Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Eagles Preview: Back to the gauntlet
Coming into this five-game gauntlet of competent opponents, I figured Philly was as good a challenge as any. They’d won two in a row, ran the ball with competence, have had success against the Patriots - winning their past two meetings - so they know New England’s not invincible. Still, the closer we get, the more dinged up the Eagles have gotten so that now – even though they’re on the road – I feel like the Patriots are going to have their most impressive win of the year.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN
Last time out, the Patriots ran the ball more effectively than they had all season. To get rolling downhill, though, they had to go up-tempo, feature James White (pictured) running out of no-huddle and basically put the Ravens front-seven on a treadmill. The Eagles – except for a gashing by the Cowboys – have been stout against the run in Jim Schwartz’s attacking defense. How do the Patriots get after Philly? It’s hard to imagine they’ll try to steamroll the front with Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan up from. Those guys are hard to win against – but the Eagles are missing linebacker Nigel Bradham so the front-seven is a little diminished. Expect the Patriots to give their obligatory effort at getting Sony Michel moving early then go to the up-tempo style with White and Rex Burkhead getting the reps at running back.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS
The Eagles have amped up their pass rush in the past five games and they do a good job getting heat right up the middle (thanks to Cox) but the Patriots are going to be too fast for Philly. In six meetings with longtime coordinator Schwartz’s defense, Brady and the Patriots average 35 points per game. The Eagles are bad on the back end and Josh McDaniels having an extra week to prepare a plan for Brady and new toy Mohamed Sanu (and N’Keal Harry, presumably) means the Eagles are going to likely see some stuff that hasn’t been used prior. The Eagles have 24 sacks in their past five games (including 10 against the Jets) and just confused the hell out of Mitch Trubisky and Josh Allen (Dumb and Dumber) keeping both under 50 percent completions. But it ain’t gonna look that way with the Patriots. If the Patriots go spread and up-tempo it should be a pitch-and-catch bonanza. The big issue will be cashing in when they get close and not settling for field goals, a real weak spot for the Patriots offense.
WHEN THE EAGLES RUN
People need to settle down with the notion the Patriots are bad against the run. A unique scheme by Baltimore resulted in the Ravens putting up what was – for the Ravens – an average amount of yards (210). Yes, a lot. No, not a normal attack. The Eagles were making big progress on the ground over the last month, especially in their past two games against Buffalo and Chicago. But starter Jordan Howard suffered a stinger against Chicago and still hasn’t been cleared for contact. His impact Sunday won’t be big. Darren Sproles has landed on IR. That leaves Miles Sanders (pictured), a blocky and shifty rookie to carry the load. He’s productive as both a runner (4.4 YPA) and receiver (22 catches on 27 targets). He’s going to get an uncommon workload, it looks like. The Eagles signed Jay Ajayi on Friday to provide some depth just in case but it looks bleak for the Eagles to make much hay on the ground unless Sanders goes off. The Patriots have to stop the chunk runs they’ve allowed and that means better tackling by their secondary players. Fixable.
WHEN THE EAGLES PASS
Philly is cooked at wide receiver. Desean Jackson is on IR, Alshon Jeffery is out this week and hasn’t been effective, Nelson Agholor has hands like feet, the Patriots are going to smother them. Zach Ertz will be the option that Carson Wentz is left working the ball to and the Patriots are going to make sure he has plenty of company. Wentz has been reached for 10 sacks in the Eagles past three games so expect the Patriots to speed him up, lockdown in man coverage and keep him close to 200 yards passing for the day.
The Eagles have a solid kicker in Jake Elliott who’s made every field goal attempt and missed two PATs so far this year. Their punter is fine, looks a little like Bill Burr and has dropped 13 of his 34 punts inside the opponents 20. Nick Folk was solid in his first appearance for the Patriots and the kickoff coverage issues the Patriots have had were cleaned up as Jake Bailey’s been doing a nice job dropping them close to the goal line. Patriots coverage crew right now is outstanding. Still, Folk being newly-minted as a Patriot makes one a little leery.
OUT: S Patrick Chung (heel, chest), RB Damien Harris (hamstring). QUESTIONABLE: S Nate Ebner (ankle, back), TE Matt LaCosse (knee), WR Gunner (ankle, hamstring), DT Danny Shelton (ankle), DE John Simon (elbow)
OUT: LB Nigel Bradham (ankle), WR Alshon Jeffery (ankle), RB Darren Sproles (quadriceps). QUESTIONABLE: RB Jordan Howard (shoulder)
Bill Vinovich and his crew will be in charge. The Eagles and Patriots are two of the league’s cleaner teams. The Patriots have had the second-fewest flags thrown on them (65); Philly is sixth (69). By contrast, the idiot Browns have had 112. Vinovich and Co. did Dolphins-Patriots earlier this season and a tidy nine penalties were walked off all day.
Line: Patriots favored by 4.5. The total is 45.
Prediction: Patriots 26, Eagles 13.
Week 1: Patriots 16, Steelers 13
Final: Patriots, 33-3
Week 2: Patriots 30, Dolphins 0
Final: Patriots, 43-0
Week 3: Patriots 20, Jets 6
Final: Patriots, 30-14
Week 4: Patriots 19, Bills 13
Final: Patriots, 16-10
Week 5: Patriots 30, Redskins 13
Final: Patriots, 33-7
Week 6: Patriots 16, Giants 3
Final: Patriots, 35-14
Week 7: Patriots 16, Jets 13
Final: Patriots, 33-0
Week 8: Patriots 27, Browns 10
Final: Patriots, 27-13
Week 9: Patriots 23, Ravens 13
Final: Ravens, 37-20