Trent Cole (DE/Eagles) – Pressure is going to be key in this game. Allowing Tom Brady to sit in the pocket and choose where he wants to go is a death sentence for a defense. He has great awareness and can put the football anywhere, especially if he sees the pressure. Cole will coming from Brady’s blindside so he won’t be able to just throw the ball away or dump it off if Cole can get there in time. He wasn’t great against the Giants last week and still may be nursing some injuries but Cole needs to step up in a big way this afternoon. The Patriots don’t run the ball often so he should have plenty of chances to get at Brady.
Joselio Hanson (CB/Eagles) – He’s taken over the slot since Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie went out with a high ankle sprain two weeks ago. He’s done well because he’s built to cover more natural slot receivers which tend to be small guys with very quick feet. Since DRC is tall and lanky he has trouble keeping up with the quick cuts it requires. The Patriots have revolutionized the slot receiver position. Wes Welker mostly works out of that area. I don’t expect Hanson to shut him down. But I do expect Hanson to contain Welker.
Rob Gronkowski (TE/Patriots) – Tom Brady doesn’t throw many passes that are off the mark. But when he does, having someone like Gronkowski helps make it still work. The 6’6, 270-pound Gronkowski can catch almost anything thrown his way, is fast enough to get downfield and strong enough to physically dominate a defender. And yes, he can also block. Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo probably lost a lot of sleep this week worrying about how he’s going to contain Gronkowski. The Eagles safeties aren’t physical enough to do so and the linebackers are too short. If he plays Sunday, you might see a lot of Nnamdi Asomugha lined up on Gronkowski when he splits out wide.
Brent Celek (TE/Eagles) – A battle of the tight ends? The problems Philly has on defense mirror the ones of the Patriots. Coverage is definitely not New England’s strong suit. With Jeremy Maclin out and Jackson a bit dinged up, Celek should figure to continue his reemergence in the offense. Whether Michael Vick or Vince Young is the quarterback, Celek should be in line for a big game. Both quarterbacks have started looking his way in big spots and that should only continue. Also, since the Patriots 3-4 defense isn’t strong at getting pressure Celek won’t be in to block as much. That means one more weapon for the Eagles in what should be a shootout.
Vince Wilfork (NT/Patriots) – Eagles center Jason Kelce is listed at 6’3, 282 pounds. On the field he looks (and sometimes plays) more like 260 pounds. Wilfork, on the other hand, check in out nearly 50 pounds heavier than Kelce, and that may be a conservative estimate. But Wilfork isn’t just a big body. He quick, strong and plays the defensive tackle position as well as anyone in the league. He also somehow has two interceptions on the season…at nose tackle. Kelce has really struggled with big bodies this year and 3-4 defenses have given the Eagles problems. He tends to get pushed into the backfield which creates ugly broken plays. Short yardage and goal line situations could be trouble today. I have a feeling he’s going to make his presence known early and at some point we’re going to see Kelce on his back as Wilfork makes a tackle for loss.