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NFL Preview - Washington (5-10) at Philadelphia (7-8)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan is confident with the players on the current roster and the direction his team's heading.
Practically any coach would wax poetic about their respective team even though the public's perception may be few and far between, and Washington's 5-10 record in 2011 hasn't been much to get excited over. But what may be contrary to popular belief, Shanahan still feels progress has been made this season.
"I feel good with the type of players that we do have," the coach said Monday. "We still need a good draft [and] a good free agency [in the offseason]. We still need to improve from where we're at right now. Our record obviously dictates that, but I feel good about the football team and the direction we're headed."
Shanahan has one more game left on the 2011 schedule and will try to take one from the NFC East-rival Philadelphia Eagles on New Year's Day from Lincoln Financial Field.
As previously stated, the Redskins are 5-10 on the season and have lost nine of their last 11 games since opening with a promising 3-1 start. A few quarterback changes, a unproductive running game at times and an inconsistent defense have all led Washington to where it's at right now, while the growing pains brought on by an influx of younger talent and turnovers have also hampered production. The Redskins' 33 giveaways are third in the league behind only Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.
"The thing we'll be stressing next year, like we continue to try to do now, is not turn the football over," Shanahan continued. "Because if you turn the football over like we did this year, regardless of what type of football team you have you're not going to win."
Quarterback Rex Grossman has thrown 19 interceptions to 15 touchdown passes in 2011. He will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason after signing a one- year deal with the team last August. Shanahan said everyone on the roster will be evaluated and added that players will lose their jobs if they're not consistent enough to help the team win.
Grossman's 2011 campaign has been plagued by inconsistency, and his future with the Burgundy and Gold remains in doubt. He passed for 284 yards with two touchdowns in last Saturday's 33-26 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Redskins' home season finale, but was also intercepted once.
That was a tough loss for a Redskins team coming off a huge road win against the New York Giants, and its recent defeats to New England and the Vikings have come by only seven points each.
Washington, which has won its last two road games, collected its 10th loss for a third straight season and sixth in nine years with the setback to Minnesota. The Redskins will miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season and 10th in their last 12 tries as well.
For the Eagles, there's no telling what might have been for a team that garnered more hype in the preseason than a heavyweight title fight during boxing's glory days.
Instead of laying the wood to opposing teams, however, the group given the moniker as the "Dream Team" has hit the canvas more times than expected and has a 7-8 record to show for it. Blown leads, turnovers, the early struggles of a defense directed for the first time by former offensive line coach Juan Castillo and a lack of continuity sum up some of the problems Philadelphia encountered this season.
Philadelphia is riding a three-game winning streak since losing eight times in an 11-game span earlier in the season, however, and had a chance to remain alive in the postseason race but didn't get the help it needed last week. The job status of head coach Andy Reid still appears to be secure because of all of the success he's endured in his time with the Eagles, and his team can finish with a .500 record or better for a sixth straight season with a win on Sunday.
"We're in this thing to play the best football we possibly can," Reid said.
The Eagles, who recently handed Dallas a 20-7 loss on Christmas Eve, are out of the playoff picture for the first time since 2007, when they last finished with an 8-8 record. They have the momentum on their side in this matchup after beating the Redskins by a 20-13 score on the road back on Oct. 16. It was their second straight victory in the series.
The Redskins hold a 78-69-5 lead in their all-time series with the Eagles, but Philadelphia has won four of the five most recent meetings between the teams after its mid-October triumph at FedEx Field. Washington has left with a victory in Philadelphia in three of the last four seasons, however, and earned a 17-12 decision at Lincoln Financial Field last year in a game which marked the return of then-Redskins quarterback and longtime Eagle Donovan McNabb to the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia posted a home-and-home sweep of Washington in 2009, which included a 27-24 win at the Linc.
In addition to their regular-season advantage, the Redskins won their only postseason clash with Philadelphia, a 20-6 road verdict in a 1990 NFC First- Round Playoff.
Reid is 16-9 versus the Redskins since taking over in 1999. Shanahan is 3-3 lifetime against Philadelphia, with the first two wins and the initial loss coming during his 14-year reign with the Denver Broncos from 1995-2008. Shanahan is 2-2 against Reid head-to-head, having also bested the Eagles by a 49-21 count in Denver back in 2005, but has lost two of three bouts against Philly since being placed in charge of the Redskins prior to last season.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Grossman (2,895 passing yards, 15 TD, 19 INT) was intercepted four times and passed for 143 yards in the first meeting with the Eagles before giving way to backup John Beck (858 passing yards, 2 TD, 4 INT), who made a few starts this season and completed 8-of-15 passes for 117 in relief of Grossman against Philadelphia. Washington had 287 total yards in that game, including just 42 rushing. Rookie running back Roy Helu (635 yards, 2 TD) was held to six yards on two carries by the Eagles, but wasn't a starter back then with Tim Hightower the main back before an injury cut his season short. Veteran Ryan Torain was ineffective as Hightower's first replacement and was just released after losing time to Helu, who did not play against the Vikings because of toe/knee ailments and could miss the season finale. Fellow rookie running back Evan Royster (215 yards) made his first start in Helu's place and lifted some eyebrows with 132 yards on 19 carries against Minnesota. Royster, who patiently waited his turn while on the practice squad earlier in the year, averaged 6.9 yards per carry and had a 28-yard run in the third quarter that led to a 25-yard Graham Gano field goal. Royster and Helu are the only two rookie backs in team history to run for 100 yards or more in a game in the same season. Wide receiver Jabar Gaffney (64 receptions, 919 yards, 5 TD) is enjoying a career year and is nearing his first-ever 1,000-yard campaign.
