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Can the Eagles Shut Up and Play?

Can the Eagles Shut Up and Play?

When two teams with identical records meet in a game that marks the midpoint of the NFL season, there is usually a checklist of factors to consider when trying to figure out who is going to win. In the case of this Sunday’s night game between the Redskins and Eagles, that checklist doesn’t tell us much.

Injuries: The healthier club has an advantage, often a large one. In this case, the healthier team is neither. The injury list for the two teams is 26 names long with 14 Eagles and 12 Redskins appearing on it. Although nobody is listed as doubtful nine players are questionable, meaning that there is a 50/50 chance that the likes of Philly’s Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens, and Jevon Kearse and Washington’s Cornelius Griffin. These are not fringe players.

Coaching: Joe Gibbs has the superior lifetime resume. Andy Reid, having taken his team to the Super Bowl last year, has the edge in the “what have you done lately” department.

Statistics: Not much to go on here, either. The Redskins’ worst statistical weakness, their 25th- ranked run defense, is offset by the fact that the Eagles rarely run the ball.

Momentum: Both teams are coming off of ugly road losses, losing by a combined 54 points. They both have figurative wounds to lick as well as the literal ones.

Stepping back a bit, though, looking at it in the longer term, this may be where we find the key. The Eagles could well be coming into this one with three straight losses with a miracle win on a blocked field goal against San Diego coming in between blowout losses to Dallas and Denver. Their swagger seems to have disappeared.

They may not be in a slump, they may be imploding. Setting the charges, of course, is none other that Owens, who had some, well, head-scratching things to say in an ESPN interview.
ESPN analyst Michael Irvin recently said the Eagles would be undefeated if Favre was the starting quarterback.
Asked for his thoughts on Irvin's comment, Owens said: "That's a good assessment, I would agree with that, just with what [Favre] brings to the table.
"A number of commentators will say he's a warrior, he's played with injuries. I feel like him being knowledgeable about the quarterback position, I feel like we'd probably be in a better situation."

It’s not exactly like the QB that the Eagles do have, McNabb, is a wuss who doesn’t know the game. Owens went on to point out McNabb’s third-quarter interception, which came with the Eagles trailing just 28-21, as the reason the Eagles lost last Sunday.

The slams weren’t just for the quarterback. Owens also took one at the entire organization:
Owens also hard harsh things to say about the Eagles for not publically recognizing his 100th career touchdown catch Oct. 23 at home against the Chargers.
"That right there just shows you the type of class and integrity that they claim not to be," said Owens, who became the sixth receiver in NFL history to reach the milestone. "They claim to be first class and the best organization. It's an embarrassment. It just shows a lack of class they have. My publicist talked to the head PR guy and they made an excuse they didn't recognize that was coming up. But that was a blatant lie. Had it been somebody else they probably would have popped fireworks around the stadium."
The key line is, of course, “It just shows a lack of class they have.” TO has shown that he has a lot of class. Unfortunately, all of it is low.

Certainly, turmoil doesn’t preclude winning. Teams that are winning quarrel all the time, sometimes in public. But it’s a different deal when a team is losing—and make no mistake, the Eagles are in that category. That’s the time when needs to close ranks, shut up and play.

Speaking of shut up and play, ex-Redskin Jeremiah Trotter said in an interview earlier this week that the Redskins had “no heart” and Kearse said that the Redskins were the Eagles “b—ches”.

Apparently, Reid is continuing his laissez-faire approach to Owens and letting TO be TO and did not comment on the comments by Trotter and Kearse. Reid takes the “they’re grown men, let them handle it” philosophy. When you’re winning, that’s the enlightened approach; when you’re not, the inmates are running the asylum.

All that being said, what Kearse said isn’t far from the truth. The Redskins have lost seven straight to the Eagles and most of the games haven’t been close. Have the Redskins improved enough and have the Eagles imploded enough to change this?

The initial gut feeling earlier this week was no. The thought here was that the Eagles would circle the wagons one last time and have enough to beat a good but still shaken Redskins team.

Then, as the week went on, I realized that those weren’t wagons being circled up I-95 but rings being added to the circus. I went to Redskins Park on Wednesday. This is not a shaken group of players and coaches. To a man, they had put the Sunday’s debacle behind them and were focused on the Eagles. There is no false bravado here. We know that well from the team under previous coaches and this is different. The confidence is in the players’ eyes as well as in their words.

Like just about everything for the 2005 Redskins, it won’t be easy. Washington will jump to an early lead, but the Eagles will fight back, perhaps even take the lead. But their lack of a running game won’t allow them to hold it and the Redskins will pull back ahead in the second half. Washington will have to repel one or two late Philly bids to win it.

Redskins 24, Eagles 20

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The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

Every NFL training camp is different, but there are a few consistent things you can count on happening at each one each year.

At some point, for example, a star will say that he's "just excited to hit a guy wearing a different colored jersey" after about a week of practicing against his teammates. Also on the list: a coach will tell reporters that his defense plans on being more aggressive and hopes to create more turnovers in the regular season.

One of the more pleasant camp traditions, meanwhile, is that undrafted rookie who goes from stand-in to stand out and makes the team by impressing in drills and preseason contests.

But while there will be plenty of time in the coming weeks for trying to figure out who'll do that for the Redskins in 2017, let's instead look back at a handful of the players who've already accomplished that in the past with Washington. Here are the seven best undrafted free agents the franchise has unearthed since 2010.

