By Matt Szczypiorski, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
Eagles vs. Patriots. Those three words are enough to stir up the emotions of any Eagles fan. You know exactly where you were, who you were with and how long you cried tears of joy the last time these two teams played.
While this Sunday’s edition of Eagles-Pats doesn’t hold nearly the same weight of the last match-up, it is a very important game for the Birds.
The Eagles head into Sunday on a two-game winning streak off their bye in the thick of the playoff race. Yet, it doesn’t feel like it. Why?
To me, it’s a combination of reasons. One would be that with a 5-4 record, this team is not where we anticipated they would be in the beginning of the season. Another would be the excessive amount of injuries to key players this team has suffered (DeSean Jackson, Nigel Bradham, Jason Peters, Alshon Jeffery).
The final, but most significant reason, at least in my opinion, is that even with all of those factors, the Eagles performances have been quite, dare I say, underwhelming. They are a 5-4 team that could easily be 7-2 if their receivers could catch the football. They’ve had some extremely disappointing losses coupled with some wins that hardly felt like wins considering the way they played.
I know, a win is a win. But if this team expects to be competing for a playoff spot, I’m going to need to see some more convincing performances from the entirety of the team. Not only that, but it needs to be more consistent. It’s time for the Birds to make a run.
Eagles Offense vs. Patriots Defense
The Eagles offense has their work cut out for them yet again this week. After playing two top-tier defenses and coming away victorious, the Eagles will face an even tougher test against the best defense in the league.
The Eagles offense that we last saw two Sundays ago against Chicago is going to have some players that will be familiar, but weren’t on the team then. The Eagles signed Jordan Matthews, again, for wide receiver depth after sending DeSean Jackson to the injured reserve. They also reportedly have signed running back Jay Ajayi, who last appeared in an NFL game last October with the Eagles. Uh, yay?
Eagles intend to sign Jay Ajayi after he worked out this morning, according to @RapSheet— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) November 15, 2019
This is Jay this morning having breakfast at the NovaCare Complex
Will he be active Sunday? 🤔 #Eagles
📸 @LaneJohnson65 pic.twitter.com/tcfZSCblRa
Philadelphia’s offense may also be missing some starters, as Alshon Jeffery, Jordan Howard, and Jason Peters all either did not participate or were limited in Thursday’s practice. At what point do we start considering Eagles injuries a trend and not purely coincidental? This makes now three years in a row where the Eagles have been one of the most injury-prone teams in the league. Something smells fishy to me.
If the Eagles do end up being without those three starters, Sunday could be a long afternoon. Howard has been the Eagles most consistent running back and has been great, so losing him could be catastrophic for this offense. The Eagles have already been without Alshon Jeffery for two games this season, I don’t think I need to remind anyone how that went.
Andre Dillard has actually been very good in place of Jason Peters, so if Peters is forced to sit out this week, it wouldn’t be too detrimental.
Doug Pederson is going to have to get extremely creative this week if the Eagles are going to win this game. Bill Belichick consistently takes away an offense’s best weapon, so expect the Patriots to attempt to take the Eagles tight ends out of the game.
That means Carson Wentz and the offense are going to be forced to rely on some role players to have big games. That means a lot of Miles Sanders, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews, and (holds nose) Mack Hollins. Hopefully the Eagles defense has their best game of the season.
New England’s defense is coming off an embarrassing performance against the Lamar Jackson led Ravens. It’s the first time this season that the Patriots defense has looked even remotely vulnerable. Other than that, they’ve been dominant. Unfortunately, I think the Patriots defensive performance against Baltimore was an anomaly more than the beginning of a downfall.
New England ranks #1 in the NFL in total yards allowed per game (249.33) and points allowed per game (10.89). They have the second ranked pass defense in the league to go along with a rush defense whose stats would look better had they not been drubbed by Baltimore’s vicious running game two weeks ago (they are still 11th in the league against the run).
The defensive line is solid with players that aren’t household names but do a great job in their role. The linebacking unit has studs in Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, and Kyle Van Noy, who are all at least decent in every facet of their position. The secondary is great, with the dominant brother duo of Jason and Devin McCourty, to go along with cornerback Stephon Gillmore. Gillmore is solidifying himself as the best cornerback in football.
