Eagles offense vs. Patriots defense
The good news for the Eagles is that the Patriots' defense is not nearly as good as the Patriots' offense. The bad news, of course, is that the Patriots' defense is really good. New England is fourth in the NFL with 22 takeaways, a big reason why the team leads the league in turnover differential at plus-13. The Pats' 3-4 scheme is ranked fourth in the NFL in yards allowed, and has allowed the second-fewest points behind Pittsburgh. Mike Vrabel, at 32, is having a career year from his outside linebacker position. He has a league-best 9 1/2 sacks and a career-high five forced fumbles. All four of the Pats' linebackers - Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Adalius Thomas and Rosevelt Colvin - are 30-something veterans not easily fooled. The Patriots have good depth on the defensive line, but five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour recently returned from a knee injury and is not anywhere close to his former stature. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork, at 6-foot-2, 325 pounds, will be a challenge for Eagles center Jamaal Jackson and guards Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews. Veteran cornerback Asante Samuel leads the Patriots with four interceptions. When the teams last met in the Super Bowl, the Pats stifled Brian Westbrook and the Eagles' running game. The Eagles need to run the ball in order to keep it away from the New England offense, which is second only to Pittsburgh in time of possession.
Yes, the Patriots are one of the best in the NFL in this department, too. Their average starting field position after kickoffs - the 31.6-yard line - is fourth-best in the NFL, which could pose serious problems for the Eagles' coverage teams. The Pats' kickoff coverage unit ranks eighth. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has connected on 11 of 12 field-goal attempts and is tied for second in the league in kickoff touchbacks. Cornerback Ellis Hobbs is the Patriots' kickoff returner. He is ranked fifth in the NFL with a 27.8-yard return average, including a 108-yard return for a touchdown against the New York Jets. Welker is the Pats' punt returner and averages 11.2 yards per return. The Pats rank better than the Eagles in all of the above areas.
The pressure is all on the Patriots, because they are trying to make history by becoming the league's first 16-0 team - and no one who works outside of the NovaCare Complex thinks the Eagles have a chance to even be competitive in this rematch of Super Bowl XXXIX.
Scouting the Patriots
2007 Record: 10-0. Coach: Bill Belichick (121-81, 13th season, eighth with New England).
Points per game: 41.1.
Opponents' points per game: 15.7.
Series record: The Eagles lead, 6-5.
Last meeting: Feb. 6, 2005. The Patriots won Super Bowl XXXIX, 24-21, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Current series streak: Patriots have won two straight.
Who's hot: It is a long list. Tom Brady has thrown 38 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. He is on pace to throw 61 TDs this season, which would shatter Peyton Manning's NFL single-season record of 49 touchdowns. WR Randy Moss already has 1,052 yards receiving and 16 TDs. He needs seven more TD catches to break Jerry Rice's single-season record of 22, set in 1987. WR Wes Welker already has single-season career highs of 68 catches - two more than Moss - 729 yards and seven TDs. He had one career TD catch before this season. LB Mike Vrabel is tied for the league lead with 9 sacks and has forced five fumbles. He also has two catches, both for touchdowns, giving him 10 career catches, all for touchdowns.
Who's not: Former Eagles WR Dont Stallworth dropped a pass last week, and that is about as close as you get to finding somebody who is not hot on this team.
Who's hurting: After missing practice Wednesday and Thursday with a sore ankle, defensive end Jarvis Green was not even listed on the injury report Friday. Brady (right shoulder) was listed as probable after being limited at practice all week.
Eagles blitz package vs. Tom Brady
For the Eagles to even stay close in this game, defensive coordinator Jim Johnson needs to concoct a blitz scheme that puts consistent pressure on the Patriots' superstar quarterback, Tom Brady. Every Eagles defensive player asked about the Patriots' high-flying offense during the practice week said that's the only way to keep New England's scoring machine from continuing its abusive behavior tonight.
There's merit to that thinking, too. Brady has an astonishing 93-26 record as a starting quarterback, and if you examine the 26 losses, he has been sacked at least twice in 15 of those games. The Indianapolis Colts are the only team that has come close to slowing Brady this season, and they sacked him twice in Week 9.
Go back to the Eagles' Super Bowl loss to New England, when they did a decent job of shutting down Brady, and you will find that they sacked him twice that night.
The problem is that Brady is better than ever at getting rid of the football when he feels pressure. It's true he has a good offensive line, but he makes it better because of his ability to get rid of the football before going to the ground.
Based on recent results, the Eagles won't have much success at pressuring Brady if they go with a four-man rush unless the Jevon Kearse who returns to the field tonight has been reincarnated as the 1999 rookie model. That means Johnson will have to find the right times and right places to blitz. All the Eagles have to lose is a game they aren't supposed to win anyway.