The Patriots still have a long road before they seal their postseason destiny, but this game against the Eagles might be the most important they have left.
This week Tom Brady and the Patriots will travel to Philadelphia to take on Michael Vick and/or Vince Young in a game that is considered probably the most difficult remaining on their schedule. The Eagles sit at 4-6 after only winning one of their first five games, but have now won three of their last five and are coming off a big win against their divisional rival New York Giants last week.
Young, who made his first start this season when he stepped in for the injured Vick, had a low start but eventually lead his team on a long and impressive game winning drive in the fourth quarter. The Eagles defense also stepped up last week, giving up just 278 total yards to the dynamic offense of the Eli Manning and the Giants. The biggest play of the game for the Philly defense came in the fourth quarter when Jason Babin sacked Manning, forcing a fumble that was recovered Derek Landri and effectively ending the Giants' last drive.
The Pats have not lost to the Eagles in the three times they've played each other in the Tom Brady era, one of which was in Super Bowl XXXIX. Their meeting was in 2007, during New England's undefeated regular season. The game was a close one though, and an Eagles defense led by Andy Reid has always been a difficult one to face.
The added difficulty of having to essentially prepare for two different quarterbacks is also a big challenge for the young Patriot defense. Although Vick and Young are both elusive, rushing quarterbacks, they play in two distinctly different styles. Young still plays the majority of his game in the pocket, similar to the styles of Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger; whereas Vick does his best work when scrambling outside the pocket.
Unlike last week against the Chiefs and the rest to come after this, the game in Philadelphia is a game the Pats could lose. The Eagles are not the Dream Team they were dubbed in preseason, but they definitely offer up plenty of reasons to take notice.
Here are five key players to watch in the Week 12 game between the Patriots and the Eagles on Sunday:
1. Brent Celek - Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is doubtful to play this week after missing last week's game against the Giants, and with DeSean Jackson playing so erratically this season, you can bet that the Eagles will go to their tight end as much as possible.
Celek offers matchup problems for the young and vastly unproven secondary, especially since it's likely that the Patriots will use Kyle Arrington in zone coverage on Jackson. In Philly, the passing game usually plays second hat to to their rushing game. But with the way that they Pats have been jamming the line of scrimmage and stopping the run, Andy Reid will likely look to take more advantage of Young's passing ability against the Patriots defensive backs. That means increasing short passes and targets to Celek rather than risky deep passes down the field to Jackson; in part due to Young's lingering rust coming off the bench, and partly because the Patriots have been so good at creating turnovers.
2. LeSean McCoy - McCoy is the best running back the Patriots will face in this second half of the season. In the first half of the season they did fairly impressive jobs against Fred Jackson and Darren McFadden who were both at the top of the league at the time; holding them to 75 yards each and just one touchdown from Jackson.
Still, McCoy is a different type of running back that could be deadly to a Patriots defense that has struggled immensely with finishing and following through on tackles. McCoy is elusive, quick and hard to tackle when he finds the hole. If Young is able to do even a decent job in the passing game and develop a solid offensive double threat with the rush and the pass, the Patriots defense could be in big trouble.
3. Tom Brady -- This might seem obvious, but there are some weeks where it is more important than others for Brady to be on his game. Recently he and the offense have struggled in the first half of games, failing to score in the first quarter and taking too long to gain rhythm. This is easier to overcome when they are facing off against vastly less talented offenses like the Chiefs and the Jets.
But that is simply not the case against Philadelphia, the 5th ranked team in the NFL in total offense; just behind New England at 4th. The Eagles average 415.5 yards per game, compared to the Patriots' 426.7. Granted, they will most likely be without their starting quarterback and their number one receiver, but they are still a potent offense that should not be tested with an early lead. WIth Nndami Asomugha out of the picture, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and the rest of the receivers should have an easier time getting open. Brady would do well to start hot in this game, because 3 or 7 points in two halves won't get the job done against a loud Philly crowd and a desperate team looking to save themselves in their division.
4. Kyle Arrington -- He may not be an elite cover cornerback in the league, but no player gets 7 interceptions on a fluke. Arrington specializes in exploiting passing and receiving mistakes against zone coverage. Whenever he is in the vicinity of a stray ball, he makes a play. Once again, it is likely that Arrington will be charged with attempting to cover the dynamic DeSean Jackson.
Jackson is widely considered the fastest wide receiver in the league, but last week we saw that Young was having a hard time connecting with him on deep passes because of Jackson's extreme speed in his post routes. Arrington will not be able to beat Jackson in man to man coverage, but he can play smart football in his zone and force Young to pay for any type of communication problems he may have with his receiver.
5. Andre Carter -- Carter has been an integral part of the production of New England's defensive line all year, but his break out 4.5 sack game against the Jets brought put him on everyone's radar. He has been as dominant a defensive lineman as anyone in the NFL, especially over the past two games, and there is no reason to suspect that will change today.
Not only does Carter get to the quarterback, but now he has begun to attract enough attention from the opposing offensive lineman that guys like Kyle Love and Mark Andersen have been able to slip in and make big plays as well. He is changing the way teams have to prepare for the Patriots' defensive line as well as putting major pressure on the QB, and that gives the linebackers and defensive backs chances to make big plays. Expect him to play up to the competition and make it tough on whoever is taking the snaps for Philly.
The Eagles are no pushovers, but the Patriots have had their number with Tom Brady, and their injuries look like they might get the best of them. Fully staffed, the Eagles win this game. But today the Patriots win.
Score prediction: Patriots: 27- Eagles: 21
Which of the key players do you think will have the biggest impact in the game?
Brent Celek (3 votes)
LeSean McCoy (19 votes)
Tom Brady (74 votes)
Kyle Arrington (5 votes)
Andre Carter (14 votes)
115 total votes