November 26, 2007
Did The Eagles Expose The Patriots?
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- You'll see in two weeks if the Patriots will pay for their terrible defensive effort on Sunday night.
Kyle Boller of Baltimore won't likely be talented enough nor have the material to pick apart the Patriot secondary next week, but Ben Roethlisberger will the following week. All he will do is watch film of the Patriots against Philadelphia on Sunday night, see all those slant-in pass routes that A.J. Feeley was able to complete, and start licking his chops. And unless the Patriots remedy the situation in time, Pittsburgh will run in, around and through the Patriot defense and ruin the Patriots' quest for a perfect season.
Both sides of the Patriots were exposed on Sunday night, a game the Patriots eventually won, 31-28 over the Eagles at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots, 24-point favorites and expected to run silly over the Eagles, instead were ambushed by a speedy, blitzing defense featuring an Eagle secondary which showed the rest of the league how to cover Randy Moss, and an offense which showed the rest of the league how to attack the Patriot defense.
Suffice it to say that all talk of a 16-0 regular season will probably go away, for now.
The Patriots, who had a division championship dumped in their laps when Buffalo lost at Jacksonville earlier in the day, looked like they would actually bombard the Eagles as everyone thought right off the bat. On the third play of the game, Feeley tried to hit Brian Westbrook in the right flat, but Asante Samuel stepped up and picked off the ball, then took it 40 yards for a touchdown to make it 7-0 Patriots before most everyone was settled in their seats. 24-point favorites? Was that all?
The next offensive possession for the Eagles set the tone for the rest of the evening. Feeley, who was the Miami quarterback in 2004 when the Dolphins rallied from down 28-13 to shock the 13-1 (at the time) Patriots at home on a Monday night, began by rolling left and hitting Jason Avant for 21 yards in front of zone coverage by strong safety James Sanders. From there came an 11-yard pass to Reggie Brown and a 15-yard pass to Greg Lewis, both on slant-in routes. A ten-yard pass to Kevin Curtis and a nine-yard rollout to Brown set up a one-yard touchdown run by Westbrook to tie the score as Gillette Stadium looked on in shock.
What was so shocking was how easily Feeley moved the Eagles down the field. The Patriots are notorious for giving large cushions to wide receivers, especially against Indianapolis, and hope to hold them to field goals. The Patriots perhaps didn't count on Feeley having a great night (27 of 42, 345 yards, 3 touchdowns), and didn't game plan to play the receivers more tightly or more physical. Whenever the Patriots give big cushions to receivers, they usually are gambling that their front seven can wreak havoc on the quarterback, but on this night, the Eagle offensive line killed the Patriot front seven and protected Feeley incredibly well. Feeley was then able to find open receivers all over the place all night long.
The Eagles ended their third offensive possession with a little déjà vu. On third and eight at the Patriot 28, Feeley had time to launch a deep pass over the middle to Lewis for a touchdown. He was in single coverage by Eddie Jackson, just signed off the practice squad. Again, it was a deep slant/post pattern, and it was eerily reminiscent of a catch Lewis made late in Super Bowl XXXIX against Dexter Reid which made it 24-21 Patriots. Once again Lewis got singled up with an inexperienced Patriot defensive back, and the result was a touchdown.
Two drives later, Feeley and Lewis hooked up again. Trailing 17-14, Feeley hit Lewis for 27 yards on a deep right pattern with Rodney Harrison in coverage, then later hit Lewis on a slant-in right side for a touchdown with Randall Gay in coverage. The Eagles had an unthinkable 21-17 lead late in the first half. Except for Samuel, none of the Patriot defensive backs could stop Feeley hitting the receivers on in-cuts pretty much the whole evening.
Gay would give up one more touchdown, an eight-yard scoring toss to Brown to make it 28-24 Eagles late in the third quarter. Again, it was on a slant-in from the right side, and Gay didn't have the correct defender angle. The Patriots at this point were near desperate, trailing with just over a quarter left in the game and unable to stop the Eagle pass offense.
Complicating things was Jim Johnson's defense, which took away Moss pretty much the whole evening. Josh McDaniels helped a lot by employing a lot of four wideout packages the entire game, which pretty much made run stoppage a non-factor for the Eagle defense. The Eagles could then employ a dime package for most of the game, and that, plus some nice physical play by Lito Sheppard, took Moss out of the game (he was called for pushing off on what would have been a third quarter touchdown).
How the Patriots eventually prevailed stemmed from a combination of Tom Brady being Tom Brady when he needed to be, how fortunate that the Patriots did trade for Wes Welker, and two very foolish passes by Feeley late in the contest. Brady and Welker connected three times on the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter for 38 yards on the very same slant-in routes the Patriots could not stop on defense. Laurence Maroney made a token appearance here and there during the second half after sitting the entire first half on the bench, and did score the game-winning touchdown on a four-yard run up the middle. But Welker, who finished with 13 catches for 149 yards, was clearly the difference in the game and the main reason the Patriots were able to hang with the Eagles in a struggle.
Sheppard was able to sustain great pressure on Moss, holding him to only 43 yards on five catches. If there is a silver lining for the Patriots, if this game showed that Moss can be stopped, the Patriots still won despite this and have a slew of other weapons in their arsenal. The widespread usage of empty backfields meant that the Eagles didn't have to respect the run, something McDaniels might want to keep in the back of his head when facing great defenses in the next two weeks (Baltimore, Pittsburgh).
Brady was never intercepted, though he was sacked three times. Feeley's last two passes were picked off, which nailed down the win for the Patriots. A questionable 29-yard pass towards Curtis was overthrown and intercepted by Samuel in the end zone. And at the end of the game, a left sideline floater for Brown was picked off by Sanders to end the game. Brady was able to deliver the goods once again amidst adversity, another testimonial to his greatness and further cementing his status as likely league MVP at season's end.
But Bill Belichick has lots to be concerned about. His secondary is in need of reprogramming immediately, either that or the philosophy on playing off the receivers needs to change. As for Moss, as long as the Patriots continue to win, he won't mind. But it may be three weeks before Moss gets back on his assault of Jerry Rice's one-season touchdown reception record.
If the Patriots can survive the next two weeks still undefeated, then start talking 16-0. Until then, the Patriots have plenty to worry about over the next two weeks.
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