For only the 12th time since the NFL/AFL merger, the Philadelphia Eagles meet in Foxboro this Sunday to take on the New England Patriots. The series between these two teams is even with both teams winning 6 of the contests. The Patriots have won the last four matches including Super Bowl XXXIX when the Brady led Patriots secured the only 21st Century dynasty to date by winning 24-21 over the Donovan McNabb led Eagles.
Both of these teams are looking to bounce back after disappointing Week 12 Losses. The Eagles enter Sunday’s game have lost four of their last five games. In their last two games, they were outscored 90-31 and are struggling to find an offensive identity going into December. For the Patriots, they lost their first game of the year in snowy Denver which now shrinks their lead for the AFC’s top seed to one game. More painful than the loss, however, was the loss of Rob Gronkowski who left the Denver game with a bruised knee which may sideline him for two to three weeks.
So in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams were broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – Patriots: Sam Bradford……Mark Sanchez……Both may have some talent and have won some games over their respective careers but neither really measures up to what the Patriots have on their roster.
Running Backs – Eagles: The Eagles’ duo of DeMarco Murray and Darren Proles have given them the 13th ranked rushing attack while the Patriots’ running game has been practically nonexistent this season.
Wide Receivers – Push: With the possible return of Danny Amendola, the wide receiver matchup between these two teams will be fairly even from a production standpoint.
Tight Ends – Eagles: Until Rob Gronkowski makes his return to the sideline, the Patriots may have one of the worst pass catching tight end groups in the NFL right now.
Offensive Line – Eagles: Both offensive lines have yielded similar stats in pass protections when looking at sacks allowed and sack yardage surrendered. However the Eagles have run blocked far better than their Patriot counterparts which gives them the advantage in this comparison.
Defensive Front Seven – Patriots: Though coming off a tough outing in Denver, the Patriots front seven has consistently put pressure on opposing quarterback (2nd in the NFL with 35 sacks) and have allowed under 100 yards per game this season. This should only be bolstered with the possible return of Jamie Collins this weekend.
Secondary – Push: Both teams have allowed virtually an identical amount of passing yards per game. Thought the perception has been that the Eagles’ secondary has been getting roasted week after week, statistically there is no clear advantage for either team in this area.
Special Teams – Push: While the Patriots have all world kicker Stephen Gostkowski who can certainly help win a game in crunch time, the Eagles have Darren Proles who can easily turn a game around with a single return.
Coaching – Patriots: During the off season, Chip Kelly got exactly what he wanted: Total Control. However Chip Kelly the GM put Chip Kelly the Head Coach in a terrible position by not addressing their quarterback position. In today’s NFL, we all know that the quarterback is a key factor between putting a team in contention for the playoffs or lining up for a high draft pick. For the Patriots, injuries on the offensive side of the ball have left Belichick with virtually nothing to work with except for a quarterback. The good news is that Belichick’s proven track record has shown he usually needs very little beyond Tom Brady to find a way to pull out a regular season victory.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) Find Some Offense on 3rd Down: In the last four weeks, the Patriots have lost a significant player from their offense. The greatest impact of this has been felt on 3rd down where the Patriots went from being near the top of the NFL to being only 13 for 41 on 3rd down attempts in the last 3 games. The Patriots need to find a way to be more efficient in early downs so that they don’t put themselves in precarious positions now that they have limited resources at their offensive skilled positions.
2) Improved Linebacker Play: Last Sunday, the Patriots defense was gashed by Denver’s cut back running plays. Over pursing led to lost containment when the opposing running back cut back across the defense. The Patriots need to be much more disciplined in their lane assignments going against the Eagles who will be trying to run the ball to protect their quarterback’s play and to set up their play action passing game.
3) Keep an eye on Darren Sproles: Whether lining up on offense or on special teams, Sproles is a matchup nightmare and a game changer that can easily swing the score in a single play. The Patriots must make sure they are aware whenever his is on the field and pay attention to his play assignment.
The Patriots enter Sunday’s game a mere shell of the team that they were four weeks ago. Luckily they are playing at home and are probably more motivated this week after suffering their first meaningful loss in a year. However New England has hit a tipping point because of the injuries to their offensive personnel. The Patriots coaching staff has done a masterful job with masking the team’s deficiencies all season long but at some point those deficiencies are going to be too great to overcome.
The Patriots need to reestablish some offensive identity this weekend that they can build on until some of their skilled players can return. Expect a low scoring game where points will be at a premium.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 20 – Eagles 17