Eagles fans across the nation have had October 3 circled on their calendar for months now, and with two days left the media attention is at a boiling point. The meaning behind the game has changed since the Donovan McNabb was traded, however, with Kevin Kolb once again holding a clip board and Michael Vick directing the offense. What was once a game to prove that Andy Reid had made the right choice in shipping McNabb to the hated Washington Redskins, the Eagles now want to show McNabb and the rest of the nation how a quarterback clicking on all cylinders takes advantage of the offensive weapons he has.
DeSean Jackson picked up in 2010 where he left off last season, but Jeremy Maclin has evolved as a legitimate weapon now that he has a quarterback that can find him in stride and down the side lines. LeSean McCoy is a completely new runningback, changing his approach from east-west to north-south running and has holes now thanks to defenses needing to account for Vick’s speed.
Had Reid stood by his hard headed ways (and not been forced by his higher ups to make a change), this would be a much harder game to predict. But with Vick running the show with a 110.2 quarterback rating, this week’s match up breakdown is fairly cut and dry: the Eagles will win, leaving McNabb to blame everyone but himself in the post game press conference.
McNabb has been so-so through three games with the 1-2 Redskins. He was lucky to squeak out a win against the Dallas Cowboys in week one, completing 15 of 32 passes for 171 yards and no touchdowns. He bounced back strong but, shockingly, could not seal the deal at the end of a 30-27 overtime loss to the Houston Texans. Though he had just one touchdown, his 73.7 completion percentage and 426 passing yards is at the very least a great day. Then, a surprising 30-16 loss to the St. Louis Rams showed how stagnant the Skins offense can be after McNabb went 19-32 for 236 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Mr. Chunky Soup has just two legitimate offense weapons in wideout Santana Moss and tight end Chris Cooley. While both have big play potential, the Eagles know exactly how McNabb thinks and acts in every situation. With cornerback Asante Samuel on Moss, middle linebacker Stewart Bradley on Cooley and the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month Nate Allen hanging back at safety McNabb will be hard pressed to find an easy play. He loves his check down routes and also knows Ellis Hobbs is not a starting-caliber corner, so McNabb’s one passing touchdown this week will be to Joey Galloway, because let’s face it, Hobbs usually is good for giving one up. Match him up on a quick receiver with a quarterback who used to abuse him in training camps and practice and it’s a sure thing. I see #5 throwing more interceptions than touchdowns this week, one to Quentin Mikell on a play when he’s helping Hobbs over the top, and another to Samuel who knows McNabb’s timing and what routes he’ll muff.
Do not expect the Redskins to run the ball effectively whatsoever on Sunday. Clinton Portis is as washed up of a running back as I’ve seen in a long time. His two touchdowns this season came in that overtime loss to the Texans and he’s averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, leading the Skins to an unimpressive 28th in the league in rushing yards per game. Besides, McNabb isn’t coming in to Philly to hand the ball off—it’s all or nothing this game.
What was a dangerous defense last season, Washington now has some holes, the biggest of which on their front line. Albert Haynesworth is not currently listed as the starting nose tackle in his oh-so-favorite 3-4 defensive scheme. Surprisingly, the scheme has worked to their advantage even without Haynesworth as Washington is letting up less than 100 rushing yards per game. Their pass defense is abysmal and is ranked 31st with 325.7 yards per game. This is no doubt skewed by the 400+ passing performance by Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, but Schaub’s weapons aren’t better than Vick’s so the same opportunities should be there. Jackson has proved he can still burn anyone on any defense, and with defenders keeping an eye on him, Maclin has evolved as a go-to target. Linebackers London Fletcher and Brian Orakpo could give tight end Brent Celek some trouble over the middle, but McCoy and fullback Owen Schmitt will both be available in the flanks and on check down routes. Vick will get one touchdown on the ground and at least two through the air this week.
It’s slightly disappointing that we won’t get to see the match up of Kolb vs. McNabb. If Kolb were to ink a win against McNabb, it would have put to rest the minds of the McNabb haters and quieted the Donovan apologists. On the other hand, it will be poetic justice when the former franchise quarterback is handed a homecoming loss by Vick, who he recruited for the Eagles, and is now looking better than McNabb has in a long time. Under Vick, the offense is scoring more points with less output: both McCoy and Maclin have equaled their touchdowns from last season in three games and have done so with about a fifth of the rushes or receptions. Make sure you tune in to watch Vick and the new-look Eagles walk away with a two touchdown victory over the Redskins and the same-look McNabb.