MORE: PLAYING OVER/UNDER WITH KEY STATS FOR KIRK COUSINS IN 2017

Logan Paulsen (2010)

No one will ever mistake Logan Paulsen's film for Rob Gronkowski's, but the former UCLA Bruin held down the third tight end spot for the Redskins from 2010-2014.

His two best years came in 2012 and 2013, where he posted 25 and 28 catches respectively, scored four total times and was on the receiving end of this magical fourth-down pass from Robert Griffin III against the Giants, a play that might've just been the peak of Griffin's rookie year. Now 30, Paulsen is reuniting with Kyle Shanahan out in San Francisco, continuing to exceed expectations and extending what's been a fruitful NFL career.

Will Compton (2013)

Will Compton's made a steady climb up Washington's roster since entering the league as a free agent linebacker out of Nebraska.

He was cut in his first season back in 2013 but latched onto the practice squad. He eventually debuted near the end of 2013, though, and made the 53-man squad the next go-round. 2015 was when he first started playing regularly, then last year he started 15 contests while also serving as a captain.

In 2017, he'll have to compete with Zach Brown and Mason Foster for a starting gig, but he figures to play plenty no matter the outcome and he's one of Jay Gruden's most trusted defenders. Not bad for a guy who has admitted he "wasn't confident" as a rookie:

Houston Bates (2015)

Special teams often is the avenue a college free agent has to take to make a roster, and Houston Bates is an example of one who's been there, done that. He's appeared in 24 games for the Redskins in his first two NFL campaigns and will look to recover from a torn ACL he suffered last December so he can add to that total in year three.

Before that injury, he was Washington's most active special teams player with 292 snaps in 14 contests.

Quinton Dunbar (2015)

Quinton Dunbar has not only overcome being an undrafted free agent; the former Florida Gator has also made the successful transition from wide receiver to cornerback, too.

Like his classmate Bates, Dunbar has participated often in 2015 and 2016, and like Paulsen, his biggest moments have come against the Giants. As a first-year pro, he picked off Eli Manning in the end zone to the delight of a raucous FedExField crowd, and as a sophomore, he helped complete a risky fake punt and also notched another (absolutely insane) INT in New York:

Rob Kelley (2016)

This offseason, Jay Gruden joked that Rob Kelley has worked his way up from "ninth-string" to starter. He laughed as he said it, but it may not have been that big of an exaggeration.

Kelley never rushed for more than 420 yards at Tulane, but he ripped off 704 last year for the 'Skins. Now he's the top option in a talented backfield, and while Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson are nipping at his heels for carries, Gruden has repeatedly said how much he loves Kelley. He'll be fed plenty in 2017.

Anthony Lanier (2016)

Anthony Lanier's on this list not for what he's done, but for what he's projected to do. Gruden uses not one but two really's to describe how excited he is about Lanier, and a couple of months of working with assistant Jim Tomsula might be all the lineman needs to make the jump from a project to a problem. 

Maurice Harris (2016)

Last on the list is a receiver who displayed sure hands and a knack for converting third downs in limited action last year. Maurice Harris now looks like he'll be an early option off the bench in Gruden's offense and should see the field far more often than he did in the second half of 2016.

You may not be fully sold on Harris, but it sounds like his teammates are, so don't be surprised if he breaks out and develops into another option for Kirk Cousins:

RELATED: RANKING THE REDSKINS ROSTER FROM BOTTOM TO TOP

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Need to Know: Redskins by the numbers—First-down rushing, forcing fumbles

Need to Know: Redskins by the numbers—First-down rushing, forcing fumbles

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, July 23, four days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 203 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 49 days.

Days until:

—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 18
—Preseason vs. Packers at FedEx Field (8/19) 27
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 41

The Redskins by the numbers

5.01—The average yards per carry against the Redskins on first down last year.

I have noted this before but I took a closer look and it’s even worse. In 2016, four running backs—Isaiah Crowell of the Browns, DeAngelo Williams of the Steelers, Jordan Howard of the Bears, and Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys—gained over 100 yards against Washington on first down alone. It took Elliott two games to get there but the other three made it in one. If the Redskins don’t get this fixed (this is the second year in a row they have been last in the league here) their defense won’t get much better.

3.85—The Redskins average offensive gain per carry on first down.

This is not a very good performance here — the average is 20th in the NFL. But it does represent a significant improvement from 2015, when they were last in the NFL at 3.3 yards per carry. One difference was negative plays. Two years ago, they had 63 first-down plays go for no gain or a loss of yards. Last year they had 48 such plays. Rob Kelley, who was fourth-best in the league as a rookie last year at gaining yardage after being contacted behind the line, can claim a lot of credit.

8—The number of opponents’ fumbles the Redskins recovered this year.

A total of 17 other teams recovered more fumbles than the Redskins did last year and their recoveries were exactly half of what they were in 2015, when they had 16, the most in the league. It wasn’t surprising that their recoveries fell. The numbers crunchers say that fumble recoveries aren’t “sticky,” meaning that there tends to be a lot of variance for each team each year. And that makes sense as a lot of recovering fumbles is the bounce of the ball.

But it should be noted that the Redskins forced just 22 fumbles last year after forcing 36 in 2015. You have to get the ball on the ground to recover it and the Redskins could do a better job of forcing fumbles in 2017

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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