The Eagles (5-4) are back from their bye week with what might be their toughest game of the season against the Patriots (8-1) at the Linc.
The last time these two teams played against each other in a game that mattered, the Eagles won 41-33. But a lot has changed since then.
Here are five matchups to watch on Sunday:
Tom Brady vs. Jim Schwartz
No, the Patriots didn’t win Super Bowl LII — I remember that pretty clearly — but Brady did have a big statistical game. He threw for 505 yards with 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. That’s the most passing yards ever in a playoff game. I know they lost and I know that was nearly two years ago, but Brady carved up the Eagles that night. His numbers this season aren’t nearly as incredible. In nine games, he has 2,536 yards with 14 TDs and 5 INTs, but he’s still capable of having a big game.
“Yeah, he's a tough competitor and gives them a chance to win every week,” Schwartz said. “He doesn't make many mistakes.”
So it’ll be on Schwartz to find a way to force him into a few mistakes on Sunday. Maybe that means blitzing, maybe that means showing a few looks for which the Patriots won’t be prepared.
There will be pressure on Schwartz, with an extra week to prepare, to figure out a way to slow down Brady more on Sunday than he did in the Super Bowl less than a couple years ago.
Julian Edelman vs. Avonte Maddox
The Patriots’ top receiver this season has been Edelman, who missed Super Bowl LII 18 months ago. In 2019, the 5-10 slot receiver has 63 catches for 663 yards and four touchdowns. To put that in perspective, the Eagles’ top two receivers (not including tight ends) are Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor. They have a combined 66 catches for 635 yards and six touchdowns. Edelman is a real threat.
Maddox returned for the Bears game before the bye and will be given a tough task on Sunday in Edelman. Edelman has been consistently good this season but also has two 100-yard games.
Stephon Gilmore vs. ???
The Patriots are famous for taking away their opponents best player and they do this in a few different ways. Gilmore is their best corner, so it would make a lot of sense if they just match him up against the Eagles’ best receiver. But Alshon Jeffery’s status is in question. So there could also be the possibility that the Patriots decide to put Gilmore on tight end Zach Ertz, a possibility offensive coordinator Mike Groh didn’t dismiss earlier this week. It’ll be interesting to see what the Patriots decide, especially if Jeffery doesn’t play.
It’s worth noting that the Eagles will probably use a lot of 12 personnel (two tight ends) in this game. And they already use that personnel package more than any other team in the league. It’s something the Patriots have struggled with. More on that from NBC Sports Boston.
Doug Pederson/Mike Groh vs. Bill Belichick
This is where Pederson needs to be innovative. The Eagles will have to have a few scenarios in their minds of how the Patriots want to defend them and have wrinkles ready to throw at them. In a lot of games, I think the coaching matchups are overblown; the players win or lose games. But the most intriguing thing about this game is the chess match that will go on between Belichick and the Eagles’ offensive staff, which includes Carson Wentz. The Patriots’ defense is an opportunistic bunch, leading the NFL in takeaways. So Wentz will have to be careful with the ball, but Pederson’s play-calling needs to be better in this game. Should be fun to watch.
Eagles’ run game vs. Patriots’ run defense
Before the bye week, we watched the Ravens run for 210 yards against the Patriots in their huge 37-20 win in Baltimore. Now, 61 of those yards came from Lamar Jackson and the Eagles won’t have that type of run game production from their quarterback this week. But the point is that I think the Eagles can run on the Patriots.
While they have the 11th run defense in the NFL, giving up 99.1 yards per game, you have to remember that they’ve been up on teams. In four of their nine games, the Patriots have given up fewer than 60 rushing yards. But in those four games, the Patriots have outscored their opponents 74-14 in first halves, including three first-half shutouts. Many teams got behind them and were forced to abandon the run.
And, overall, the Patriots are giving up 4.7 yards per carry, which ranks 26th in the NFL.
The Eagles have found success running the ball this season and they should try to get that run game going against the Patriots.
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