Commanders must be disciplined
The Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Commanders both fall in the upper middle of the league in terms of penalties. That means both teams are reasonably well-disciplined.
In the game last year, Washington played a fairly typical game, accruing five penalties. But Philadelphia was undisciplined. They had seven penalties in addition to their four turnovers.
The Commanders cannot do much about causing the Eagles to commit fouls. However, they can limit their own, and win the penalty battle.
On a crucial third down play with just under two minutes remaining in last year’s game, Philadelphia's final penalty essentially sealed the outcome. Washington was up by five points. Taylor Heinicke scrambled around a bit, and finding no one open, wisely gave himself up in order to keep the clock running.
Eagles edge rusher Brandon Graham bumped him after he was down. It wasn’t a big hit, but it was late enough to draw a flag. Washington was essentially able to run the clock out from that point, punting back with just five seconds left.
Washington will have to play its best game of the season to replicate last year’s result. The encouraging thing is that they didn’t really do anything unexpected last year. Their offensive line didn’t suddenly play a brilliant game. They weren’t explosive. They didn’t play a perfect game.
But they played it smart and conservative despite falling behind early, and they let the Eagles make mistakes.
This week, the big players will have to step up - which means the defensive line will have to harass Jalen Hurts and contain his running. The defensive backs will have to keep the dynamic pass-catchers in check. The Commanders' receivers will need a couple of splash plays downfield. Those things are more or less a given for this team to be successful regardless of the opponent.
If they are able to do that, and to play a smart game like they did last November, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to rebound from their dismal effort against the Buffalo Bills and give one of the league’s best teams a good battle.
Who knows, with a few good bounces, they might even shock the world. It has happened before.