Unbelievably, it’s time for the rematch between the Washington Commanders (3-4) and the Philadelphia Eagles (6-1). The two longtime NFC East rivals last met only four weeks ago in Philly, with the Eagles escaping with a 34-31 win over Washington.
Commanders quarterback Sam Howell was outstanding in Week 4, completing 29 of 41 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns. Howell went toe-to-toe with Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts, leading the Commanders to a touchdown as time expired in regulation. Howell made a beautiful throw to wide receiver Terry McLaurin in overtime that was ruled incomplete. Had it been ruled complete on the field, the Commanders may have may have defeated the Eagles on that day.
As for the rematch, Commanders enter Sunday having lost four of their last five games.
What does Washington need to do in order to pull off the upset?
We’ve identified four keys to victory in Week 8.
Follow the same offensive plan for Week 4
Howell was outstanding in the first game. It was arguably his best performance as an NFL player. Remember the question heading into that week was how Howell would respond after throwing four interceptions and taking nine sacks against the Bills? He responded exactly how Washington wanted him to on that day. Howell has struggled in the past two weeks, so the Commanders are hoping he rises to the occasion again.
As for Week 4, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy didn’t abandon his pass-first mindset, but he called a terrific game, using shorter drops with easier reads for Howell in the middle of the field. That plan had McLaurin involved early and kept Howell comfortable. While the Eagles did end up with five sacks, they didn’t seem as back-breaking as in some of the more recent games.
That was Howell’s best performance and Bieniemy’s best game as Washington’s OC. While they can’t follow the exact same blueprint, it should be similar.
Make the Eagles respect the run
There has been a lot of criticism of Bieniemy for what many believe is his refusal to run the football. I don’t necessarily think Bieniemy has abandoned the run game, but more of the Commanders just aren’t a very good running team. I am not sure if it’s the scheme or the offensive line, but there hasn’t been a lot of holes for the backs to run through.
Washington doesn’t need to have San Francisco’s running game. But the Commanders need to make the Eagles respect the run. Remember, in their upset over the Eagles last season, Washington pounded the ball on the ground. It wasn’t for a high average per carry, but they remained persistent, averaging three or four yards per run, wearing down Philly’s outstanding defensive line late.
Brian Robinson Jr. is the starter, and he’s had success against Philadelphia. Antonio Gibson is the third-down back who can also play every down. Then there is rookie Chris Rodriguez Jr. The Commanders have quietly integrated Rodriguez more into the offense over the past two weeks. It’s a smart plan. Rodriguez is Washington’s most patient runner. He’s powerful and has great vision, too. Bieniemy should feed all these backs because it can also help Howell.
We’d also like to see some designed runs for Howell. Perhaps Bieniemy is trying to keep the hits on Howell down, but offering Howell as a running threat makes the opponent respect the zone read.
Just be better up front
All signs point to veteran Tyler Larsen returning to the starting lineup at center ahead of Nick Gates. Gates struggled badly against the Giants last week. Larsen has plenty of NFL experience, and the Commanders were 6-1-1 with him starting at center last season. Larsen is a big, durable blocker who is excellent before the snap, which could be a massive help for Howell. Regardless of who is to blame for 40 sacks in seven games, the numbers must improve. And Gates wasn’t terrible until last week, but maybe a change is good for everyone to shake things up.
Larsen deserves a shot. With Saahdiq Charles out at left guard, maybe Gates will play left guard. It looks like Ricky Stromberg or Chris Paul will play there, but Gates has plenty of experience at guard, too.
Limit the big plays
Easier said than done, right? It’s hard to stop the Eagles. In all likelihood, they will always find ways to hurt you, whether it is A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert, Hurts, or one of the running backs. But you can slow down the big plays. Jack Del Rio’s defense has given up too many big plays. You want to beat the Eagles, make them drive the field consistently.
In the first game, Del Rio had first-round pick Emmanuel Forbes playing one-on-one vs. Brown. Not smart. Brown ripped off nine receptions for 175 yards and two touchdowns. Now, he has five straight games with 125 receiving yards or more — tying an NFL record.
Washington’s defense must get pressure on Hurts, which means Chase Young and Montez Sweat need to win against the Eagles’ outstanding offensive tackles. It will take a complete team effort for Washington’s defense to limit the Eagles. If they can, they have a chance.