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Spadaro: Eagles must shut down Kerrigan in season opener

By Dave Spadaro

If there were ever the perfect place to exorcise some demons for the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles, FedEx Field is a good place to start. The Eagles haven’t won there since 2013, in large part because Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has been the most dominant Eagle-slayer since the days of Lawrence Taylor when he was with the New York Giants.

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Mission A for the Eagles offense, with all of this fancy firepower — wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and running back LeGarrette Blount — added in the offseason is to slow Kerrigan, who has recorded 14 total tackles and four quarterback sacks in three straight Washington wins over the Eagles in Landover, Maryland.

To open the season with a victory against the NFC East-rival Redskins, the Eagles have to get the offense in gear right away. They have to establish the running game with Blount and Wendell Smallwood, and then work some play-action passing off of the ground attack. Washington’s front seven is its strength defensively, and the premier piece in all of that is Kerrigan, a seventh-year player who has 58½ career quarterback sacks and two Pro Bowls to his name.

“He’s a great player, no question about that,” Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson said. “He makes you work. He has a lot of moves, gets off the line of scrimmage well and he just keeps coming. I’ve had my hands full with him. He’s a real challenge.”

Kerrigan is more than that. He’s the single player who disrupts the Eagles like no other, and he’s a primary reason — along with the play from quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has completed 64 percent of his passes for 12 touchdowns, three interceptions and 1,579 yards in five career games against the Eagles — that Washington has won five straight games against the Eagles, including three consecutive victories at FedEx Field.

For the Eagles to become a playoff team in 2017, they’ve got to win on the road, something they did only one time (against seven losses) last season. Two difficult venues await — at Washington and then at Kansas City and Arrowhead Stadium. The vaunted Eagles offensive line, with Johnson at right tackle, Brandon Brooks at right guard, Jason Kelce at center, Isaac Seumalo at left guard and Jason Peters at left tackle, must play up to the expectations.

And it starts with Washington. And Kerrigan.

“He can change games,” Brooks said of Kerrigan, who ended the Eagles’ postseason chances in 2014 in a late-season game when he forced quarterback Mark Sanchez into a hurried throw that was intercepted, leading to Washington’s final three points of the game. “He can turn speed into power off the edge and he can beat you inside. He’s a veteran guy who knows how to play. He works hard. You can never let down against him. You have to account for Ryan Kerrigan on every play.”

That’s your key matchup to watch on Sunday (1 p.m., Fox) as the Eagles open the regular season amid high hopes. They added in free agency to boost the offense at wide receiver and running back. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan and cornerback Ronald Darby were acquired in trades to lift the defense. Defensive end Derek Barnett was the team’s first-round draft choice expected to make an immediate impact.

Ready or not, here come the Eagles. Is a playoff season ahead? The answer is yes, only if the Eagles learn to win on the road. Sunday’s game offers a perfect litmus test to see just how far the Eagles have come in a year’s time. ••

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