The Eagles go into Foxborough this Sunday to take on a Patriots team that is off to a relatively unimpressive 10-0 start. Despite the undefeated record so far, the Patriots have not looked all that dominant in wins over subpar teams, capped off with their two most recent victories: a win on the road over an unproven Indianapolis Colts team, followed by last night’s 56-10 victory over the Bills that was much closer than the score might indicate. And, the Patriots had the bye week in between to prepare for the Bills.
On the other hand, the Eagles have been flying high as of late, with the most recent evidence coming Sunday in a 17-7 romp–at home–over an underrated Miami team. Though falling behind early against the Dolphins, the Eagles showed the stuff that champions are made of by coming back to take a 10-7 lead into the locker room at halftime. From there, the defense took over, somehow making quarterback John Beck look mortal (109 yards passing, zero TDs). Even the loss of Donovan McNabb could not stop the Eagles offense from piling it on in the second half, as they added 7 more points in the final 30 minutes behind former Dolphins starting quarterback, A.J. Feeley.
That leads us into this week’s prime time showdown between the Eagles and the Patriots on Sunday night. If you just look at the numbers, the Patriots may get the edge, but we all know that NFL football games are decided by more than just raw statistics and fantasy points. Games in this league are won by intangibles that the average fan usually doesn’t fully understand. Let’s try to break down the matchups and see if we can get to the heart of what will actually transpire on Sunday night.
PATRIOTS PASSING ATTACK vs EAGLES SECONDARY:
This is a perfect example of the average fan being misled by media coverage and statistics. There is so much more that goes into to this matchup than just Tom Brady’s 16 touchdowns to Randy Moss (38 overall) through 10 games. Let us delve deeper and see what that means for this Sunday’s game. Yes, the Patriots have an aesthetically pleasing passing attack, led by Brady and Moss, but the rest of the passing attack is not quite in that league. Wes Welker is a glorified #3 receiver and Donte Stallworth was cast off by the Eagles this offseason. On the other side, the Eagles have experience, depth and intelligence in the secondary, led by Brian Dawkins, Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown and, of course, William James. This will be the area of the game that draws the most attention in the pre-game analysis, and though I trust the Eagles secondary to play tough and well, I do give an ever-so-slight edge to the Patriots passing attack in this game.
PATRIOTS RUSHING ATTACK vs EAGLES RUN DEFENSE
This is the matchup in which the Patriots must excel, if they hope to keep this game close. Though the Eagles rank 12th in the NFL in rushing defense, they are coming off a game where they held Jesse Chatman to only 72 yards on the ground, which is quite an accomplishment. Plus, let us think about the Patriots season so far. Every time they have found themselves in a close game in the fourth quarter, they have relied on Brady’s arm to bail them out (see week 9 at Indianapolis). They have not been able to use the running game with effectiveness late in a close game all year. And since we are already 10 games in, it is pretty safe to say that, when the game is close in the 4th quarter, the Patriots cannot truly rely on Laurence Maroney or Kevin Faulk to get the job done. Because of this, I have to give a definitive edge in this matchup to the Eagles run defense.
EAGLES PASSING ATTACK vs PATRIOTS PASS DEFENSE
Yes, Donovan McNabb is questionable for the game on Sunday, but A.J. Feeley has proven on numerous occaisions that he is a more than competent NFL quarterback. Not to mention the fact that he is surrounded by fantastic weapons, all over the field. Brian Westbrook aside, the Eagles receiving corps is (aside from the Super Bowl year) better than it has been since the days of “Arkansas Fred” Barnett and Calvin Williams. Reggie Brown is a star in the making and let us not forget that Kevin Curtis reached all the way up to #3 on the depth chart in Saint Louis a year ago! That is some true talent on the outsides. Then there are L.J. Smith and Hank Baskett, who are just waiting to break out for that 12-catch, 210-yard day that we all know they are capable of. This just might be the week because the Patriots are on the schedule with their unproven and untested secondary and linebackers. Think about it–J.P. Losman threw for 174 yards last night. Is that the kind of pass defense that wins championships? I think not. It is clear that Rodney Harrison’s best days are behind him and Asante Samuel should have left via free agency because he may not fit the Belichick system all that well. Furthermore, we all know that Teddy Bruschi is still recovering from the stroke of a year ago and Mike Vrabel is a far better pass-receiver than he is a linebacker, so there is a good chance that L.J. Smith has a field day on Sunday. The edge here clearly goes to Feeley and the Eagles passing attack.
EAGLES RUSHING ATTACK vs PATRIOTS RUSH DEFENSE:
This Patriots rush defense enjoyed many years of glory under Belichick, but that was a long time ago. Though the results have been decent this year, anybody watching the game closely can tell that this defensive line and interior linebackers of the Pats are old and slow. Futhermore, it is clear that the addition of Adalius Thomas may have even hurt this defense because he just doesn’t seem to fit in with the system in place. Because of all of this, they are going to struggle mightily in trying to control the Eagles three-headed monster of Brian Westbrook, Correll Buckhalter (another TD yesterday) and Tony Hunt. The Eagles offensive line should manhandle the Pats defense and open gaping holes for Westbrook and Co. The effectiveness of this running game may even enable Feeley to throw in some devastating play-action plays, catching the Pats’ often-out-of-position linebackers on their heels. The Eagles have a huge edge in this category and should be able to impose their will on the Pats all night on the ground.
Yes, the Eagles’ special teams cost them the Packers game in Week 1, but they have addressed that need by bringing back former NFL leader in return yards, Reno Mahe, thus turning a weakness into a strength. The Patriots, on the other hand, have been using Ellis Hobbs as their return man all year. Though Hobbs has put up big numbers and may be the fastest player in the NFL, we all know that speed is not everything for a kick returner. Mahe is a more intelligent return man and should get the better of Hobbs on Sunday. As far as the kicking game, David Akers is the toughest kicker in the league and, year in and year out, leads the NFL in tackles made by a kicker. Whereas the Patriots kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, is only in his second season in the league, does not make a lot of tackles and has yet to prove–this year, at least–that he can make a field goal with the game on the line. None of the Patriots 10 wins this year have come from a Gostkowski game-winner. Big-time advantage to the Eagles in this category, as well.
There is no telling how much the SpyGate controversy affected Bill Belichick and his staff this year. They seem a little out of sync and careless, as seen last night when they gave up that early touchdown to the Bills. On the other hand, Andy Reid has proven to be infallible, when dealing with off-the-field distractions. He has so much going on in his personal life right now, but nothing stops him from being incredibly prepared and putting his team in the best position to win each and every Sunday. And, we all remember what happened the last time these two faced each other. For that game, Belichick had two whole weeks to prepare for Reid’s Eagles and they still only came out with a 3-point victory in Super Bowl XXXIX. He only has one week this time. Advantage: Andy Reid and the Eagles coaching staff.
Yes, the Patriots come into this game with a better overall record, but judging by the Cardinals win over the Bengals and the Vikings win over the Raiders yesterday (not to mention the Eagles beating the Dolphins), the NFC may be the superior conference and, therefore, the Eagles have probably played the tougher schedule thus far. Plus, the Eagles have proven that they can win the close ones, as all but one of their wins (80%) have come by 10 points or less. On the contrary, only 1 of the Patriots 10 wins (10%) have come by less than 10 points. All of this, and the above analysis, points to a tougher Eagles team coming away with a sound victory on Sunday night. The Patriots offense may muster a couple scoring drives, but I really don’t see them getting into the end zone, whereas the Eagles offense should have a field day. I predict a final score of 44-9, in a game that isn’t even as close as the score would indicate.