Editor’s note: Staff writer Steve Fini breaks down five players who will decide tomorrow’s clash with the Redskins.
Brian Orakpo (OLB/Redskins) – As Eagles fans, we all know the capabilities of Orakpo. He’s a physical force rushing off the edge. He has all the ideal attributes of an ideal rush linebacker. He was a breakout star his rookie season, but has been moved around this year due to schematic changes on the Redskins’ defense. He’s gotten more comfortable in the 3-4 front employed by Washington.
Orakpo only has 3.5 sacks on the season, but he’s been a disruptive force even if the numbers aren’t showing it. The real problem this week will be that Orakpo gets to go up against new Eagles left tackle King Dunlap (or Todd Herremans if Dunlap can’t go). Dunlap, for the most part, held his own last week, but this week presents a new challenge for Dunlap. One that will be difficult for him to pass.
Rex Grossman (QB/Redskins) – Coming into the season, the Redskins were the laughing stock of the NFC East. They had two quarterbacks competing for a job which neither would have won on almost any other team in the league. Now, five weeks into the season, they are 3-1, have beaten the Giants, and Grossman has been a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. I would love to write that Grossman is a player who if you put pressure in his face and hit him a few times he’s going to falter. He used to be that guy. Now, he’s been standing tall in the pocket and making plays downfield, even with his less than stellar group of receivers.
It’s also concerning that every time the Eagles have gone up against a mistake-prone quarterback they’ve let him off the hook. The Eagles can get pressure on Grossman for sure. The problem will be taking advantage of the bad throws he does make. If the Eagles don’t start creating some turnovers, then the Redskins run game will eat the clock and allow Grossman to settle in as the game manager he’s striving to be.
The Washington Rushing Game - I’m putting this as a group attack because only Mike Shanahan knows which running back will get the most carries on Sunday. It looks like it’ll be Tim Hightower, but the way their offense sets up anyone can be a breakout star in the backfield. Washington doesn’t have a particularly dominant player at running back, but they are effective and deep at the position.
The best of the lot may be Roy Helu, a rookie, but he’s had trouble in blitz pick-up and has played sparingly most of the season. Ryan Torrain, their breakout back last year, might even get the start if Hightower can’t go. Whoever it is, though, is probably in line for a big day against a struggling Eagles defense. Last week, the Eagles cut down on their defensive line splits in an attempt to control rushes between the tackles. They basically trashed the “wide 9” set up and it still didn’t help. With Shanahan’s one cut, zone blocking scheme, they create running lanes very easily so backs can hit holes faster. Combine this with the way Philly has been tackling all season, and whoever starts for the Redskins in the backfield will be looking at a huge day running the ball.
Todd Herremans (RT/Eagles) – He uncharacteristically had a poor game last week. He was beaten badly on Michael Vick’s first interception and really struggled the rest of the way. This week, he’ll be going up against rookie Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan is a big, strong, athletic rush linebacker that plays opposite of Orakpo. He’s only had two sack this year, but has shown up as a disruptive force on film.
As an older member of this Eagles team, Herremans needs to step up as a leader this week. He needs to make sure that this young offensive line is working together, while helping guard Danny Watkins to improve. While it’s true that Michael Vick and the Eagles skill players have to be more careful with the football, the offensive line is partly responsible for the problem, too. Herremans must be the one to help get this line together.
Michael Vick (QB/Eagles) – The last time Vick started against the Redskins he had one of the best statistical days by quarterback in NFL history. Vick accounted for six total touchdowns (four passing, two rushing).
Unfortunately for the Eagles, this is a different Washington team and, even worse, a much different Eagles team.
The fix? Michael Vick will need to be more like the guy he was last year. He might even need to be better. With the Eagles staring at a 1-4 record and looking like they have no leader, he needs to take the reins as the MVP of this team. No more “just misses”, no more “almosts”, no more turnovers.
Even with the bad record, the Eagles still have two games against both Washington and Dallas, and another game against the Giants. They could theoretically get right back into the NFC East picture with a win this weekend. But Vick needs to have a big game while eliminating the ridiculous turnovers.
This is a win-at-all costs game. If he has to run for 200 yards and throw for 50 to get a win, then he needs to do it.