Eagles-Redskins Storylines and Predictions: Can Birds' D Keep RG3 and Alfred Morris from Spoiling Chip Kelly's Debut?

Eagles-Redskins Storylines and Predictions: Can Birds' D Keep RG3 and Alfred Morris from Spoiling Chip Kelly's Debut?

Is RG3 Ready?

There’s already more coverage of Robert Griffin III than you can shake a stick at – even I wrote about him last week – so chances are you’re sick of hearing about the Redskins’ quarterback. We won’t spend dwell on this, but it’s worth noting RG3 is only eight months removed from tearing his ACL, and didn’t take a single snap during the preseason.

Prediction: Griffin is not sharp tonight. Maybe the knee is 100% or close enough, but teams can’t simulate the speed and intensity of an NFL game at practice, where he was also limited for much of the summer. If this were Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, I’d be a bit more confident they could shake off the rust quickly, but RG3 swag or no, he’s still a second-year QB with a lot to learn.

Skins’ Running Game vs. Eagles’ D

Alfred Morris and the Washington’s vaunted ground attack versus the Philadelphia’s defense is the mismatch of the night – at least on paper. Morris finished second to only Adrian Peterson last season with 1,613 rushing yards, while the Redskins averaged an NFL-best 169.3 yards per game. The Birds’ D meanwhile was dead last at stopping the run this summer, surrendering 163.5 YPG and a league-worst three runs over 40 yards in preseason action.

The good news is the Eagles’ issues there might be correctable up to a point. I broke down the main culprits behind the huge gains here, which each involved either losing backside contain, the deep safety taking horrible angles to the ball carrier in the open field, or some combination of the two. In any case, these seem more like mental issues than lack of talent.

If defensive coordinator Bill Davis can get his players to eliminate the 50-60 yard runs that haunted them in the preseason, the Eagles still probably won’t have the makings of an elite unit, but they’ll at least stand a chance at making a few more stops this year.

Prediction: I don’t see the Eagles shutting down Morris, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll run wild, either. Morris’ long run during last year’s rookie season was 39 yards (including playoffs), and he only cracked 30 on one other occasion. He still averaged a very effective 4.8 yards per carry though, so the Birds will have their hands full.

Does Defense Matter?

Speaking of the Birds’ defense, the number one reason most fans and media types don’t think the Eagles are destined for any better than 8-8 this season – and in most cases, worse – is just that. Philadelphia was ranked near the bottom in 2012 in points allowed (t-30th) and opponents’ passer efficiency rating (31st), and now they are making a difficult transition from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 under Bill Davis. There is a chance things could get ugly on that side of the ball.

The question is, if the offense under Chip Kelly is as good as we think it has to potential to be, how important is defense actually? Brent Cohen of Eagles Rewind and Bleeding Green Nation posed this question back in August, and the answer he came up with might surprise you: an average or above-average defense – while no doubt helpful – is not mandatory. Plenty of teams have won or appeared in the Super Bowl in the last 10 years with suspect defenses, but none without a quality offense.

So as long as Michael Vick and company can keep the chains moving and the scoreboard lighting up, and Washington doesn’t lay a 40-spot on Monday Night, Philly should have a shot to win.

Prediction: Although they won’t be good in any classical sense, the Eagles won’t be quite as inept on defense as everybody seems to be expecting. If Griffin isn’t sharp and the Birds can avoid the kind of complete breakdowns that have plagued against the run, there is a chance they will force enough to stops to get out of Washington with a W.

Chip’s Debut

Obviously the big story in Birdland is Chip Kelly making his first official appearance on the sidelines as the Eagles head coach. Naturally we’re all curious about the offense – what Chip has up his sleeve, what the pace will be, and most of all whether it will work in the NFL. We’ll finally have a lot of answers by the time clock reaches zero.

As far as debuts are concerned, they don’t always go so well. Zach Berman wrote about the time Kelly lost his first game as the head coach at Oregon to Boise St. Bob Brookover delves into look the rocky starts the Ray Rhodes and Andy Reid eras got out to in Philadelphia. And both Inquirer writers could have told us to simply look around the league, as Chicago’s Marc Trestman is the only first-time NFL head coach in 2013 to win in his debut so far.

It’s a big night for the future of the Eagles, but history and the percentages suggest it might not be all that memorable.

Prediction: The fact that it’s Chip Kelly’s first game in the NFL likely has zero impact on the outcome. He has head coaching experience, so it shouldn’t be an issue of managing the game. It’s only a matter of whether or not his system works and there’s enough talent on the roster to pull it off.

Final Thoughts

I have a ton of respect for RG3 and think he’ll be a very good quarterback for years to come, but I would be a little surprised if he was at his best on Monday night. Provided Morris doesn’t rip off a 200-yard game, and the Eagles’ offense…

Well, we really don’t know what to expect from the Eagles’ offense. My gut tells me they’re going to be good. What we saw during the preseason (third in the NFL with 397.0 yards per game) suggests they’re going to be good. The up-tempo pace practically dictates they’re going to be good – in 2012, seven of the eight teams that ran the most plays from scrimmage also had a top-10 offense.

