September 12, 2003
Flying High With Eagles -- Maybe
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
PHILADELPHIA -- What? The over-under in this game is 38 points?
The way things went last week, the Patriots and Eagles might be lucky if either team has 38 total points when September becomes October. Both Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb were brutalized by two defensive howitzers, one of which really is good and has hardware to prove it, and one which played over its head thanks to raw emotion and a quack personnel decision by some NFL GM.
Maybe a scoreless tie isn't really in the cards. As these two teams prepare for their Week 2 encounter and get off the scoring schnide, you have one defense which will be minus four starters due to injury and one still devoid of its heart and soul.
These teams, who face each other frequently in the preseason, have met only once in the Bob Kraft Era. That game was the death knell for Pete Carroll and one of the most putrid losses in recent Patriot history, where the Patriots laid down and quit on Carroll. The Eagles prevailed, 24-9 in a Week 15 meeting, and Patriot Nation was embarrassed for themselves as well as their team.
The Patriots have not beaten the Eagles since a 24-14 win in 1978. The Eagles lead the all-time series, 6-2. The only team the Patriots have gone longer in beating since their last regular season win is Washington, with the last win coming in 1972.
But the Patriots are not at all unfamiliar with the Eagles. They have met in the preseason six times since 1995, and the Patriots have won the last five meetings. That includes a 24-12 win barely three weeks ago in the actual first game at Lincoln Financial Field. In that game, when the first strings were pitted against each other, the Patriots held a 17-3 advantage and dominated the Eagles in most every phase of the game.
And that includes hitting. This was the game where James Thrash was carried off the field on a stretcher after a hard but clean hit from Ty Law. At least Thrash is listed as probable for Sunday, whereas four other Eagle key players are scratches.
It is these scratches which may decide the game Sunday. All things being equal, the Eagles would perhaps hold a clear advantage over the depressed Patriots, who may still not be over the departure of Lawyer Milloy. If Milloy were still with the Patriots, there is no question that the Patriots would have the clear advantage in this game.
Missing Sunday's game for the Eagles will be safety Brian Dawkins (foot), DE Jerome McDougle (ankle), cornerback Bobby Taylor (foot) and DE Brandon Whiting (hamstring). This will help soften things up for Brady as he and his offensive unit strive to regain some semblance of offense after being besieged by Takeo Spikes, Sam Adams and their wrecking crew last week.
This week's game will have markedly different dynamics. You have two teams that are on pretty equal footing. Both are emotionally down right now from shutout losses last week. Both are dealing with adjustments in personnel. Both have offenses which really have yet to get completely untracked. Both teams will deal with defenses that possess a great deal less team speed than the one they faced last week.
Philadelphia would seem to have the edge by playing at home, but as Tampa Bay showed last Monday night, the Eagles aren't real dominant at home. Moreover, the Philly home crowd remains one of the most home-hostile crowds in all of pro sports, one that turns on its own with ferocity at the slightest sense of letdown. The 76ers know all about this sort of thing. The MNF broadcasting crew even opined that a terrific home field advantage was taken away from the Eagles with the removal of Veterans Stadium, a venue which visiting teams detested playing in.
That said, if the Patriots are to win Sunday, they will have to succeed in four key areas.
The Eagles have mercurial running back Duce Staley back in the fold, but it was Correll Buckhalter who was featured against the Patriots in the preseason. Phifer and Tedy Bruschi will be severely tested against the physical Eagle offensive line. If Ted Washington can play as well as he did against this bunch in the preseason, the inside linebackers have a chance to contain Staley or Buckhalter.
This will be one of those games where it will be more prudent to look for David Patten rather than Troy Brown. Even though Troy Vincent (the remaining healthy All-Pro cornerback) looked rather bad in the preseason, he should do much better in shadowing Brown now that things are for real. If Brady can get time to throw (which he didn't have against Buffalo), and if the Patriots are able to use three wide receiver sets, Brady might be able to find wideouts for good yardage.
With both Whiting and McDougle out, this is an excellent time for Bill Belichick and Charlie Weis to be bold and give the bulk of the rushing duty to Kevin Faulk. Use Antowain Smith on short yardage, but let Faulk see what he can do on every down situations. Faulk did manage 62 yards on 10 carries against Buffalo, though naysayers point out that those yards came against a defense which was up 21-0 and willing to give up short stuff. Faulk has shown a great upside going back to the end of last season, and this is a great time to try and break him out.
Finally, there is the issue of McNabb the running quarterback. Rosevelt Colvin and Mike Vrabel are excellent pass rushing linebackers, but them rushing will usually mean no containment if McNabb leaves the pocket and takes off running. With what little McNabb was able to do last week against Tampa Bay, McNabb may decide to take matters into his own hands. If he cannot find Todd Pinkston or Thrash (or Staley, who led the Eagles in pass catches last Monday night) to any degree, the Patriots had better account for McNabb.
The Eagles have two great tackles in Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan, so it is possible that blitzing on McNabb may come from up the middle instead of the sides, and that both OLBs may stay at home to help keep McNabb at bay. This strategy has worked in the past with Kordell Stewart, but the difference here is that McNabb can actually throw the ball, make good decisions and run an offense.
As Al Michaels said last Monday night, these are two "wounded animals". These two teams will show each other what they didn't see in August, and it will really come down to which team is more over its whoopin' than the other.
Soaring with eagles? The Patriots certainly hope so.
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