Eagles

5 key Eagles matchups vs. Patriots

ap-rob-gronkowski-malcolm-jenkins.jpg
AP Images

5 key Eagles matchups vs. Patriots

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Of course Nick Foles is going to need to play well if the Eagles have any chance of taking down the mighty Patriots in Super Bowl LII. 

If he plays anything like he did against the Vikings, the Eagles have a real shot at winning this thing. 

The problem with Foles is inconsistency. What Foles is going to show up? The Eagles hope it'll be the one who was dropping dimes all over the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game at the Linc. 

We won't include Foles in our five matchups because it's almost too easy. But there are plenty of other matchups to watch in this one. 

Here we go: 

Rob Gronkowski vs. Malcolm Jenkins
Gronk is coming off a concussion, but as long as he's in the game, he's the Patriots' biggest weapon. Simply put: he's the best tight end in the league and he's a mismatch no matter what team the Patriots are facing. But it might be a little less of an advantage against the Eagles. Jenkins just keeps getting better and has done well against tight ends over the last couple years. Jenkins is a safety with cornerback coverage skills, but he's also bigger than your average corner, which obviously helps against a giant like Gronk. 

While Jenkins has played really well against the Patriots in past matchups, he said last week that he's never actually faced Gronkowksi. Every time he's played the Patriots, Gronk has been injured. This is going to be huge. 

"This is my first opportunity," Jenkins said. "Obviously looking forward to the matchup. He's a top tight end in this league for a reason. He does a great job of creating contact and using his body to separate the defender from the ball and catches contested throws. He's faster than most people think and then Brady puts it in a spot only he can get it." 

Tom Brady vs. Jim Schwartz 
Oh yeah, Brady. We didn't forget about him. The G.O.A.T. is 40 now and at this rate, he'll be getting Social Security checks before he retires from the NFL. 

"He's definitely the greatest quarterback of all time," Jenkins said after the NFC Championship Game. "But that doesn't mean he's unbeatable." 

The key for the Eagles will be getting pressure on Brady without allowing him to pick them apart. It sounds easy, but the guy has five Super Bowl rings and that didn't happen by mistake. Bill Belichick certainly knows Jim Schwartz well, so it'll be up to Schwartz to figure out a game plan. He's not one to blitz, but what happens if the front four doesn't get consistent pressure? It could be a long game. The one thing Schwartz sometimes likes to use are zone blitzes. He'll at least try to keep the Patriots guessing. 

Dion Lewis vs. Eagles linebackers
Lewis, a former Eagle, has really carved out a nice career since he arrived in New England in 2015. He never really got much of an opportunity with the Eagles, but this year he came into his own as a Patriot. He rushed for 896 yards and added 214 receiving yards on top of that. 

The receiving aspect of his game might give the Eagles more problems. The Birds had the NFL's best rushing defense, giving up an average of 79.2 yards per game. So they should be able to stop the Patriots' running game. But covering receivers out of the backfield is something that has always given them fits. 

It'll be up to Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks to cover Lewis when he comes out of the backfield on Sunday night. 

Halapoulivaati Vaitai vs. James Harrison
He's had plenty of doubters during his two years in the NFL, but Big V might have just played the best game of his career in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings. He was going against Pro Bowler Everson Griffen and more than held his own. Sure, the Eagles helped him at times, but there were also times where he was 1-on-1 against Griffen and won battles. 

This matchup against Harrison is an interesting one for a few reasons. It would make sense for the Patriots to try a few different guys rushing against Vaitai in this game and Harrison is 39 and hasn't played a ton since they brought him in. But there's one thing Harrison can do: he can bend and get to the quarterback. Vaitai seems to struggle against those quick guys who can bend and sneak past him; he seems better against bull-rushers. 

Nelson Agholor vs. Eric Rowe
Another former Eagles' player makes the list. Remember when the Eagles made a huge mistake by trading away Rowe for a draft pick? Well, it turns out the Eagles ended up with a ton of cornerback depth and don't need Rowe anymore. 

The Patriots have two really good outside corners in Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore, so attacking the middle of the field might make the most sense for the Eagles. Expect Zach Ertz to play a big role in that. 

The Eagles should also try to exploit this matchup. Agholor is so quick and shifty in the slot and that has just never really been Rowe's game. Really, Rowe is playing as the Patriots' nickel cornerback because the Patriots are already set outside. His playing style doesn't really seem to fit on the inside of the field, especially not against a player like Agholor. 