This version of the Patriots defense is everything that Bill Belichick wants from his defense. They are all stars in their own role, even though you may not be familiar with their names. In other words, they are the epitome of “The Patriot Way.” As I said, the Eagles offense has their work cut out for them.
Injury Report: Patriots at Eagles
Eagles Defense vs. Patriots Offense
The Eagles defense has been playing much better of late. They’ve played seven quarters of near dominant defense against two of the worst offenses this league has to offer, as they should be.
However, the fourth quarter against the Bears was simply unacceptable. Mitch Trubisky looked like Dan Marino against the Birds defense in the fourth quarter. Mitch Trubisky and Dan Marino should never be in the same sentence.
The Eagles defense is going to have to play their best game of the season against Tom Brady and the Pats offense. The key to this game is going to be if the Eagles can get pressure on Brady and the Patriots beat up offensive line with their front four.
History has shown that when you blitz Tom Brady, he tears you to shreds. He’ll also rip defenses apart that give him all day to throw. It is absolutely imperative that the Eagles defensive line goes scorched Earth against the Patriots offensive line and gets in Tom Brady’s face all afternoon. Brady has struggled mightily this season when teams have been able to get pressure on him (see his performances against Buffalo and Baltimore).
If the Eagles don’t get pressure on Brady and make him uncomfortable in the pocket, they will lose the game. That’s not a prediction, that is a fact. If you don’t believe me, look at the three Super Bowls Brady has lost. In all three, the defensive lines were able to make at least one big play (shoutout to Brandon Graham), or in the Giants case, be in his face all game.
The Patriots offense has been unlike most Patriots offenses of recent years. They rank 10th in the league running the football and 22nd in passing. That is the complete opposite of what you’d expect from a team who employs the greatest quarterback the league has ever seen.
For the last two seasons, the Patriots have relied heavily on their running game to set up the pass. They simply aren’t asking Brady to do a whole lot. It’s a lot of short passes and effective runs that move the chains and chew up clock. Then, just when they’ve sucked up the defense, they hit them over the top for a big play. It’s like clockwork.
The Patriots play a very boring brand of football, but it works. They are second in the league in scoring, as they average 30 points per game.
Running back Sony Michel has had a disappointing sophomore campaign after a great rookie season. Running back James White is one of the best pass catching running backs in the league, and is incredibly annoying to play against. The Eagles need to have an answer for him.
The receiving core is once again led by Julian Edelman. He is Brady’s go-to target in any big situation. He will have at least eight catches on Sunday, you’ll see him a lot. Phillip Dorsett and recently acquired Mohamed Sanu are good compliments to Edelman on the outside. Sanu is a good possession receiver and Phillip Dorsett is their home run hitter.
The Patriots offensive line is one of the worst Brady has ever had. They’ve been without last year’s first round pick Isaiah Wynn at left tackle and lost center David Andrews to a blood clot prior to the season. They are extremely vulnerable and the Eagles need to take advantage of that.
Sunday could be a very long, and painful afternoon for Eagles fans. I expect the Eagles to compete hard and hang with New England, especially with having two weeks to prepare. Unfortunately, the Patriots have also had two weeks to prepare, and are coming off a loss. The Patriots have been historically fantastic following either scenario, so combining the two situations is not ideal for the Birds.
With the Eagles as banged up as they are, I simply do not have the confidence to justify picking the Birds to upset the Patriots. New England wins, 27-13.
It’s a low-scoring affair heading into the fourth quarter, where the Patriots will pull away because the Eagles defense has been on the field for most of the game. The Eagles offense simply does not figure out the vaunted Patriots defense, and with little to no playmakers around Wentz, it is tough for the Eagles to move the ball.
I will finish the night watching Super Bowl LII highlights to help with my sorrows.
Potential Silver Lining
The good news for the Eagles is that this game will not make or break their season (mathematically, at least). Even if the Eagles lose and Dallas wins this weekend, the Eagles will be only one game behind the hated Cowboys. Dallas has the toughest stretch of their schedule coming up, and they still have to come to Philly for a game that could determine the division.
Keep your heads up, Eagles fans. I, along with you all, will try to stay rational.
Now, if the Eagles end up winning on Sunday, the Super Bowl hype will be back on and the Eagles won’t lose a game the rest of the season. I’m just being rational.
Time: 4:25 p.m.
Radio: 94.1 FM WIP
Online: NFL Gamepass
Bonus: One of my Favorite Pictures Ever