Last Time Out
The Eagles (4-6) exorcised some fourth-quarter demons thanks to an epic 18-play drive engineered by Vince Young and a late defensive stand en route to a 17-10 win over the Giants. Juan Castillo’s unit yielded just 29 rushing yards and the Eagles kept the season alive for another week. The Patriots (7-3) got off to a slow start against the Chiefs on Monday night but turned on the jets and cruised to a 34-3 win.
Michael Vick (broken ribs) is slowly getting healthier, but it will be a race against the clock. Given the quick turnaround to play the Seahawks next Thursday, perhaps the Eagles err on the side off caution and turn to Young for one more week. Jeremy Maclin (shoulder, hamstring) is back running, according to Andy Reid, and is considered day-to-day. Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty (shoulder) was forced to sit out against Kansas City. Tom Brady has reportedly been dealing with a bone bruise near his right elbow since mid-October. He went 15-of-27 for 234 yards with two touchdowns and a fumble against the Chiefs.
Player To Watch
Rob Gronkowski. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end has been a matchup nightmare for virtually every team the Patriots have faced this season. Through 10 games, Gronkowski already has 56 catches for 805 yards and 10 touchdowns. With fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker also working over the middle, the linebackers will more than have their hands full.
According to Brady, Bill Belichick “said the Eagles are the best team we’ve played all year with talent at every position.” Pretty high praise for a 4-6 team. Obviously Reid’s group is not short on talent, and showed a f!ght against the Giants that had been absent all season. Could they really beat the Patriots and get the NFL buzzing?
Matchups We’ll Be Talking About
Belichick/Brady vs. Castillo. New England has long owned a smart, prolific offense that has out-schemed even the shrewdest of chess players. Castillo has been criticized for not being ready for primetime. If he can find a way to put a clamp on this offense, he will have gone a long way to earn his stripes.
The Big Picture
This is it — again. The Patriots represent the biggest test remaining on the Eagles schedule. After New England, they play the Seahawks, Dolphins, Jets, Cowboys and Redskins. A win here, and the daydreaming begins. A loss, and Reid is right back in the crosshairs.
The Patriots opened as four-and-one-half-point favorites, though that number is down to three at a couple books. The number is not available everywhere, likely because of the uncertainty around the Eagles’ QB situation.
It won’t be the matchup of the superpowers that some envisioned when the season began, but Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Eagles should be one of the most compelling matchups of the week. After back-to-back wins, New England is 7-3, and sits in command of the AFC East, while Philadelphia -- the self-described “dream team” that looked so good in the preseason -- now sits at 4-6, and likely has no room for error the rest of the way if they want to make the playoffs.
We asked an NFC scout who has broken down film on both the Patriots and Eagles to give us some of the things that really stand out about this week’s game. His words are italicized, and we have added a few notes of our own underneath each entry:
•Philadelphia’s offense will present a problem to the New England defense because of all of the dynamic space-players that they have. New England can’t match up personnel-wise so it will be interesting what it can come up with defensively to counteract.
For all their problems, the Eagles are well stocked with excellent options at the skill positions, including wide receiver DeSean Jackson (35 catches, 591 yards), running back LeSean McCoy (188 carries for 1,019, best on the team), wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (46 catches, 612 yards, four receiving touchdowns, all of which are best on the team), wide receiver Jason Avant (35 catches, 447 yards), and tight end Brent Celek (37 catches, 382 yards). Philadelphia has a more diverse offensive attack than any opponent New England has faced this season, which will force the Patriots to try and get creative defensively.
•When Philly commits to running the ball with McCoy, they can be difficult to stop offensively -- the Eagles are 4-2 when they run the ball 30-plus times. Running the ball will also take it out of Vick or Vince Young’s hands, which is a good thing for the Eagles, as both are prone to mistakes when they have to read coverage.
This would appear to be a strength-vs.-strength matchup. McCoy is the best back the Patriots have faced this season as he leads the league in total yards (1,019) and average yards per game (101.9), and is tied for the league lead in runs of 20 yards or more (eleven). Meanwhile, the Patriots remain in the top half of the league when it comes to stopping the run (after 10 games, New England is 13th in the league, allowing 104.7 rushing yards per game). In contrast to their vulnerability when it comes to allowing big plays in the passing game (the Patriots have allowed a league-leading 51 pass plays of 20 yards or more), they are fourth in the league when it comes to allowing the fewest big plays on the ground -- New England has allowed only four runs of 20 yards or more.
•Philly’s red-zone offense will be an interesting matchup vs. the New England defense and coaching staff. You always have to account for Vick and McCoy.
The Patriots red-zone defense has been solid over the last few weeks (New England is 16th in the league in red-zone defense with a 50 percent rate), but New England could face two unique red-zone performers in Vick and McCoy. McCoy’s athleticism allows him to make moves in tight space near the goal line, while Vick’s ability to keep plays alive with his speed also brings a dynamic presence inside the 20.
Will it be Michael Vick or Vince Young on Sunday? Either way, Patriots will be ready and tested
The slow starts continue to vex the Patriots’ offense
Audio on Demand
Ian Rapoport, Boston Herald
Bill Belichick on the win over the Chiefs and getting ready for the Eagles
Patriots Report Card: Where running up the score is a must
Digging deep to find Bill Belichick's defensive plan
•The Patriots offense will take advantage of the defensive scheme of Eagles. I think they will also take advantage of Philly’s linebackers in coverage. They still have issues in the secondary, and are not using the strength of the players that they have. Overall, they are weakest in the middle of the field on each level of their defense: defensive tackle, middle linebacker and safety. Those weaknesses, coupled with the way Brady dissects defenses, should bode well for New England.
It sounds like the Patriots could have some opportunities in the passing game between the numbers against the Eagles who could have some matchup problems over the middle with pass-catchers like Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. According to Pro Football Focus, only one Philadelphia linebacker -- Brian Rolle -- grades out positives in pass coverage, and he’s only at a +0.6.
•I do think that Philly’s defensive ends could give the New England tackles some trouble with their style of rushing. Brady does a good job of stepping up in the pocket and feeling pressure. I think Tom Brady will do enough things, adjustment-wise based on alignments and tendencies to frustrate the Eagle coordinator and players.
On paper, the matchup of Philadelphia’s defensive ends against New England’s tackles appears to be a favorable one for the Eagles. Left tackle Matt Light was injured at the end of Monday’s win over the Chiefs and was spotted after the game with a walking boot on his right foot/leg. Meanwhile, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer has been a mixed bag the last few games (he may be slowed this season because of a back injury that’s had him on the injury report on a fairly regular basis). Nate Solder has stepped in and been a adequate replacement when called upon on both sides, but he might not be ready for a combo like Trent Cole (five sacks, 27 pressures) and Jason Babin (10 sacks, 24 pressures), who provide the spark for the Philly pass rush. It certainly sounds like one of the points of emphasis this week for Brady will be to make sure he steps up in the pocket to try and steer clear of the outside rush.
•Give the Eagles credit for stopping the potent offense of the Giants last week, but they match up better with vertical passing game with deep quarterback drops than the style that the Patriots play, which is more of a horizontal quick passing game.
Despite the increased pressure from the outside, it sounds like the Patriots’ offense presents a more challenging matchup for the Eagles than the Giants. Look for the Patriots to try and keep the Philadelphia pass rush at bay by having Brady get the ball out as fast as possible.