Eagles Stay or Go — A few easy choices for once

usa-mack-hollins-eagles-bike.jpg
USA Today Images

Eagles Stay or Go — A few easy choices for once

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Mack Hollins
Roob: Hollins wasn't really a factor later in the season, once Torrey Smith got going, but he did show early in the year what kind of player he can be, notably with that 64-yard TD catch in the second Redskins game. Depending on what the Eagles do about Smith, Hollins should be either the Eagles' third or fourth receiver this fall. Either way, he'll be here, and I expect him to make a big jump in Year 2.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Hollins caught just 16 passes as a rookie and it seemed like he just never started producing the way he seems capable of. Even when Smith struggled, Hollins got more playing time and didn't produce. The good news is he's still young and plays a role on special teams. The Eagles will probably bolster their receiving corps in some way, but if they don't, Hollins will have a shot at starting if Smith is gone next season. 

Verdict: STAYS

Alshon Jeffery
Roob: Jeffery really played better than his stats this year. He made every big catch, caught every big third-down pass, made huge plays in the end zone. Jeffery was a star receiver without a star receiver's stats. His unselfish attitude carried over to the rest of the receivers and throughout the roster. And he did it all with a rotator cuff injury that required post-season surgery. Can't wait to see what Alshon can do healthy.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Jeffery didn't put up eye-popping numbers during the regular season, but if you needed any proof he's a No. 1 receiver, go back and watch Super Bowl LII, when he made that ridiculous catch in the end zone for a huge touchdown. The good thing about Jeffery is he really doesn't care at all about his numbers. There are a lot of diva receivers in the NFL, but Jeffery clearly isn't one of them. All he cared about last year was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and he certainly helped get the Eagles there. 

Verdict: STAYS

Malcolm Jenkins
Roob: Jenkins has so many roles on and off the field — community activist, NFLPA organizer, locker room leader — it's easy to forget just how good a player he is. Jenkins has been here four years and has had four very solid, very consistent, very productive seasons. He made his second Pro Bowl this year and joined Bill Bradley (3) and Dawk (7) as only the third Eagles safety since 1960 to make multiple Pro Bowls. Jenkins is signed to a cap-friendly deal through 2020 and should be an Eagle for many years to come.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: As important as Jenkins is to the Eagles as a safety and defensive back, you could make a legitimate argument that he's even more important to the team as a leader and man. There's a reason he became the guy to follow up Doug Pederson's postgame speeches. He isn't just the leader of the defense; he's the leader of the entire team. And on the field, he's still playing at a really high, Pro Bowl caliber level. He's 30 now but is still signed through 2020 and maybe outside of Fletcher Cox is the Eagles' most important defensive player. 

Verdict: STAYS

Eagles Stay or Go — 2 young linebackers

part6.jpg
USA Today Images

Eagles Stay or Go — 2 young linebackers

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Darrell Greene
Roob: The Hall of Fame cornerback is now 58 years old and 21 years removed from his last Pro Bowl season with the Redskins. Oh wait … wrong Darrell Green. This is Darrell GREENE, and he's a 6-foot-3, 320-pound guard out of San Diego State who's been on the Eagles' practice squad most of the last two years. The Eagles liked Greene enough to keep him around the last couple years, and unless they see something in Chance Warmack that I missed, Greene has a chance to stick around as a young O-line prospect.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Greene has been around now for the last two seasons. He was without a team for most of 2017; the Eagles didn't bring him back to the practice squad until December. The offensive guard had some real potential coming out of San Diego State, and the Eagles paid him a lot of guaranteed money to sign as an undrafted free agent before 2016. But he's never really impressed them enough to stick around for good. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Hicks
Roob: With Hicks, it's always about durability, not ability. Hicks has played more than half a season only once in his three NFL seasons, and since he's under contract for 2018 with a modest $2.068 million cap figure, he's obviously not going anywhere. The question is what the Eagles do with him after 2018 when he's due to become a free agent. Hicks can play. We all know that. He needs to prove this year that he can stay healthy in order to get a big-money deal a year from now.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Losing Hicks was a problem in 2017 and his absence started showing up late in the season. He's a big-time playmaker. It's a shame he got hurt last year because if he didn't, he'd be in line for a payday. For now, he'll be back in the final year of his four-year rookie contract until he can prove he's the same player he was pre-injury. 

Verdict: STAYS

Kamu Grugier-Hill
Roob: Grugier-Hill must be Howie Roseman's dream. He's signed at the minimum through 2019 but is an awfully valuable member of the roster — a reserve linebacker and emergency kicker and maybe the team's best special teamer. Kamu's not going anywhere.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He really doesn't play at all as a linebacker, but Grugier-Hill has become one of the best special teams players in the NFL and had a real chance to be named a Pro Bowler in 2017. He led the team in special teams tackles with 19 last season. He's still young, cheap and is a big part of Dave Fipp's group. 

Verdict: STAYS