Eagles-Patriots Preview: Another "Super" Sunday
The Philadelphia Eagles are traveling to New England on Sunday to take on a Patriots team that just lost their perfect season last week and Tom Brady said he's never been so pissed about a loss. On a related note, the most points ever scored in an NFL game was back in the 1940 NFL Championship Game, when the Chicago Bears beat the Washington Redskins 73-0. Personally, I think that record is in jeopardy when the greatest quarterback in NFL history faces this Eagles defense that has allowed 83 points in their last two games.
I know you're thinking that I'm kidding, but I'm not. Would it really be such a surprise? I mean, the Eagles only need to give up 42 points on Sunday and it will be the first time in NFL history that a team has given up 42 points in three consecutive games. That one is a guarantee. And if Belichick and Brady really are ticked off and want to show the rest of the NFL that they're still the best team, then running the score up on the hapless Eagles is the easiest way to do that.
Let's take a look at this incredibly lopsided matchup.
Eagles Offense Versus Patriots Defense
Sam Bradford will return after a two-week absence from a concussion and shoulder injury. It won't help. The Eagles offense has been inconsistent all season, no matter who is at quarterback and throwing the killer interceptions. There isn't a single player in the entire NFL who turns the ball over more than Mark Sanchez, but Bradford has thrown 11 TDs and 10 INTs this season. That's terrible and it's only going to get worse this Sunday. The Pats defense is only decent, ranked 16th overall (349.6 ypg), but the Eagles' complete lack of offensive talent doesn't scare any defense.
The biggest problem with the Eagles offense is their lack of a running game. Big-ticket free agent bust DeMarco Murray doesn't fit with Chip Kelly's offensive scheme and Kelly is too damn stubborn to change anything. He's a genius (in his own mind), remember? Murray's own teammates have questioned his heart and his 545 rushing yards and 3.5 yards per carry average are both career lows, by a lot. Ryan Mathews is still out with a concussion, so that will mean more carries for Darren Sproles, who is nothing but a receiver in Kelly's gimmicky college offense. The one thing the Pats do well on defense is stop the run, ranked 11th (97 ypg). The only slight crack there is the injury to LB Dont'a Hightower. After Hightower left the Denver game last week with a sprained MCL, the Broncos gained 136 yards on 17 carries and 3 rushing TDs. Denver had 43 yards on 15 carries before he left.
The reason the Eagles running game is non-existent is that Kelly failed to build even a decent offensive line. Both guards are not starter quality and LT Jason Peters looks to be at the end of his Hall of Fame career. They can't seem to open up holes for the running game or protect the QB. They have given up 27 sacks, which is 22nd most in the NFL. That is very bad news against a New England pass rush that has the 2nd most sacks in the league (35). DE Chandler Jones (10.5 sacks) is going to abuse Peters and possibly Lane Johnson, if/when Peters gets hurt again and Johnson has to switch from RT to LT.
If the Eagles even manage to get a pass off, I'm not sure it will matter. All the talk this week has been about how decimated New England's receiving corps is, but even without Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, their receivers are still better than the slop the Eagles trot out on the field each week. Leading receiver Jordan Matthews has all of 58 catches for 625 yards and 3 TDs. The rest of the Eagles WRs wouldn't even make the roster on any other NFL teams. At least Bradford will get Zach Ertz back from a concussion this week. That will give him somebody to throw the ball to, if he doesn't have to stay in and block all game.
Patriots Offense Versus Eagles Defense
Tom Brady is going to shred the Eagles defense without even trying. The Patriots have the No. 2 overall offense (402.3 ypg) and the No. 1 passing offense (315.1 ypg) in the NFL. Brady leads the NFL in passing yards (3,600), TD passes (28) and passer rating (106.7). He's also only thrown 4 INTs all season, even though nobody respects their run game. I mentioned before that Brady claimed he was never as pissed off as he was after last week's loss. Well consider this: Brady is 40-8 in games following a loss during his career and hasn't lost back-to-back games since 2012. He's also 4-0 lifetime against the Eagles with 9 TDs and 0 INTs in 165 pass attempts. One of those games was Super Bowl XXXIX. Remember that?
