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NFL Preview - Philadelphia (5-3) at Washington (4-4)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Donovan McNabb experienced his share of contentious moments during an eventful 11-year tenure as quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, and the accomplished veteran has found himself at the center of another brewing firestorm during his brief run with the Washington Redskins.
McNabb will be once again be seeking a chance for redemption when he leads his new team into battle with his old one for the second time this season, though the circumstances of this Monday night encounter between the Redskins and Eagles will be of a different variety than the first meeting between the longtime NFC East rivals.
Washington will play it's first game since being dealt a potentially-costly 37-25 loss at Detroit on Oct. 31 in which McNabb was pulled from the game in favor of backup Rex Grossman with less than two minutes remaining and his team trailing by six points. Head coach Mike Shanahan explained the decision afterward, stating he was more comfortable with Grossman's ability to run the hurry-up offense, then added another log to the fire later in the week by questioning McNabb's fitness level due to having missed some practice time with soreness in his hamstrings.
McNabb has struggled grasping Shanahan's variation of the West Coast offense during his first season with the Redskins, who acquired the six-time Pro Bowler in a shocking trade with the Eagles back in April. The soon-to-be 34- year-old's 76.0 passer rating is his lowest since his rookie season in 1999, and he's thrown eight interceptions against only seven touchdown passes.
Philadelphia, which will be heading to FedEx Field holding a one-game lead on the Redskins in the NFC East race and sits one game back of the New York Giants for first place in the division, hasn't had as much of a problem finding a capable replacement for McNabb. The Eagles' standing as a serious postseason threat has been due in large part to the remarkable resurgence of Michael Vick, with the once-disgraced quarterback having raised his play to a previously-unseen level in one of the season's surprising success stories.
Vick has emerged as a dark-horse MVP candidate in his first go-around as a full-time starter since 2006. The former Atlanta Falcons' franchise face leads the NFL with a 105.3 passer rating and has yet to commit a turnover this season, while his 60.8 completion percentage is by far the best of his checkered eight-year career.
The 30-year-old hasn't lost his trademark scrambling ability either, despite his prolonged period of inactivity. Back from a three-game absence due to a ribcage injury, Vick rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown in addition to throwing for 218 yards and a score in leading the Eagles to a hard-earned 26-24 decision over defending AFC champion Indianapolis this past Sunday.
Vick had been sidelined since hurting his ribs in the Eagles' 17-12 setback to the Redskins back in Week 4, McNabb's first visit to Philadelphia since the blockbuster trade. The latter wasn't particularly sharp in that contest as well, hitting on just 8-of-19 passes for 125 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
The Eagles have prevailed in all three games in which Vick's started and finished this year and bring a 3-1 season road record into Monday's tilt. Washington has lost two of its last three outings at home, but Shanahan amassed a glossy 10-4 mark after a bye week during his 14-year reign as the Denver Broncos head coach from 1995-2008.
The Redskins hold a 78-67-5 lead in their all-time series with the Eagles after their narrow win at Lincoln Financial Field back in October, but Philadelphia has prevailed in three of its last four stops to FedEx Field and dealt Washington a 27-17 home defeat -- which also took place on a Monday night -- last season. The Eagles swept the 2009 season series between the clubs, with the Redskins taking both meetings the previous year.
In addition to their regular-season advantage, the Redskins won the only postseason meeting between the clubs, a 20-6 road triumph in a 1990 NFC First- Round Playoff.
Eagles head coach Andy Reid is 14-9 versus the Redskins since taking over in 1999. Shanahan is 3-1 lifetime against Philadelphia, with the first two wins and the lone loss coming during his time with the Broncos. Shanahan is 2-0 versus Reid head-to-head, having also bested the Eagles by a 49-21 count in Denver back in 2005.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
Philadelphia has the reputation of being a pass-first operation under Reid, but this year's edition has been very effective running the ball as well. The Eagles come in fifth in the NFL in rushing offense (137.5 ypg) and racked up a season-best 195 yards on the ground against the Colts last week, and their 5.1 yards per carry average is tied for tops in the league. Vick (1017 passing yards, 7 TD, 0 INT) has had something to do with that impressive total, as his 261 rushing yards leads all quarterbacks, but running back LeSean McCoy (572 rushing yards, 5 TD, 41 receptions) is turning in a terrific sophomore season as well. The 22-year-old gained 95 yards on just 16 attempts against Indianapolis and doubles as an excellent receiver, as evidenced by a 12-catch, 110-yard performance in the Week 4 meeting with the Redskins. The NFL's fourth-ranked offense (376.3 ypg) has plenty of other playmakers as well. Speedy wide receiver DeSean Jackson (26 receptions, 504 yards, 4 TD) is averaging 19.4 yards per catch and has surpassed 100 receiving yards in all of Vick's three full games under center, while counterpart Jeremy Maclin (34 receptions, 506 yards, 6 TD) and tight end Brent Celek (21 receptions, 2 TD) are two others Washington will have to account for on Sunday in addition to McCoy.
