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Good CNN MNF matchup breakdown


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The article is here:

MNF Matchup

Philadelphia (0-1) at Washington (1-0)

Monday, 9 p.m. EDT (ABC)

FedEx Field (86,484), Landover, Md.


Fireworks will explode at FedEx Field on Monday night, but the spectacle will take place on the field rather than in the air above the stadium. The Eagles, whose usually aggressive West Coast offense fizzled in the second half of their season-opening 27-24 loss to Tennessee, look to rebound against the Redskins. Washington runs an unconventional but effective East Coast attack which combines elements of the West Coast system with head coach Steve Spurrier's Fun 'N' Gun scheme. The Redskins find themselves atop the NFC East as the division's lone winning team last weekend. Meanwhile, Philadelphia must put aside the fact that, in the last 12 seasons, only 25 percent of clubs that have lost on Opening Day have advanced to the playoffs.


• Redskins' offense vs. Eagles' defense

The East Coast offense that Spurrier unveiled last week in Washington's 31-23 defeat of Arizona may look unorthodox but it actually follows some basic rules of the game. Like its West Coast counterpart, the Redskins' East Coast system uses the pass to set up the running game. Rather than throw short passes to maintain ball control, however, Spurrier likes to stretch the field vertically with deeper pass routes, especially against a three-deep zone where one of his receivers will face single coverage. This strategy, along with solid pass blocking by the offensive line, allowed QB Shane Matthews (28 of 40, 327 yards) to recover from a tipped ball interception to throw touchdown passes of 26, 43 and 17 yards to three receivers. Big, physical WR Rod Gardner, coming off a very average rookie year, had a breakout game with seven receptions for 131 yards and one TD. Any fears that RB Stephen Davis would become a forgotten man in this pass-oriented offense were put to rest when he carried the ball 26 times for 104 yards. Washington spent much of the third quarter running Davis behind T Chris Samuels (who played with a sprained ankle) and backup G David Loverne, who showed quickness in combo blocking and reaching the linebackers.

From the first defensive play of the new season, when they gave up a 20-yard pass, it was obvious that the Eagles were going to have trouble stopping the pass. Tennessee attacked backup CB Al Harris (starting for the injured Troy Vincent) and nickelback Sheldon Brown, a rookie. Middle linebacker Levon Kirkland, brought in from Seattle as a run-stopper, was unable to keep up with Eddie George in pass coverage. The defense was able to regroup in the second quarter, getting Tennessee's offensive line off balance as the penalties started piling up. Defensive end Hugh Douglas was a major disruption with a forced fumble on a screen pass, a sack and a hit that separated George from his helmet. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson created a blitz package that added pressure between the tackles. It held George to 2.3 yards per rush but was relatively ineffective against the pass. On Tuesday. Philadelphia signed free-agent DE Michael Sinclair to replace the injured Derrick Burgess on what was already a thin defensive line.

• Eagles' offense vs. Redskins' defense

The Eagles did not show their cards during the preseason, preferring to save their tricks for when it counted. Last Sunday, Philadelphia started in an empty set but QB Donovan McNabb could not find an open receiver. The Titans' penetrating defense on running downs took away RB Duce Staley's cutback angles, limiting him to 2.6 yards per carry. With a minimal running game and the loss of G John Welbourn to a broken leg, the Eagles went to the air, completing 14 of their first 19 passes, three for touchdowns. Six of those passes were to wide receivers for 103 yards, including long gains by James Thrash (17 yards) and Antonio Freeman (31 yards). Inside the 20, TE Chad Lewis continued to be a favorite target for McNabb, with four of eight red-zone passes coming his way. After seeing his quarterback get sacked three times in the first half (six total for the game) and throw an interception to open the second half, head coach Andy Reid tried to sit on a 14-point lead by running the ball to keep the clock moving. The offense lost its rhythm and momentum, and had trouble adjusting to the increased number of Tennessee's blitz packages and man-to-man coverages.

With four No. 1 draft picks starting on the line and three All-Pro linebackers behind them, the Redskins' defense gains immediate respect and credibility. While it did not turn in a dominating performance last week against Arizona, the defense did hold the Cardinals to 70 rushing yards and, excluding the TD scored on an offensive turnover inside the 10, yielded 16 points. The front seven are quick to flow to the ball and had a big goal-line stand in the second quarter, holding Arizona to a field goal after stopping three plays within the 4-yard line. Linebacker Lavar Arrington showed his versatility by defending a pass early in the game and creating pressure on the quarterback as a pass-rusher in nickel packages. Veteran DE Bruce Smith sniffed out a screen pass in the third quarter, making a tackle for a 5-yard loss. With Fred Smoot and Champ Bailey at the corners and Darrell Green as the nickelback, Washington held the Cardinals to 187 yards passing as Jake Plummer started the season with a QB rating of 53.8.


After tearing a quadricep muscle in the fourth quarter, K Brett Conway was put on injured reserve, which effectively will end his career with the Redskins. His replacement, James Tuthill, had been with the club in preseason but has limited experience. When Conway was injured during the 2000 season, the team used four kickers who made just eight of 19 field goals of more than 30 yards. It's no coincidence the team lost four games by a total of 12 points that year. Backup QB Danny Wuerffel's effort as an emergency kicker against the Cardinals proves the need for a competent replacement.