Eagles defensive end Jason Babin (38 tackles, 18 sacks) is having a career year for a team that will not make the playoffs. The offseason acquisition has thrived under defensive line coach Jim Washburn's wide-nine philosophy and also benefits from having Trent Cole (43 tackles, 10 sacks) playing on the other side. Babin's 18 quarterback takedowns is the third-most in a season by an Eagle, trailing only Reggie White (21 in 1987) and Clyde Simmons (19 in 1992). The Eagles are 14th against the rush this season, 12th in points allowed and eighth in both pass defense and total yards given up. Cornerback Asante Samuel (34 tackles, 3 INT) did not play against the Cowboys with a hamstring strain and was replaced by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (25 tackles, 1 sack), a former starter in Arizona who came to the Eagles in the Kevin Kolb deal over the summer, and the ex-Cardinal may get the nod again this week with Samuel still bothered by the injury. Fellow cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (37 tackles, 3 INT) struggled at first under Castillo's defensive scheme, but has picked it up over the latter part of the season and gives the team a proven cover man. Philadelphia's linebackers were another sore spot until also stepping up their play recent weeks. Safety Kurt Coleman (78 tackles, 4 INT) suffered a biceps injury in Dallas and was placed on injured reserve, while linebacker Brian Rolle (51 tackles, 1 INT) is hampered by an ankle strain and also may not play on Sunday.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (1,309 rushing yards, 17 TD) is Pro-Bowl bound and diced Washington's defense for 126 yards and a score on 28 carries back in October. He only had 35 yards on 13 carries in last week's win over Dallas, however, and suffered what appeared to be an ankle injury. Reid said the starters will play this weekend and McCoy could cut into Wilbert Montgomery's single-season team rushing mark of 1,512 yards set back in 1979, as he's considered probable to go. McCoy is first in the NFC, second in the league and fourth in team annals for a single season with 1,309 rushing yards, and will be looking to close out a career year with another outstanding performance. Philadelphia needs 235 total yards to set a single-season team record in that category and is third in the NFL with an average of 399.7 yards per game. The Eagles are on pace to become just the third team in NFL history to have five players catch 50 or more passes in a single season. Wide receiver Jason Avant (48 receptions, 1 TD) and McCoy (48 receptions, 3 TD) each need two receptions to join tight end Brent Celek (56 receptions, 4 TD) and wide receivers Jeremy Maclin (55 receptions, 5 TD) and DeSean Jackson (54 receptions, 3 TD) in reaching that mark. Jackson had a down year while battling with the organization over contract issues and could be playing his last game for the Eagles, though the team could slap the franchise tag to retain his services.
The Redskins had trouble stopping McCoy in the first meeting and are 19th against the run this season, allowing 120.6 yards per game on the ground. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick also hurt the Redskins with both his scrambling ability as well as through the air, and Washington will need rookie Ryan Kerrigan (62 tackles, 8 sacks) and fellow outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (57 tackles, 7 sacks) to step it up in the season finale and apply pressure from either end. Getting in the quarterback's face and moving Vick around the pocket will be key in setting up turnover chances and incompletions. The Redskins are 11th against the pass (215.9 ypg) and will have their hands full once again with the Eagles. Crossing patterns by Celek, Maclin or Jackson will be difficult to defend, while McCoy coming out of the backfield is never a settling sight. London Fletcher (163 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT) is having another monster season at inside linebacker for Washington and posted a game- high 12 stops in the first encounter with Philly. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall (87 tackles, 3 INT) and safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (57 tackles, 2 INT) each had an interception against the Eagles in the first matchup, one thrown by Vick and other by backup Vince Young. Washington was tagged for 241 rushing yards and 389 total yards against the Vikings last Saturday, one week after intercepting three passes and holding New York in check.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Grossman could be playing for his job next season for the Redskins, who may address the position in the draft or via free agency. The franchise hasn't enjoyed comfort at the quarterback spot for quite some time, as neither Grossman and Beck failed to solidify the position, but will need effective play under center to come out on top this week.
Will this be the final game for Jackson in an Eagles uniform? That remains do be seen, but if the speedster can stretch the field and loosen up the Washington defense, that should enhance Philadelphia's chances of continuing its winning streak.
No team wants to finish with a losing record, and Philadelphia will likely try hard to break even at 8-8 with a win over the rival Redskins. Washington is also playing for pride and would like nothing more to ring in the new year with a positive result.
The City of Brotherly Love will be action-packed on New Year's Day with the annual Mummers Parade and the town's beloved Eagles taking on the rival Redskins in the season finale for both teams. There's only draft positioning at stake in this one, but the Eagles would like to finish with a .500 record by sweeping the season series from Washington. Vick, Pro-Bowl running back McCoy and the Hawaii-bound Babin are three players to watch this weekend in what could be an easy victory for the Eagles. Washington is still picking up the pieces from a disastrous breakdown after a 3-1 start and will likely head home with more questions than answers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 30, Redskins 20
12/29 16:29:55 ET