The Redskins defense has been the definition of a bend-but-don't-break group, having surrendered the second-highest amount of total yards (393.3 ypg) and passing yards (280.9 ypg) in the league but holding the opposition to 14 points or less in all four of the team's wins. The unit's strength has been it's ability to force turnovers, as Washington has produced 19 takeaways in eight games and had six in a three-point victory at Chicago back in Week 7, with ball-hawking cornerback DeAngelo Hall (63 tackles, 9 PD) tying an NFL single-game record with four interceptions. Hall leads the league with six picks thus far, while outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (25 tackles) has made a big impact as well by posting seven sacks as the catalyst of a pass rush that can be devastating at times, especially when moody lineman Albert Haynesworth (13 tackles, 2 sacks) is motivated to play. Durable veteran London Fletcher (72 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 PD), who registered 12 tackles in these teams' earlier meeting, and fellow inside linebacker Rocky McIntosh (63 tackles, 2 sacks) are the anchors of a run defense that's allowed an average of just 84 rushing yards over the Redskins' past two tests.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
While McNabb (1971 passing yards, 7 TD, 8 INT) isn't in danger of losing his starting status, it wouldn't be surprising if the Redskins rely more on the run this week with the slumping signal-caller still trying to find a groove. Washington was successful in doing so in its early-October win over the Eagles, putting up a season-best 169 rushing yards on the day. Brittle back Clinton Portis (195 rushing yards, 2 TD) had 55 yards on only 11 attempts in that game before exiting with a groin tear that kept him sidelined since, but there's a chance he may be able to return on Monday and complement youngster Ryan Torain (391 rushing yards, 8 receptions, 4 total TD), who's fared well in Portis' absence with a pair of 100-yard efforts over his last three games. McNabb's primary targets have been reliable wide receiver Santana Moss (48 receptions, 604 yards, 2 TD) and tight end Chris Cooley (39 receptions, 2 TD), with the well-traveled Anthony Armstrong (17 receptions, 1 TD) serving as the main deep threat for the NFL's 13th-ranked passing offense (230.9 ypg). The former Arena League player is averaging over 21 yards per catch and had a career-best 92 yards on three grabs in the loss at Detroit. Pass protection has been a problem at times, with McNabb and Grossman sacked a combined seven times by the Lions right before the bye.
McNabb figures to have a challenge against a Philadelphia stop unit that's fourth in the NFL in pass efficiency defense and has come up with 13 interceptions, while holding the opposition to a 56 percent completion rate. The Eagles made it difficult for Colts superstar Peyton Manning a week ago, with Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel (20 tackles, 5 INT, 10 PD) picking off the four-time league MVP twice and a fierce pass rush headed by high-motor end Trent Cole (39 tackles, 7 sacks) sacking him three times. Cole has compiled four sacks over the past three games, while Samuel owns four interceptions over that same frame. Philadelphia does have some injury issues to deal with in the secondary, however, as promising rookie free safety Nate Allen (34 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INT) is expected to miss Monday's matchup after injuring his neck last week and cornerback Ellis Hobbs (16 tackles, 1 INT) is likely to miss a second straight game with a hip flexor. The Eagles have been much tougher against the run since struggling in that area in the first meeting, having limited each of its last four foes to 75 rushing yards or less. The promotion of 322-pound tackle Antonio Dixon (17 tackles, 2 sacks) into a starting role in mid-October has helped key that improvement.
Vick's impact has been more profound in the real world than the fantasy realm, but the reborn quarterback still wouldn't be a bad choice when taking into account how many yards the Redskins have allowed through the air. Jackson's best games this year have come in the ones Vick has played, putting the flashy wide receiver into the must-start category along with McCoy, while Maclin's also a solid play due to his consistency. Celek hasn't shown that same rapport with his new triggerman, however, so keep the talented tight end on the bench this week. McNabb should remain in a reserve capacity as well, but both Moss and Cooley are safe to use as Washington's clear-cut top receivers. Torain is another Redskin who gets a thumbs-up here, though the impending return of Portis does loom as a threat to his production. Both of these teams have shown a tendency to give up sacks, which offers good upside for both defenses, while Philadelphia also has a quality fantasy kicker on the roster in David Akers.
A strong case could be made that the Eagles would have beaten the Redskins earlier this year had Vick not gotten hurt in the first quarter, and it's become evident that Philadelphia is a dangerous team when he's been able to take the field. Don't discount the benefit of the bye week, however, especially when factoring in Shanahan's track record of success in games that follow it. Washington was able to devise ways to move the ball effectively with only a week's worth of prep time in the first meeting, and its defense can be difficult to score on. The Redskins' strength this season has been their resiliency, having gone 4-2 in close games thus far, and that could be the difference in a contest the Burgundy and Gold simply need to have.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Redskins 16, Eagles 14
11/14 12:11:05 ET