Monday Night Preview: Can the Red-Hot Eagles Seize Control of the NFC East?
This week Monday Night Football features Washington traveling to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles . These teams currently sit atop the NFC East, but the 5-1 Eagles are in the driver's seat. Washington, currently 3-2, will look to gain some ground with a win.
Last week, the Eagles narrowly edged out a 28-23 victory over the Panthers in a game that came down to the last second. Washington is coming off a bye, and they also barely edged out a victory in their last game, topping the 49ers in Week 6.
Here are a few key positional breakdowns likely to influence this contest.
On the Eagles' side of things, Carson Wentz has been playing lights out. On the season, he has recorded 13 touchdowns and 3 interceptions while averaging 264 passing yards per game. According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Wentz has been an elite quarterback. To date, Wentz has a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.21, well above the league average of 0.06. Additionally, he has posted a Passing Success Rate (percentages of drop backs contributing to a positive NEP) of 47.98%. This ranks ninth out of out of 27 quarterbacks with at least 166 drop backs on the year.
For Washington, Kirk Cousins has put on a show of his own. He has accounted for 9 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions while averaging 266.8 passing yards per game. According to our metrics, Cousins currently has a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.19, coming in above the league average but just below Wentz. Comparing Passing Success Rate, however, Cousins ranks third in the NFL among qualified passers with a rate of 50.00%.
With each quarterback performing at an elite level, both defenses will be challenged through the air.
Running Back Breakdown
With Rob Kelley injured the past few weeks, Washington has moved toward Chris Thompson as a feature back. Last week, Thompson played a season high 60.81% of snaps, according to our snap counts. For perspective, Samaje Perine played a mere 33.78% of snaps. While Kelley is expected to return this week (officially listed as questionable), Thompson has earned his snap share in this backfield.
According to our metrics, Thompson has been the most effective player in this backfield by far. On the season, he has a Rushing NEP per carry of 0.04, which is above the league average of -0.02. While Kelley also has a Rushing NEP per rush of 0.04, he does not add anything in the passing game. In that department, Thompson has totaled 18 receptions for a Reception NEP per target of 1.24. For context, the league average Reception NEP per target is 0.57.
Barely worth mentioning, Perine has a Rushing NEP per rush of -0.22 on 55 carries this season. Kelley -- assuming he plays -- should immediately replace Perine as the early-down grinder. However, if Kelley sits, Thompson should again lead this team in snaps, and depending on game flow, he could lead Washington's backs in snaps even with Kelley active.
For the Eagles, Wendell Smallwood is expected to return, so the situation looks incredibly muddled. Our metrics find LeGarrette Blount to be the most efficient runner in the backfield, with a Rushing NEP per attempt of 0.06. He comes in ahead of Smallwood (-0.05), Kenjon Barner (-0.27), and Corey Clement (-1.17). Despite being their most efficient runner, Blount offers little in the passing game with only three targets on the year. Smallwood has shown superior pass-catching chops with 7 receptions on 11 targets. With that said none of these running backs project to see even 40% of the snaps, per our models. Blount projects for the most snaps at 39.57%.
The better of these two defenses to start the year belongs to Washington. Per our schedule-adjusted metrics, Washington ranks as the NFL's seventh best defense overall. The Eagles sit in the middle of the pack, ranking 15th.
Washington -- who will be sans lockdown corner Josh Norman -- has been balanced on defense this season, ranking 12th in both Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. The Eagles slot in 16th against the run and 5th against the pass.
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