Time for our NFL Week 13 Monday Night Football prediction. Who would have guessed we would be sitting here in week 13 looking up at the Cowboys in first place in the NFC East. I’m coming off a losing prediction from last Monday night so let’s see if we can get back on the horse tonight.
The Line at Wannamakeabet.com: Washington + 6 @ Philadelphia O/U 44.5
But the Boys aren’t that far ahead of the pack. Dallas has a record of just 7-5, which means if Washington beats Philly tonight, they’ll be in a virtual tie and sitting in second place only due to their head-to-head loss on Thanksgiving. If the Eagles manage a victory, they’ll be a game back of Dallas with a rematch looming next week.
Needless to say, whichever team fancies itself a true playoff contender has to come away with a win in this one. And that is especially true for the Eagles. Falling to 5-7 might simply put them too far behind with too little time remaining in the season.
Washington’s offense, like Philadelphia’s, has not been all that great this season. They’re another one of the teams that has cracked the 30-point mark only once this year, and several contributors from that game — Alex Smith, Paul Richardson, half the offensive line — are no longer active on the roster.
Colt McCoy wasn’t terrible in his first start, completing 24 of 38 passes for 268 yards and two scores against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. But he was picked off three times (though two of those picks were simply fantastic plays by the defense), sacked three more, and went just 2 of 6 for 11 yards and an interception on third down throws. He was working with a skeleton crew of pass-catchers and should benefit from the probable return of pass-catching back Chris Thompson to the lineup, but it’s not as though he’s going to be throwing to an elite set of weapons either.
Luckily for both him and Washington’s offense as a whole, the Philadelphia defense is as easy to throw on as just about any in all of football. The Eagles’ defensive line is still good, but not quite as good as it was last year. And if the offensive line can hold up for even a few seconds, they become incredibly easy to pick on on the back end. Philly has so many injured DBs, it’s hard to keep track. And the ones left playing are not exactly the kind that scare opposing offenses.
The Eagles have been torn up over the middle of the field and, especially, on passes to the right side, where their weaker corners have been getting burned all season long. That type of setup works well for slot man Trey Quinn and tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis. And Josh Doctson, who has emerged as McCoy’s go-to guy in the passing game since he stepped in for Smith after the starter’s gruesome injury. If Washington’s offensive line can hold up for just a few seconds after the snap, McCoy should be able to fire passes to open receivers all night.
Of course, the likelihood of that offensive line holding up is also in question. Brandon Scherff and Shaun Lauvao are out. We don’t yet know if Morgan Moses will play. Trent Williams will likely be on the field, but he’s going to be playing hurt, just as he has been for much of the season. McCoy has already been sacked on 9.1 percent of his drop backs, and it doesn’t seem like this group is going to suddenly snap into becoming far better in pass-protection.
The way Washington wants to win games is on the ground with Adrian Peterson, but that just seems unlikely given the matchup of their offensive line against the Eagles’ front seven. More likely, they get down early and McCoy struggles to lead them back into the game.
This season’s Eagles offense has not just been more inconsistent than it was a year ago, but it has also just been flat-out bad. Last year they ranked seventh in yards per game, third in points per game, and eighth in offensive efficiency. They also led the NFL in 30-point games, reaching that mark nine different times. This year, the Eagles are 18th in yards per game, 23rd in points per game, and 20th in efficiency. They’ve scored 30 points or more just once, and in a league where scoring 30 has become far more common. The 30-point mark has been reached in just over 30 percent of games, rather than the 22 percent figure of last year.
Part of the problem is clearly the running game. The loss of LeGarrette Blount, the injuries to Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles, and the general ineffectiveness of Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood prior to the emergence of undrafted rookie Josh Adams in recent weeks all contributed to the Eagles’ run game taking a step backwards.
The running backs averaged 4.57 yards per carry last season but are only at 4.23 per carry this year. Their ranking in rush offense has dropped from 15th to 21st. They have not come anywhere close to recreating the number of explosive plays on the ground as they did a year ago. Just six of Philadelphia’s 231 running back carries have gained 20 yards or more, a rate of 2.6 percent. (And three of those six runs have come in the past three games, as Adams has taken over the team’s lead role in the backfield.) Last year, 3.8 percent of their carries went for 20 yards or more. That’s nearly a 50 percent drop in explosive running plays.
The downturn in Philly’s run game has placed more pressure on Carson Wentz and the passing game, and with the exception of tight end Zach Ertz, too many pieces of that passing game have not been up to the challenge.
Wentz’s overall numbers look right in line with where they were a year ago, but too many pieces of the passing game that flashed last year have been muted this season. The catch rate for almost everyone is up, but the Eagles’ yards per attempt average and touchdown rate on throws to Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, non-Ertz tight ends, and their running backs, are almost all down from where they were a year ago.
Wentz is not throwing deep quite as often this season as he did last year (11.5 percent of his throws as opposed to 14.8 percent), and he also has not performed as well on those plays as he did during his spectacular 2017 campaign. Wentz completed 25 of 65 pass attempts thrown 15 or more yards downfield last season, for 912 yards, 10 touchdowns, and four interceptions, according to Pro Football Focus. This year, he’s completed 15 of 38 such throws, but for only 527 yards, three touchdowns, and four picks. His passer rating on those plays has dropped from 100.2 to 73.8, and from 12th-best among 45 qualified players to 28th out of 39.
Washington’s pass defense has been solid against deep passes this year, ranking 15th. They’ve been most vulnerable to No. 1 wideouts (Jeffery) and over the middle of the field (Ertz), indicating that Wentz may be able to make things happen through the air simply by peppering his favorite targets with the majority of his passes. Perhaps the best way to dominate this game offensively, however, may be to ride Adams, who over the past few weeks has looked excellent.
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