The Washington Football Team’s defensive line is one of the top defensive fronts in the NFL. Many analysts believe it to be one of the best five units across the league, and they will give opponents serious concerns this year. Although Philadelphia’s offensive line has been one of the best units in the NFL over the past near-decade, they underwent some changes this off-season and suffered some major injuries. This match-up is Washington’s best chance at taking over the game and they have a very good chance to win. What has changed from their last meeting, what individual match-ups should you be watching, and does this advantageous match-up give Washington a chance at leaving Week 1 with a win for only the second time since 2013?
Two units trending in the opposite direction
Philadelphia’s offensive line
The Eagles came into the off-season expecting to continue as one of the top offensive lines in the NFL. A trio of All-Pro players in Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson gave them a terrifying right side. Meanwhile left tackle Andre Dillard was set to enter his first season as the incumbent starter after being selected in the first round, 22nd overall, of the 2019 NFL Draft. Isaac Seumalo rounds out the unit, having performed well enough at right guard to remain a starter. This was expected to be the team’s starting line for the upcoming season, and it would have been one of the top units in all of football.
Unfortunately, injuries have taken a massive toll on the unit, and the Eagles will be playing the 2020 season without Dillard or Brooks. Brooks, arguably the top player on the Eagles line, tore his Achilles while running in June. This injury left Philadelphia had a hole to fill at right guard. The team brought in former longtime left tackle Jason Peters, and he’s expected to fill in for Brooks. Peters is not the same player he was back in his time as one of the league’s elite left tackles, but using him as a guard in-between arguably the top center and right tackle in the NFL would help mask any deficiencies.
As if losing Brooks wasn’t enough, the Eagles have also recently lost Dillard, their starting left tackle for the season. They approached Peters about potentially moving back to left tackle for the season, but he has been adamant that if he’s going to play left tackle he’s going to be paid like one. This has led the Eagles to anoint Matt Pryor as the starting left tackle, for now, and training camp reports have not been kind. Pryor has struggled heavily and will be the weakest link on the line when they take the field in Week 1.
Washington defensive line
There hasn’t been much turnover on the Washington defensive line, with the only real difference between last season and this one being the addition of Chase Young. Young was the consensus top player in the 2020 NFL Draft, as his junior year at Ohio State was the most dominant performance by a Buckeye pass rusher ever. Players like Nick and Joey Bosa, and Cameron Heyward all hail from OSU, but none provided the impact Young did on the field. He’ll join an already loaded Washington defensive front that is now one of the three most talented units in the NFL.
Washington finished 2019 third in hurry rate, third in pressure percentage, and tenth in sacks while blitzing at the ninth-lowest rate in the NFL according to Pro Football Reference. This indicates that Washington was able to consistently get after the quarterback without having to send extra rushers, so what will happen when they add the best pass-rushing prospect to come out of the draft in the past few years? We’ll find out early in Week 1 just how devastating this Washington defensive front can be, as they take on a dismantled Eagles offensive line.
Match-ups to watch
Washington DE’s vs Pryor: This is the most obvious mismatch of the game. Washington’s trio of Ryan Kerrigan, Montez Sweat, and Young should spend the game breathing down Carson Wentz’ neck as his blindside will be under pressure all game. This is the matchup that I expect will lead to Young’s first NFL sack.
Matt Ioannidis vs Peters: As I mentioned earlier, Peters is not the same player he used to be. A player who has always relied on elite athletic ability is no longer an elite athlete. He’s also moving to a new position, and will likely draw this 1-on-1 a few times. Ioannidis has been one of the league’s most efficient pass rushers and led Washington in total sacks last year.
Young vs Johnson: “Iron sharpens Iron.” Young comes into the season with massive expectations. We should expect him to dominate the Pryors of the world, but what separates the good pass rushers from the great ones is the ability to win against even elite tackles. Johnson is one of the top tackles in football, and one of the few who can match Young’s athletic ability. This will be Young’s first real test in the NFL, and how he performs could be indicative of the kind of player he’ll become.
Washington and Philadelphia have played against each other in the first week of the NFL season four of the last eight seasons. Philadelphia has been the most consistent victor, but there is a growing feeling that Washington can make this a competitive game. Philadelphia is expecting to be a playoff contender while Washington would just like to avoid picking in the top five for the second time in a row. If Washington wants to win, they’ll need to capitalize on their advantage in the trenches. If the defensive line can have a huge game, the team may shock a lot of people.