As I said, the Patriots don't have much of a running game, ranked 29th in the NFL (87.2 ypg), but will that really matter against an Eagles run defense that has now dropped to 27th against the run (126.6)? I suspect that the Pats will use RB LaGarrette Blount early and often against the soft Eagles run defense. The defensive line looks tired from being on the field more than any other defense in the NFL (thanks to Kelly's horrible offense) and the LBs look old (DeMeco Ryans) and just plain awful (Kiko Alonso).
I already mentioned that Edelman (61 catches, 692 yards, 7TDs) and Gronkowski (57-931-9) will miss this game, but Brady will get Danny Amendola back and will also have Brandon LaFell. But the truth of the matter is, those two receivers were terrible before they came to the Patriots and started catching passes from Brady. He throws his receivers open regularly and against the Eagles 20th ranked pass defense (252.8 ypg) it's going to be easy pickings for Brady and his collection of average receivers. To make matters even worse, CB Nolan Carroll is out for the season and his replacement is overmatched rookie Eric Rowe, who was last seen being torched by Calvin Johnson. Oh sure, getting beat by Megatron is nothing to be ashamed of, but if defensive coordinator Bill Davis continues to leave Rowe (a college safety they converted to CB) in single coverage again, he should be fired before he boards the return flight back to Philly. The Eagles have 12 INTs, but none in the last three games. As a matter of fact, the only turnover the Eagles have forced in the last three weeks was by TE Brent Celek on an INT return two weeks ago. So sad.
The Patriots offensive line is not particularly good, but they don't have to hold their blocks very long with Brady back there. Most teams don't even bother to blitz Brady because of his quick release and ability to find the open receiver. DE Fletcher Cox leads the Eagles with 5.5 sacks and he'll go up against LT Sabastian Vollmer and LG Shaq Mason. Expect them to double team Cox on every snap or at least get help from a TE or RB. Outside of Cox, the Eagles don't possess another pass-rushing threat. LB Connor Barwin led the NFC in sacks last season, with 14.5, so of course Bill Davis has him dropping back into coverage every play this season. Genius.
How many TDs will Tom Brady throw against the Eagles
The Eagles special teams aren't so special any longer. Oh sure, they still have good coverage units, but it seems like Josh Huff is afraid to run the ball out of the endzone and besides one punt return TD, Darren Sproles has been invisible. Caleb Sturgis also continues to miss FGs. New England, on the other hand, has great special teams units this season. They're blocking FGs and punts and forcing fumbles on punt returns, which is helping them win the field-position battle each week. And Stephen Gostkowski is one of the best kickers in the NFL. Eagles fans should pay special attention to the New England returner on Sunday. You might recognize ex-Eagle Damaris Johnson, as he streaks down the field on a punt or kickoff return. Also, New England's special teams coach, Joe Judge was born in Philly and played high school football for Lansdale Catholic, right near where I currently live.
Do I even have to compare the coaches here? He might be a dirty, rotten cheater, but all Bill Belichick does is win. He always out-coaches the other team by taking away what they do best. Of course, he might be a bit confused by the Eagles offense since they can't do anything well this season. Chip Kelly and his entire coaching staff should have been fired last week after that Turkey of a game on Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, owner Jeffrey Lurie is gutless and I'm sure Kelly will be around for another year or two to further destroy the franchise with his gimmicky college offense that NFL defensive coordinators figured out after just one season. Also of note is that current Eagles defensive backs coach Cory Undlin has a Super Bowl ring from his one season with the Patriots. It was in 2014. Remember that Super Bowl?
Let's review. The Eagles players have quit. They are about to set a record for points allowed in three consecutive games. Their defense is horrible and getting worse by the week. Up next on the schedule is the best QB in the history of the NFL, Tom Brady, who is currently leading the NFL in basically every passing category. The Pats are coming off their first loss of the season and they haven't lost back-to-back games since 2012. The coaching mismatch will remind everyone of that time these two teams played in the Super Bowl. And the Pats can clinch the AFC East for the 7th consecutive year with a win and a NY Jets loss this weekend.
I'm actually glad that I will miss half of the game due to a previous commitment coaching youth basketball. I'll certainly be watching the better athletes from the Philadelphia area on Sunday.
Patriots 51 - Eagles 24