The Philadelphia Eagles travel to Foxborough, Massachusetts, this Sunday to take on the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in a clash of two teams with opposite fortunes.
Both the Eagles and Patriots finished the preseason as projected Super Bowl contenders, but only one team remains in conversation for the trophy. Philadelphia's season has not lived up to expectations as it enters Week 13 with a 4-7 record. Additionally, the Eagles are amidst a three-game losing streak and gave up 45 points to their opposing team in consecutive weeks.
Despite the wheels falling off the Philadelphia band wagon, the Eagles are still alive for the NFC East title. The Washington Redskins and New York Giants sit at the top of the division with a 5-6 record, but Philadelphia finishes the regular season with games against both teams. However, before they get to the end of the season the Eagles will face a tough stretch of opponents and it starts this weekend with the Patriots.
New England is arguably the best team in the NFL. It suffered its first loss of the season last week as the Broncos came out on top 30-24 in overtime. Despite the loss, the Patriots remain in pole position to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs, but New England can not look past its matchup against the Eagles this weekend.
Let's take a look at what Philadelphia needs to do in order to come away with a win against New England on Sunday.
Offensive Game Plan
Chip Kelly's offense is predicated on running as many plays as possible and wearing down the opposing defense. This style of offense can lead to great success or failure, but so far it has created mass inconsistency this season.
When the offense is clicking on all cylinders, the quick tempo can exhaust defenses and keep tired personnel on the field. But when the game plan falters, the result ends up in giving the ball right back to the opposing team, and the Eagles wear down their own defense rather than their opposition's.
The most important first down to pick up for the Eagles is the first one on every drive. In order to put the team in favorable positions, Philadelphia needs to rely on its running game on first down. The Eagles average 144.5 yards per game on the ground, but that statistic took a hit the last few weeks. Philadelphia was forced to abandon its running game the last two weeks as it fell behind big by halftime against both the Buccaneers and Lions.
At the same time, the Patriots showed last week that they are vulnerable on the ground. The Broncos utilized their running attack in the second half to eventually overcome the Patriots in overtime. C.J. Anderson carried the ball 15 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning score. Ronnie Hillman also added 59 yards and one touchdown on 14 attempts.
Establishing an effective running game early will not only help Philadelphia even the time of possession, but it will also help protect its quarterback. If the Eagles are able to gain positive yards consistently on first down, then Sam Bradford will be confronted with more favorable third down conversions. It will also slow down New England's pass rush and keep its defensive backs honest.
Without an effective running game, Philadelphia could fall into an early hole again this weekend. The Eagles need to heavily lean on DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles to maintain possession and keep the ball out of Tom Brady's hands.
Defensive Game Plan
There is no hiding the fact that New England is led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Brady and he is the steadying factor for the team amidst all the change and injuries not only this season but in past years.
Just like every other week, the fate of New England's offense will fall into the hands of its quarterback. The Patriots lead the league with 315 yards passing per game and 28 touchdown passes. Even with weakened weapons, Brady is still dangerous due to his ability to find a defense's weakness, which is Philadelphia's corners.
The past two weeks, the Eagles gave up five touchdowns through the air to Jameis Winston and Matthew Stafford. Defensive coordinator Billy Davis was outmatched the last two weeks in his game plan and failure to make in-game adjustments. Heading into this week, Davis needs to provide help for his corners.
Philadelphia lost its best corner Nolan Carroll for the rest of the season with a broken ankle that he suffered on Thanksgiving Day. In his place, Eric Rowe will be making his first career start. Last week the Lions targeted Rowe nearly every time he was in single coverage, and Calvin Johnson caught two touchdown passes over the rookie corner.
Davis can not afford to leave his corners on an island this weekend against the Patriots. Brady will find the favorable matchup and deliver deadly passes throughout the game. In order to limit the damage, Philadelphia needs to provide safety help to Rowe and Co. to force New England to run the ball.
The Patriots rank 29th in the NFL with only 87.2 yards per game on the ground so it is not natural for them to lean on LeGarrette Blount and their running game. Philadelphia surrendered some big performances to running backs the past few weeks, but it would rather put the ball in the hands of Blount than Brady.
Player and Matchup to Watch
Brady and New England's offense receives a lot of the accolades, but the defense also deserves significant credit for its run this year. In fact, this weekend could come down to Philadelphia's ability to block New England's pass-rushers.
It is almost a forgone conclusion that New England will score points this weekend, so Philadelphia needs to come out firing to start and finish the game. In order to do so, the Eagles need their offensive line to live up to their potential and put together a unified performance.
This will be even more important this weekend if Bradford returns to the helm. Due to his injury history, Bradford often looks dazed and overwhelmed in the pocket as soon as teams get pressure in his face. However, the quarterback possesses the talent to effectively lead this offense if he can operate in a clean pocket.
The offensive line's main concern this week will be to slow down Chandler Jones. The 25-year-old is the Patriots best pass-rusher and has already racked up 10.5 sacks on the year. However, the edge-rusher can be denied as he has been held without a sack the past two weeks.
Philadelphia's ability to contain Jones largely comes down to the health of its left tackle Jason Peters. The 33-year-old is dealing with a number of different injuries this year, including leaving the game due to an ankle injury last week against the Lions. At his best, Peters is considered one of the greatest tackles in the NFL, but he could be in for a long day if he is fully healthy.
If Peter is unable to play, Lane Johnson would most likely shift over to the left side of the line where he's had struggles in his few stints there this season. The change would also mean Dennis Kelly would slide in a right tackle, and the Patriots could then target his side of the line.
The Eagles need a fully healthy line to show up and perform this weekend in order to run the ball effectively and protect their quarterback in a game where they will need to score points. If not, it could be a good day for Jones and a long day for Bradford and Philadelphia.
The Eagles enter Week 13 in strong need of a win to salvage their season and their pride. Philadelphia came into the season with high hopes, but now it finds itself falling apart.
Philadelphia could not take care of business the last few weeks against the Dolphins, Buccaneers or Lions, and now it's faced with the challenge of defeating not only the best team its faced all year but arguably the best team in the league.
The Patriots lost their first game of the season last week against Denver as they fell short in a closely contested battle in overtime. Brady is focused every week, but look for him to come out with even more intensity and passion this week as they try to rebound.
A lot of question marks still remain for the Eagles, including the future of the starting quarterback position. Bradford looks poised to return from injury this week, but how he will perform is still uncertain. The 28-year-old started to finally look comfortable in Kelly's offense, but that could all change following his recent injuries. Look for there to be a slight adjustment period this weekend.
Philadelphia will rely on Murray early to carry the offense, but at some point the ball will fall into Bradford's hands. As he has all season, look for Bradford to fold under the pressure of Jones and a crumbling pocket and make some costly mistakes.
The Eagles' playoff chances will finally be crushed this weekend as they travel up to Foxborough, only to come back to Philadelphia to an even more enraged fanbase. Meanwhile, New England will cruise to a comfortable victory to clinch the AFC East and move even closer to a first-round bye.
Final Prediction: Patriots 30, Eagles 14