The Washington Redskins open the 2019 regular season Sunday in Philadelphia. Redskins.com's Kyle Stackpole answers questions ahead of the team's Week 1 showdown against the Eagles.
Reggie asks: Who are the X factors on offense and defense who could help the Redskins beat the Eagles?
That's a loaded question, Reggie, as there are several players who could prove to be difference makers in the team's Week 1 divisional battle.
On offense, I'll go with Paul Richardson, by far the most experienced wide receiver on the roster. The 2018 offseason signee has played in 54 NFL games, racking up 115 receptions for 1,564 yards and 10 touchdowns. The other five wideouts? Well, they have combined to play in just four contests.
The Redskins want to lean on their running game, and for good reason. Former second-round pick Derrius Guice is fully healthy, and so is veteran Chris Thompson, who has been dynamic on third downs and in the passing game throughout his time in Washington. And I don't have to waste my time listing the career accolades of 34-year-old Adrian Peterson, who again rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.
But for the Redskins to have offensive success Sunday, they'll likely have to loosen up the defense via the passing game. And who better to do that then a proven deep threat in Richardson, who is finally 100% after struggling through immense shoulder pain a year ago.
Defensively, I've got my eye on whoever plays opposite outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Third-year man Ryan Anderson is listed as the starter on the latest depth chart, but both him and first-round rookie Montez Sweat should see plenty of action Sunday.
The reason for this choice is that we know what to expect from Kerrigan, a perennial Pro Bowler playing some of the best football of his career. We've also seen the defensive line trio of Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis and Daron Payne clog running lanes and pressure opposing passers.
But if either Anderson or Sweat can be disruptive, that will shift some attention away from the other members of the defensive front, making everyone's job easier in pursuit of quarterback Carson Wentz. Which leads us to our second question...
Take a look at photos from Redskins practice on Monday September 5, 2019 before they take on the Philadelphia Eagles.
Johnny asks: With Philadelphia's depth and experience at wide receiver, do you feel that it is even more important to get pressure on Wentz as much as possible?
That's correct. With playmakers such as Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson, combined with an elite tight end like Zach Ertz, Wentz has plenty of receiving options at his disposal. Wentz is also talented enough to exploit certain matchups -- if he has the time in the pocket to do so.
Luckily, the strongest unit for the Redskins is their defensive line, and that's not even including Kerrigan -- who has combined for 37 sacks the past three seasons -- or Sweat, who has the physical tools to provide an immediate impact. Washington has set its sights on becoming one of the NFL's top defenses, and as defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said Thursday, "It all starts up front."
"The sky’s the limit with those guys," Manusky said of the defensive line. "I’m excited; they’re phenomenal human beings and football players. And they’re looking to get after players. I'd love to play with them if I was an inside linebacker."
Manusky brings up a solid point. Applying pocket pressure makes it easier for the linebackers and the secondary, who do not have to remain in coverage as long. Plus, the pressure could especially hinder Wentz, who is coming off a back injury that forced Philadelphia to shut him down at the end of the 2018 campaign. Then he sat out the entire preseason, meaning he has not played a meaningful snap in about nine months.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson is well aware of the Redskins' pass-rushing abilities and how they could ravage his team's offense. He explained their potential to reporters earlier this week, noting it will be a "great challenge for our offensive line."
"This is a good [defensive] front. Quite honestly and this is not to blow smoke, but this is probably one of the better fronts we'll face all season," Pederson said. "They're aggressive, they're long. They're two-gap type players. We know what Ryan Kerrigan can do and with the addition of Montez Sweat -- who is a long, lean athlete who is a really good speed rusher – this is about as good as it's going to get for us. It's a great challenge for our offensive line."
Shrihan asks: Jordan Reed received a harsh blow to the head in the Redskins third preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. Is he activated for the Week 1 matchup against Philadelphia, or will he be held out as a precautionary?
Great question, Shrihan. A lot of the talk around Redskins Park this week has centered around the health of the team's veteran tight end.
As of now, Reed (concussion) is listed as questionable for Week 1 on Sunday after being limited participant in practice the past three days. Head coach Jay Gruden said Friday that Reed remains in concussion protocol and has yet to be cleared for full contact. Gruden added that a decision about Reed's game status should come Saturday morning.
If Reed were at full strength, I would have chosen him as the offensive X factor against the Eagles. His size, speed and route-running skills allow him to routinely beat linebackers and safeties in coverage, which was quite evident during training camp. Of all the pass-catchers, Reed appeared to be operating at a higher level.
Should he play Sunday, he'll add another dimension to a Redskins offense in need of playmakers.
"[Reed] is an elite player," Gruden said. "It's the tight end position, so he changes the game considerably for us."