Editor’s Note: Steve Fini breaks down the key matchups in today’s Eagles-Patriots showdown at Lincoln Financial Field.
When the Eagles have the ball:
This game is going to come down to one thing–turnovers. Somehow last week, the Eagles overcame three interceptions by quarterback Vince Young. They were fortunate that New York’s offense was extremely limited. This week it’s the opposing defense that’s limited. The Patriots pass rush is non-existent. They run a 3-4/4-3 hybrid defense and while the 3-4 scheme has given the Eagles fits this season it shouldn’t put much pressure on Young. He should be able to stand in the pocket for the most part and find running lanes when needed.
The only player that might (and will) give the Eagles problems on the Patriots’ defensive line is Vince Wilfork. I put him in my “5 players to watch” because Eagles center Jason Kelce has had real problems against bigger nose tackles. Kelce also has a problem when guys line up right in front of his face. I expect Wilfork to really dominate Kelce most of the game and the Eagles run away from Wilfork, not at him.
With New England’s porous defense I’d look for Eagles running back Lesean McCoy to have a big game. Yes, Wilfork can stuff the middle but that isn’t where the Eagles like to run the football. Left tackle Jason Peters has been dominant this year and really taken a liking to Howard Mudd’s blocking scheme. He gets down field well and because of his athleticism it’s allowed Philly to run the sprint draw so well. Also, New England’s linebackers aren’t very athletic. Brandon Spikes is a really good run stuffing middle linebacker but he’s slow in coverage. The group is so bad that Tracy White, an Eagles castoff who didn’t see the field in Philly, is their starting outside linebacker.
The Patriots’ secondary is hit or miss. Corner Devin McCourty is a young and physical player who can also run. He can play an area and is very smart. He’s hard to beat. The other player who can make an impact is safety Patrick Chung. He’s a big hitter who can make plays on the ball. But New England his still gotten torched through the air this year. I don’t know if Young can throw 40 times in a game, but we might see him do it this week.
When the Patriots have the ball:
As bad as the Patriots are on defense they are still an elite team. While a lot of teams have gone to speed at the receiver position, which has forced defenses to start smaller faster defensive backs, the Patriots have done the opposite. Though productive, Wes Welker isn’t an explosive playmaker. He’s quick, but uses his intelligence to find soft spots in the defense. The true mismatches are tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski gets most of the red zone looks he’s 6’6, but Hernandez works more like a traditional receiver. The problem covering these two is that the Patriots line them up in so many different places. With Nnamdi Asomugha questionable, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out and Asante Samuel a terrible matchup against tight ends, these two could both have huge games.
The one area where the Eagles should have an advantage on defense is the along the line. The Patriots line is simply overrated. Teams can get to Tom Brady. A mediocre Chiefs’ defense made Brady very uncomfortable for 30 minutes last week.
Left guard Logan Mankins is the real deal, but the rest of the line is just average. Look for Jason Babin to have a big day against Nate Solder. While Solder is really big, he’s more finesse than physical so Babin’s bull rush could be effective here. Getting players in Brady’s face and not allowing him a clear lane to throw is the only way to stop him. The Patriots have no run game to speak of, so it’ll be interesting to see how these teams adjust as the game wears on.