The Patriots and Eagles are set to meet in Foxboro on Sunday afternoon and this is a big game for both teams. The Patriots have an opportunity to clinch the AFC East and move a step closer to getting that all-important bye week and homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs.
The Eagles despite a 4-7 record are very much in the hunt for the NFC East, just a game back of the Washington Redskins and New York Giants. So the narrative that Philly is just playing out the string in the 2015 season is premature. But having lost three in a row, especially the way they lost the last two games has them in desperation mode. They need a much better effort this week if they’re going to challenge for the division.
Now it is time for our players to watch for this week. Each team has a few players to keep an eye on as this matchup plays out.
Scott Chandler: The big tight end has had somewhat disappointing numbers in 2015. He’s brought in 19 catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns on the season. After a spring and summer where he, Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady were so visible working together on the side, we were expecting huge numbers from the trio. But that hasn’t played out that way.
Chandler hasn’t been used nearly as much as expected and has suffered from some drops. With Gronk’s injury to likely keep him out at least two-to-three weeks, now is the time for Chandler to assert himself. He should see more looks from Brady in the passing game now and he can attack the seams of the defense, something that may happen on Sunday. For Chandler, stats mean little and he told the media this week that he’s only focused on 10-1 and wants to taste the postseason for the first time.
Key Stat- Of Tom Brady’s 294 completions this season, 143 of them or 49 percent go to tight ends and running backs. With a beat-up wide receiver position, that number may increase down the stretch; Chandler could be a major factor in the NE offense if he can produce in the next few weeks.
LaGarrette Blount: The Patriots big running back has found precious little room to run as the carousel at the offensive line position has really hampered the offense’s ability to run the football. Blount is at his best when he can reach the second level with speed, as there his size and physicality makes him a very difficult player to bring down.
With the depleted weapons around Brady in the passing game, Blount may see a big uptick in his carries this week. Danny Amendola may return on Sunday, but if he were to miss this game, 74 percent of Brady’s production would be missing from the passing game. So the pressure will be on Blount and the offensive line to produce.
Key Stat: Philadelphia’s run defense is currently ranked 27th in the league allowing 126.6 yards per game. But they were among the better teams in the early season against the run. In the last five games, the Philly defense has allowed 828 yards on the ground for an average of 165.6 yards per game. This is the time for Blount to get some yardage and take some pressure off the receivers.
Jamie Collins: The Patriots uber-athletic linebacker has missed the last four games with an illness and proclaimed himself good to go for this week. Collins lost a lot of weight during his illness which we heard rumors of mono but the team and Collins have remained mum on this.
With Dont’a Hightower probably sidelined for a week or two with a knee injury, Collins will be looked to cover the backs and tight ends in the passing game. With the tremendously fast tempo that the Philly offense operates, it will be curious to see how much Collins can play this week.
Key stat: Until Hightower went down in the Denver game, the Broncos rushing game only gained 46 yards on 15 carries. After he left, Denver rushed 16 times for 133 yards. With DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles this week, Collins will be looked to as always to provide that penetrating element to disrupt things in the Eagles backfield.
Tom Brady: Brady is always a key player to watch whatever the game, whoever the opponent. Brady remains the gold standard of NFL QBs, leading the league in passing yardage (3600), touchdowns (28), and passer rating (106.7), while only throwing four interceptions.
The fact that Brady continues to do it while his supporting cast of receivers and offensive line is decimated with injury defies description. Eagles’ coach Chip Kelly snorted when asked about the NE injuries. “Did they lose Brady,” Kelly quipped on a conference call with Boston media this week. “Because that is what would truly effect them.”
Key stat: Nobody turns the page faster than Brady after a Patriots loss. After the heartbreaker in Denver in OT, Brady is poised to get back to work. In his career after a Patriots loss, Brady’s record is a ridiculous 40-8. Look for him to be very sharp on Sunday.
Fletcher Cox: The Eagles big defensive lineman is perhaps their best player on the defense. Bill Belichick called him one of the best defensive linemen in the league this week. With 6.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss he’s been very disruptive inside. He’ll be going against Josh Kline who struggled with Denver’s Derek Wolfe last week.
Key Stat: One of the areas that most affects Brady and the Patriots passing game is inside pressure. Brady’s ability to step up in the pocket and make throws separates him from many of the other QBs in the league. Cox will be looking to push the pocket inside which will limit that and allow edge rushers, such as Connor Barwin to have the ability to either force an errant throw or get a sack.
Sam Bradford: Chip Kelly made a trade for the oft-injured Bradford this offseason bringing in the former Sooner QB for Nick Foles and thus far, it hasn’t worked out. Bradford started very slowly this season before suffering a sprained AC joint in his non-throwing shoulder and a concussion against Miami.
Key Stat: Prior to going down in the Miami game, Bradford showed signs of really coming around and getting the Eagles offense going. Against Dallas and Miami he was 44-61 for 531 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
With a sore shoulder and having missed two plus games, Bradford won’t have the luxury of being rusty when Sunday rolls around. The Eagles need a win and Foxboro is a tough place to place for opponents, especially for those from the NFC, which are 10-45 against New England since 2002.
Brent Celek: The Eagles tight end could be a big target for Bradford on Sunday. While Zach Ertz is a very talented player for Philly, he’s been battling concussion issues and is probable for Sunday. If he’s not fully back to speed this week, the reliable and steady Celek could be the outlet for Bradford against the Patriots.
Key stat: When Ertz went down with a concussion during an awful three-game losing skid, Celek remained a steady reliable performer. He hauled in a team high seven passes in the Week 11 loss to Tampa and on Thanksgiving caught a touchdown pass from Mark Sanchez.
On the road and facing teams like New England that can get after the quarterback (35 sacks), a reliable tight end is sometimes a QB’s best friend. Celek will bear watching this week.
Eric Rowe: The Eagles rookie cornerback will be making his first NFL start on Sunday and he’ll be going against Brady and the Patriots. Rowe came in for Nolan Carroll when the Eagles best corner broke his ankle and was victimized by the Lions Calvin Johnson. But “Megatron” does that to the most experienced of NFL corners so now Rowe has to have a short memory and regroup.
Key Stat: The Eagles defense the past two games has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 46-of-67 passes for 583 yards with 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions for a passer rating of 135.1, both games allowing 45 points.
With those type of numbers and being a rookie making his first NFL start, Rowe will have a bullseye as Brady will look to pick on the rookie right away on Sunday. This will be a big opportunity for Rowe to be playing for the future, not so much 2015 but for 2016 and beyond as he’ll be in the spotlight this week.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2015 NFL Season Bill Belichick Brandon LaFell Brent Celek Chandler Jones Chip Kelly Danny Amendola Eric Rowe Fletcher Cox Jabaal Sheard Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler Mark Sanchez New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Philadelphia Eagles picks predictions Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Sam Bradford Tom Brady Zach Ertz