In the first quarter last week, Eagles K David Akers hit an onside kick to keep the pressure on the Titans. The league average for successful onside kicks was 23 percent last season; the Eagles' average was 75 percent. A 46-yard kickoff return by the ageless Brian Mitchell was negated by a holding penalty in the third quarter. Against the Titans, 40-year-old punter Sean Landeta had a 43.8-yard average on six punts with three inside the 20.


WR Antonio Freeman vs. DB Darrell Green

Philadelphia finally has an experienced slot receiver who knows the West Coast system and can be an onfield leader. With the Packers, Freeman led the league in receiving yards during the 1998 season. Green still has speed and competitiveness to cover the inside game, defending a third-down pass last week.

QB Donovan McNabb vs. Redskins' pass rush

McNabb needs time to read his progressions in the West Coast offense and was sacked six times last week, partially because he held the ball too long. The Washington pass rush did not generate a sack last week and would prefer to contain McNabb, forcing the Eagles QB to beat them with his arm rather than his scrambling ability. Arizona was able to hold McNabb to three rushing attempts for 15 yards.

RB Stephen Davis vs. Eagles' run defense

Davis strained a groin muscle early in the third quarter last week and still racked up 39 more yards. He will need to play at the same level this week to keep Philadelphia's linebackers focused on stopping the run. This, in turn, should open holes over the middle for the Redskins' passing game. The 2001 NFC rushing leader also does not want to become the forgotten man in the new pass-oriented offense.


The Redskins converted on 56 percent of their 16 third-down attempts last week, rushing the ball six times in that situation and converting five. Washington only converted four of 10 third-down attempts through the air. If it's a short-yardage situation, look for Davis as the ball carrier or receiver out of the backfield.

One of Philadelphia's goals this season is to improve on its 31 percent third-down conversion rate from last year. Last week the offense was successful 47 percent of the time but the defense gave up a whopping 60 percent to the Titans. The bulk of those plays were made throwing the ball against a secondary that was forced to play without Vincent. The Fun 'N' Gun offense would love to go up against a substitute on third down.


In Spurrier and Marvin Lewis, the Redskins have paired one of the game's most innovative offensive minds with one of the league's best defensive strategists. Spurrier's strengths are his teaching skills, the simplicity of his scheme and the freedom he affords his quarterback to adjust and audible. New defensive coordinator Lewis inherited a wealth of talent and his presence contributed to LB Jeremiah Trotter's decision to sign with Washington. If Lewis can continue to get his All-Star cast to work as one unit, the Redskins will be hard to score against.

Reid is a disciple of the West Coast offense and has patiently waited for McNabb to mature in the system. When the QB and receivers are in sync -- as was the case last postseason when the Eagles averaged 31 points per game -- the offense is virtually impossible to defend. Reid admitted that sitting on a halftime lead and trying to run out the clock was a mistake last week and has vowed to play more aggressive offense. Johnson's blitzing defensive scheme has often kept Philadelphia in games until its offense ignited. Last season the Eagles gave up the second fewest points in the league and held opponents to a 30.4 percent success rate for scoring touchdowns in the red zone. The Eagles did not have a sack last week but the strategy was to contain the mobile Steve McNair and make him beat them with his arm.


The Redskins' offense is exciting but not indestructible. The quarterback must sit in the pocket and throw timing routes. The Eagles like to blitz up the middle and the Fun 'N' Gun will break down if Matthews is flushed out. Philadelphia will mask its coverages more often against Washington in an effort to create false reads for the receivers. Without an experienced kicker, expect the Redskins to gamble on passes into the end zone rather than attempt field goals. If Davis is not 100 percent at game time, "gadget" plays (i.e. the fake reverse and the no-huddle offense) will not be enough to keep the Eagles' defense honest. Philadelphia likes to throw short passes on first down and the Redskins will pick up on that tendency. Washington needs to force the Eagles' receivers to adjust their pass routes on third downs and cause Philadelphia to punt. The Redskins' defense needs to contain McNabb (shades of McNair from last weekend) and force him into making mistakes. If this turns into a high-scoring affair, look for Washington to win at home by at least a touchdown.

This is pretty solid and thorough analysis. For example, they correctly noted that Loverne blocks in tandem (with the center). They did blow one of their matchups though in that Green won't be covering Freeman in the slot, but Bailey will.
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Gardner had an "average rookie year"?

Didn't he have the second best season of all rookie receivers last year? Sure, he had a lot of drops, but his production was hardly average for a rookie.

A few other nits here and there, but it seems like a solid attempt to get more in depth than you're accustomed to seeing from these publications.

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I fixated momentarily on that comment too, but then took a step back and realized it's fair. If you eliminate the Carolina game, his 15 other games were indeed very average. He had his ups and downs which you expect to a certain degree from a rookie WR (especially one who's on the receiving end of passes from crappy QB's in a crappy offensive system). Look at Chris Chambers for a good year. The rest of the rookie WR's struggled last year.

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