It’s been four long years since the Philadelphia Eagles made the playoffs, and a lot has changed since. Both the offense and defense have been revamped, new coaching staffs have been hired, and the Eagles have a new face of the franchise in quarterback Carson Wentz. Under head coach Doug Pederson in his first season last year, the Eagles went 7-9 and finished last in the loaded NFC East. Predictions for this season range all over the place, with some predicting another down year of mediocrity and others seeing the 2017 Eagles as a playoff contender. Regardless of pundit predictions for the Eagles season, it is a very important year for the franchise and specific players. It all begins Sunday when Philly takes on the division rival Washington Redskins in Washington, D.C. The Redskins have defeated the Eagles in their last five matchups and remain a pesky opponent. In an incredibly important divisional matchup early in the season for Philadelphia, here are their keys to victory.
Week One Philadelphia Eagles Keys to Victory
1- Matthews Out, Ertz In?
When former Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews was traded this off-season to the Buffalo Bills, that left tight end Zach Ertz as the second longest tenured Eagles receiver on the team (behind fellow tight end Brent Celek). Matthews was easily the most targeted and favorite receiver in Philadelphia over the last couple seasons. Now his production and attention is gone from this Philly offense and Ertz seems like the perfect player to take on that role.
Ertz has been right behind Matthews in just about every offensive category the past couple of seasons and now he should be Wentz’s number one target. It took some time last season, but towards the end of the year Ertz and Wentz developed chemistry and started to put it all together, especially in the last game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Ertz was very inconsistent in his games against Washington last season, only logging one catch for 22 yards in the first matchup, but coming back for 10 catches (his first of two double-digit reception games) for 112 yards in the second matchup. Now that him and Wentz have better chemistry, Wentz should rely more on Ertz this season.
It may also take some time for new wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to get on the same page with Carson Wentz which could open up additional targets to Ertz. We should see this right out of the gate Sunday against the Redskins and the Eagles will need to get Ertz going to disrupt the Washington defense.
2- Pressure on Cousins
If you didn’t know, Kirk Cousins is a good quarterback. No matter how much criticism he gets or if his contract disputes accelerate, he is a very talented NFL quarterback and he has shown it countless times against the Eagles. In five career games versus the Eagles, Cousins is 4-1, has a 12 to three touchdown to interception ratio, and has thrown for at least 234 yards in each game. Essentially, the Eagles have yet to find a way to stop him.
This game will come down to the Eagles pass rush disrupting Cousins and hopefully throwing him off his game. The Eagles added Timmy Jernigan in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens in the off-season and the defensive tackle has looked like a stud this off-season. He has garnered high praise from defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and should be solid on the line.
In the draft, the Eagles selected defensive end Derek Barnett out of Tennessee in the first round, and he has looked very good through the preseason. The Eagles want him to develop into a standout pass rusher so it takes pressure off Pro Bowlers Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham on the defensive line. All four of these men are poised to have a monster season and they will need to bring their A game right out of the gate to get to Kirk Cousins.
3- Figure out New Redskins Wide Receivers
The last three seasons, the Eagles have seen constant Washington wide receiver corps led that were led by DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Both did their fair share of damage to the Philadelphia secondary over years. Garcon caught 470 yards and four touchdowns against Philadelphia and Jackson went over 100 yards in three of his five games against his old team.
Both are gone this season. Jackson is with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Garcon with the San Francisco 49ers. Enter top free agent wide out Terrelle Pryor, the former Cleveland Brown, who signed a one-year contract. Pryor is coming off his best season in 2016 and should be a top target for Cousins.
On the other side of Pryor should be the 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson. Doctson was one of the top wide receivers in college football his last year at TCU, but he was hampered by injuries and buried on the depth chart last season. Now he has a chance to show why he was drafted in the first round.
It will be up to Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills and the rest of the Eagles cornerbacks to knock these new receivers off their game. If they cannot, Cousins may have another stellar day against Philadelphia and put the Eagles in an early 0-1 hole.