So assuming the Eagles’ offense is in fact good, and the defense doesn’t wind up getting totally embarrassed, they’ve got a good shot to win in Chip’s debut. My final prediction is counting on Griffin having somewhat of a rough start though.

Prediction: Eagles 37, Washington 27

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

OKLAHOMA CITY -- James Harden scored 21 points, and the Houston Rockets overcame Russell Westbrook's seventh consecutive triple-double to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-99 on Friday night.

Harden also had 12 assists and nine rebounds to help the Rockets win their fifth straight. Houston withstood Harden's 6-for-23 shooting effort.

Westbrook finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He has the longest triple-double streak since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. The most in a row is nine by Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain in March 1968.

It was Westbrook's 12th triple-double this season and the 49th of his career. He is the NBA's active leader in the category and ranks sixth all-time.

The Thunder had won the previous six games during Westbrook's triple-double binge (see full story).

James moves into 9th on scoring list as Cavs top Heat
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 27 points to move into ninth place on the NBA scoring list, and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Miami Heat 114-84 on Friday night.

James passed Elvin Hayes on a driving layup with 6:58 remaining and has 27,315 career points. The four-time MVP was removed about a minute later and received a loud ovation from the Cleveland crowd.

Kevin Love, a game-time decision because of back spasms, scored a team-high 28 points and had 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers. He missed the morning shootaround but was in the lineup after warming up on the court about an hour before tip-off.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points for the Cavs, who have won three straight after losing three in a row.

Derrick Williams scored 17 points to lead the short-handed Heat, who have lost four straight (see full story). 

Schroder has career-high 33, Hawks rally past Bucks
MILWAUKEE -- Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 33 points and the Atlanta Hawks rallied from 20 down in the second half to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 114-110 on Friday night.

Paul Millsap had 23 points and 14 rebounds for Atlanta. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18.

The Hawks, who ended a seven-game losing streak Wednesday with a win over Miami, trailed by 20 at halftime. A 40-point third quarter put them back in the game.

Jabari Parker scored 27 for Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo, in foul trouble throughout the game, had 14.

Atlanta pulled ahead 105-103 on Kyle Korver's jumper with 3:15 remaining, giving the Hawks their first lead since early in the game (see full story). 

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

DETROIT -- Brandon Dubinsky scored a tiebreaking goal in the second period and the surging Columbus Blue Jackets won their fifth straight game, 4-1 over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

Lukas Sedlak got his first NHL goal for the Blue Jackets, who have earned at least a point in 12 of their last 13 games. Cam Atkinson contributed a short-handed goal in the first period for Columbus.

Dylan Larkin's power-play goal in the second was the only scoring of the night for the Red Wings. Sergei Bobrovsky had 32 saves for the Blue Jackets.

Sam Gagner scored into an empty net with 13.9 seconds remaining (see full story). 

Staal scores in 6th round of SO to lift Wild over Oilers
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Eric Staal scored in the sixth round of a shootout and the Minnesota Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 on Friday night.

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker scored in regulation for Minnesota, which has won three straight.

Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves. He entered with a league-best .946 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average.

Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had goals for the Oilers, whose four-game losing streak began with a 2-1 home overtime loss to the Wild last Sunday.

Staal scored on a backhand deke before Nugent-Hopkins fired wide in the sixth round (see full story). 

Raanta, Rangers beat Blackhawks, 1-0, in overtime
CHICAGO -- Nick Holden scored 55 seconds into overtime, Antti Raanta made 26 saves against his former team and the New York Rangers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 1-0 on Friday night.

Derek Stepan passed from the boards to a streaking Holden in the middle of the ice, and he beat Scott Darling on the stick side for his fourth goal of the season.

Darling was going for his second straight shutout while subbing for injured starter Corey Crawford but had to settle for another solid performance.

Raanta, who made his NHL debut with Chicago in 2013 and played for the Blackhawks for two seasons before he was traded to New York, improved to 15-0-3 in 20 career appearances at the United Center.

The 27-year-old Raanta had 17 saves in Thursday's 2-1 victory at Winnipeg, and coach Alain Vigneault opted to give him a second straight start over Henrik Lundqvist because of his recent play and his success in Chicago (see full story).

Oshie, Johansson, Grubauer lift Caps over Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson each scored a goal, Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves and the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Friday night for their third straight win.

Jakub Vrana and John Carlson also scored, helping Washington beat Buffalo for the third time in 15 days.

Kyle Okposo scored and Robin Lehner made 25 saves for Buffalo. The Sabres have lost three of their last four.

Oshie gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead 6:43 into the second period when he lifted a shot from the right edge of the crease past Lehner. Jay Beagle drew two defenders into the corner and sent the puck back to a wide open Oshie for his ninth goal of the season (see full story).