Although Sunday’s game against the Redskins is only week 6 and the first division game for the Eagles of the year, it may be a season defining game for the Birds. The Eagles (3-1) are coming off their first loss of the season suffered last week in Detroit. This week in Washington we will see, for the first time, how rookie head coach Doug Pederson and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz bounce back from the adversity of their first loss and for Wentz, his first interception. Pederson and teammates have been adamant all week that Wentz has a “short-term memory” and neither the interception nor the loss will negatively affect his play in the upcoming game in Washington. It seems as though Wentz is doing everything he can this week to prove his coach and teammates right. Tuesday morning, Wentz reported to the team facilities, specifically the film room, at 5:30am to correct his mistakes from Detroit and prepare to take on Josh Norman and the Washington defense. Although his demeanor and play this year has made it difficult to remember, Wentz is still a rookie. A big thing to look for Sunday afternoon is the way he responds after his first NFL loss; it could have a lasting effect on the season as a whole.
Another important element to watch for on Sunday is how the team responds to the suspension of right tackle Lane Johnson. Johnson was informed on Tuesday that his ten game suspension, for testing positive for PEDs earlier this summer, has been upheld and he will begin serving his suspension Sunday. Lane has been one of the top tackles in the league this year and is arguably (along with Jason Peters) the anchor of the Eagles’ offensive line. It will be extremely difficult for the Birds to replace Johnson’s productivity and dominance at the RT position but rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai will be put up to that task on Sunday and presumably until Johnson returns in Week 17. Vaitai, is a rookie out of Texas Christian University selected in the fifth round this past draft. The Eagles coaching staff was presently surprised with his play and versatility throughout camp and the preseason, so much so that there was talk about Vaitai eventually replacing Jason Peters when he decides to hang up the cleats. Side note, hopefully that isn’t too soon because Peters looks like he still has a lot of football left in him still as one of the league’s best tackles. In any case, Vaitai is being pressed into the starting role faster than expected and he and the rest of the offensive line will have to step up big time to fill the shoes of Lane Johnson. Pederson seems confident that Vaitai will be able to hold his own on Sunday, when asked why he was starting in Johnson’s place Pederson said “He’s athletic. He’s strong. He’s smart. He’s ready.” Pederson may be confident, but Vaitai’s play on Sunday will have a huge impact on this team not only for Sunday for the remainder of the season.
Another first that occurred last Sunday came at the expense of the defense. For the first time this season the defense allowed a passing touchdown, and not only one but they gave up three in the first quarter. They settled down after that and held the Lions to just three points the rest of the game, but those three points ended up being the winning field goal. Although the Ryan Matthews fumble put them in a bad position, the defense still has to respond this Sunday to the first loss and the most points they’ve given up all season. On top of that, the Eagles are running into a hot Kirk Cousins and his offense in Washington this Sunday. Even with Jordan Reed questionable with a concussion, the Redskins have weapons that the defense will have to handle led by former Bird, Desean Jackson. Jackson always seems to have a big day against the Eagles but this is the best secondary he will face since his departure from the Eagles after the 2013 season. The key for the Eagles front four will be getting pressure on Cousins and making him uncomfortable for the duration of the game Sunday.
Regardless of last week’s outcome the Eagles should exude nothing but confidence going into Sunday’s match up with the Redskins. The Eagles are 3-1 and currently second in the division behind the 4-1 Cowboys. With a rookie head coach and quarterback 3-1 is a great position to be in. Even though they suffered the loss in Detroit last week, Carson Wentz has been phenomenal to begin his career and the offense has been clicking pretty well through four games. The defense still remains one of the top defenses in the league and should be up to the task of stopping the Washington offense. In order for this team to make the postseason and continue to progress into a Super Bowl contender, they need to win division games. Sunday provides the first opportunity for this team to dominate division games. If Pederson and Wentz want to begin a reign of dominance that was enjoyed by Reid and McNabb in their tenure here, they have to win division games and they have to be able to win them on the road. Sunday will be a season defining game for the Eagles and if they hope to make strides towards a playoff push the Eagles must play well bouncing back from their first loss.
Photo: Keith Allison (via: Wikimedia Commons)