Patriots vs. Eagles: 5 Keys to New England Ending Philadelphia's Playoff Hopes
When Tom Brady and the New England Patriots step onto Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia this afternoon, they will be looking to hand the Eagles their seventh loss and effectively end any hope of a playoff run.
More than just pushing the Eagles off the edge, the Patriots have their own agenda to keep pace with the Baltimore Ravens atop the AFC.
New England stands at 7-3 entering play on Sunday.
Here are five keys to the Patriots picking up their eighth win in the Eagles' house.
Bend If You Must, but Don't Break
The New England defense has been heavily criticized all season.
They rank dead last in the NFL when it comes to the most common measuring stick: yards allowed.
They are the only team allowing over 400 yards of offense per game (404.2).
Where the numbers truly matter, though—in the points allowed department—the Patriots rank a relatively impressive 10th in the NFL, giving up just 20.3 points per game.
If that bend-but-don't-break production continues against the Eagles, New England will likely move to 8-3 on the season. By holding Philadelphia to field goal attempts at best, Tom Brady and the offense should be able to answer by obtaining an early lead and building upon it.
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The Eagles rank 28th in the league when it comes to turnover differential, having lost eight more turnovers than they have forced. New England, meanwhile, ranks in the top 10 in that department, having forced five more turnovers than they have given up.
Led by the surprising NFL interceptions leader in Kyle Arrington (seven interceptions), the Patriots defense will look to take advantage of all miscues the Eagles make this afternoon.
Forcing turnovers will not only swing the point totals on the scoreboard, but it will dictate the field position game and force Philadelphia to air the ball out if faced with a hefty deficit.
The Patriots, despite their questionable pass defense, would likely rather see Vince Young airing the rock out than LeSean McCoy cutting through holes in the line.
Never Lose Sight of LeSean McCoy
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LeSean McCoy is probably the toughest player to tackle in the National Football League, and it isn't because of his brute strength.
The shifty Eagles running back has wreaked havoc on just about every opponent he has faced this season, and he will look to continue it against a Patriots defense that has shown clear inabilities to bring down ball carriers at times this season.
Defensively, the Patriots' players are who they are—you can't just expect them to become better tacklers, from a physical standpoint, overnight.
What they can do, however, is make sure to always know where McCoy is on the field. If they are constantly aware of him and have a heightened focus on bringing him to the ground, it will significantly improve their chances of limiting his production and consequently stifling the Eagles' offensive attack.
Protect Brady, Find Welker and Tight Ends
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As is the demand every time the Patriots take the field, the offensive line needs to protect Tom Brady against an Eagles defensive line that has shown improvement of late.
Pass-rushing defensive ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole had some success getting to Giants quarterback Eli Manning last week, and it will be up to New England's offensive tackles to make sure that doesn't happen again.
If Brady gets that protection and has time to set his feet in the pocket, slot receiver Wes Welker, as well as tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, should have a field day.
The Eagles secondary features two spectacular cornerbacks, despite the fact that they have underperformed this season. Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel are good cover corners, but they are only two players in a secondary that will need to cover some of the Patriots' pass-heavy formations.
What the Eagles most notably lack is a strong set of linebackers and safeties. Even with the cornerbacks they have, matching up with Welker and the Patriots' tight ends is bound to be a nightmare for Philadelphia if Brady has time to find his man.
Come out Flying, Ground the Eagles
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The Patriots are the better football team in this matchup. Most fans and analysts would agree with that notion.
It will be a huge benefit for New England if they can come out of the gates with energy and emotion, helping themselves to put the first points on the board. A mistake-free first quarter and a double-digit lead, for example, should all but seal the Eagles' fate.
The best chance Philadelphia has at beating New England is outplaying them in the early part of the game. That isn't to say that Tom Brady cannot mount a comeback against an Eagles defense that has been less than stellar, but it would certainly make it much more difficult.
If the Eagles can get an early lead, they will be able to control the clock and run a more diverse offense featuring their strong ground game. This outcome has been a common denominator when it comes to the games New England has lost this season.
Opponents who have taken down Tom Brady and the Pats have been able to control the clock and keep number twelve on the sidelines.
For the Patriots, it is imperative to stop that progression before it has a chance to even begin.
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