, having scored nearly half of his 30 career touchdowns (14, to be exact) in the first quarter. Twenty-two of those have traveled at least 30 yards in the air. Hall is a former Pro Bowler, but he's nowhere near the same player.
According to Pro Football Focus, Hall allowed 1,045 yards in 2012, making him one of just two cornerbacks to give up at least 1,000 yards through the air. He's going to be the No. 1 cornerback for the Redskins, which should put him head-to-head with Jackson all game. That is, assuming Hall plays.
He did suffer an ankle injury over the summer and is listed as questionable for the matchup. If he doesn't play, Jackson has a clear advantage over either E.J. Biggers, David Amerson, or Josh Wilson. If he does play, two of the fastest players in the league square off against each other.
Matchup #3: LT Jason Peters vs. ROLB Brian Orakpo
A year ago, Brian Orakpo and Jason Peters combined to miss 30 of a possible 32 NFL games. Orakpo tore his left pectoral muscle in Week 2, missing the remainder of the season. Peters suffered a devastating Achilles tendon injury in spring, one that forced him out for all of 2012.
Each is fully healthy for 2013 and expected to play a strong role in the Week 1 matchup. Orakpo plays pass-rushing outside linebacker, while Peters' job is to keep Vick standing upright all game. Both are among the best in the game, and this will be a test to see if each has truly recovered from their injuries.
The Redskins will assuredly rotate pass-rushing stars Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan at some point, which means Peters may be tasked with blocking both Orakpo or Kerrigan at various points throughout the game.
In six lifetime games against the Eagles, Orakpo has 2.5 sacks. Two of those sacks came in last year's final matchup with the Birds, meaning Peters has held Orakpo to a half-sack in four career head-to-head matchups. If Peters keeps Orakpo away from Vick again, there are more chances for Vick to make plays with both his arm and legs.
Matchup #4: RDE Fletcher Cox vs. LT Trent Williams
The switch to a 3-4 defense changes up the nature of Fletcher Cox's game. No longer will he rush the passer from the 3-technique tackle position. Now he will line up over the outside shoulder of Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams as a 5-technique defensive end.
Cox enjoyed a strong rookie campaign in 2012, picking up 5.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and 32 tackles as a 4-3 tackle. That gave the Eagles significant results from the first-round pick they spent on Cox in April.
Cox's task this year will be more of a pass-rushing and run-stopping role than just shooting the gap. He will go against Williams, the former fourth overall pick in 2010 who earned his first trip to Hawaii last year. Williams didn't get beat often, allowing just four sacks and 18 quarterback pressures, per Pro Football Focus.
If Cox can get to RGIII once for a game-changing play, it may be enough to give the Eagles momentum en route to a victory. And if Williams completely shuts down Cox in his first game as a 3-4 end, it will make life much easier for Griffin and Morris.
Matchup #5: CB Cary Williams vs. WR Pierre Garcon
The Philadelphia Eagles brought in free-agent cornerback Cary Williams from the Baltimore Ravens, and they're paying him to be a No. 1 cornerback. Williams was a starter on the Super Bowl champions, picking off four passes and recording 17 passes defensed. He was also burned repeatedly, allowing six touchdown passes and over 900 yards through the air, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Williams has had a rough stint as an Eagle so far. He skipped voluntary OTAs, then told the fanbase he doesn't care how they feel about it. He picked a fight in the joint practice with the New England Patriots and was kicked out. He missed the first preseason game with a hamstring injury as well. And he called his new teammates soft.
Williams will be tasked with covering the Washington Redskins' top receiver, Pierre Garcon. Garcon played in just 10 games a year ago but the Redskins were 9-1 when he did dress. He's a top talent and could cause trouble for the Eagles if Williams does not contain him.