New England Patriots Game Preview: Offensive Strategy Game Ten vs Philadelphia Eagles

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Week Four Live Blog
FOXBORO, MA. - DECEMBER 23: Sony Michel (26) of the New England Patriots defended by Corey Thompson (52) and Jordan Poyer (21) of the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter of the game at Gillette Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)

Will the New England Patriots continue improving their passing offense and incorporate rookie N’Keal Harry on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles?

The New England Patriots are coming off their bye week and travelling to Philadelphia, PA on Sunday. They earned a well-deserved week off after an 8-1 start to the 2019 season in defense of their Super Bowl 53 title. 

Although they lost coming into the bye week to Baltimore 37-20, during the bye week New England saw things break their way. The second-place Buffalo Bills dropped down in the AFC East standings with an ugly loss to the Cleveland Browns to drop to 6-3. Also, last year’s top competition and number one seed in the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs, lost to the Tennessee Titans and are now only a half-game ahead of Oakland in the AFC West race.

The Patriots get back to work this weekend with a rematch of Super Bowl 52 against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles are tied for first in the NFC East but are just 5-4 and have struggled with consistency in 2019. Philadelphia already has lost the dynamic wide receiver DeSean Jackson for the season and Super Bowl 52 nightmare running back Corey Clement.

This week the Eagles will be without number one wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and scat-back Darren Sproles who is done for the season. Starting running back Jordan Howard left the win against the Bears two weeks ago with a shoulder injury and will be a game-time decision. On defense, starting linebacker Nigel Bradham–who has been out since week six–is expected to be out as well.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 and on WPRI-TV Channel 12 in Providence and Southeastern New England. The station’s top duo will handle the national broadcast of the premier afternoon game with the esteemed Jim Nantz handling the play-by-play duties and with top broadcaster in all of sports, Tony Romo, as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from the sidelines. 

On the radio, Sunday’s game will be broadcast on 98.5 The Sports Hub is the flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network and all of the network’s 38 stations carry the game live. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci is back to call the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who provides his own unique color analysis.

Sunday’s game will also be broadcast to a national audience on ESPN Radio. Adam Amin will call the game with Jack Del Rio providing analysis. The great Sal Paolantonio will work from the sidelines. 

 

Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups on offense that will determine if the Patriots are the team which emerges victorious.

The Patriots’ offense has been far from perfect in 2019. However, entering week ten they are number two in the NFL with 270 points scored (30.0 points per game). Yes, the defense and special teams has helped with both points and field position, but while they are 15th in the NFL in yards, they are seventh in passing yards. It has been the running game (836 yards) which is 23rd in rushing yards. More concerning is the 3.3 yards per rush attempt which is 30th in the NFL (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).

The balanced offensive attack of last season remains off-kilter as the Patriots have struggled to run the ball due to injuries on the offensive line, fullback and tight end. That disciplined and effective running game from last season has been missing for the first half of the season. In the second half of the season, it will be telling to see if New England will stay committed to running the football or give up and lean entirely on the passing game.

The New England Patriots offense faces a Philadelphia Eagles defense which is very different from the unit from Super Bowl 52. The defense has struggled against competent offenses and shined against weaker competition. How they look against New England should be very interesting for the Eagles’ prospects down the stretch in 2019.

How does the New England Patriots’ offense get back on the right track in 2019 against the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense? 

Key Matchups:

Patriots’ Offensive Line vs Philadelphia’s Defensive Line:

The Patriots face a defensive line that lacks the high-end depth of teams past. Starters Brandon Graham (has played 75.67% of defensive snaps in 2019), Derek Barnett (has played 76.96% of defensive snaps in 2019)and Fletcher Cox (has played 74.87% of defensive snaps in 2019) rarely leave the field. As the 2019 season has gone on, their snap counts have continued to rise.

The 31-year old vetgeran Graham leads defensive coordinator (and close friend of Bill Belichick) Jim Schwartz’s aggressive pass rush with six sacks. Barnett has 3.5 and Cox another 2.5. The trio is responsible for half of the sacks Philadelphia. Of the 24 sacks, ten came against the hapless New York Jets, meaning the Eagles mustered just 14 sacks in their other eight games.

The Eagles have lost expected interior pass rushers Malik Jackson and Hassan Ridgeway already for the rest of the season and veterans Vinny Curry and Timmy Jernigan have struggled to make any kind of impact. Josh Sweat has shown some promise in his second season, but has received limited opportunities.

The Patriots are still a week away from being able to add Isaiah Wynn back at left tackle as he is not eligible to return until next week against Dallas. Marshall Newhouse–a right tackle by trade–has done yeoman’s work filling in at left tackle. The bar is high for New England left tackles (a decade of Matt Light to seven years of Nate Solder to one impressive year of Trent Brown) but Newhouse has held the fort so far.

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The interior of the offensive line has been the strength of the unit this season. However, they will have their hands full with Cox on the inside. Karras could face his toughest test of the season with the wily veteran lined up across from him.

On the outside, Patriots’ fans probably still have flashbacks to Graham beating Cam Fleming (remember, Marcus Cannon was out injured) in Super Bowl 52. Cannon has played better of late after a rough stretch and Newhouse will likely get help from the tight end or running back to keep Tom Brady upright.

The Patriots’ offensive line has a tough match-up against the Eagles, but Philadelphia will not be sending well-rested waves of quality pass rushers. Newhouse has to hold up for just one more game. If he can do that, the Patriots will be able to attack the Philadelphia secondary.

ADVANTAGE: Even

Patriots’ Running Backs vs Philadelphia’s Linebackers:

The New England Patriots have been trying to get their running game on track all throughout 2019. The run-based attack that carried the team through the last quarter of the 2018 season and playoffs has been nowhere to be found.

The Eagles’ defense against the run has been solid all season except for a few hiccups. Philadelphia is 2-3 when they allow 75 yards or more rushing and 3-1 when they hold opponents to less than 70 yards rushing. In the two games they have allowed over 100 yards rushing, the Eagles are 0-2 and were outscored 75-30.

More concerning for Philadelphia is linebacker Nigel Bradham out injured still. Former Patriot Kamu Grugier-Hill and back-up strong safety and converted linebacker Nate Gerry. Despite being undersized, he is solid in coverage of tight ends and running backs. If New England commits to running the ball, they should look to get after Gerry and see if Sony Michel can use his size to run through him.

Undrafted free agent rookie T.J. Edwards just makes plays in limited playing time; however, for some reason the Eagles have just started giving him a handful of defensive plays. 

The belief of the Eagle as a run-stuffing defense due to giving up the fourth fewest yards is misleading. If the Patriots can refrain from falling into an early hole like they did versus Baltimore, they should be able to run the ball and dictate their offense. At worst, James White should be able to exploit the Eagles’ linebacker unit in the passing game.

ADVANTAGE: Even

Patriots’ Pass Catchers vs Philadelphia’s Secondary: 

The bye week has passed for the New England Patriots along with the trade deadline. There is no more reason to talk about Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas or Josh Gordon. Rookie first round draft pick N’Keal Harry should make his NFL debut after being on injured reserve for eight games and being inactive against Baltimore.

With Edelman looking and playing healthier despite being a regular on the injury report and Ohillip Dorsett healthy as well, the New England passing attack looked improved the past two games. A trade for wide receiver Mohamed Sanu from Atlanta looks like a solid move already. With Harry back on Sunday, the passing offense could be very different–particularly in the red zone– for the second half of the season.

The Eagles’ pass defense has struggled much of 2019. Part of that has been due to the lack of a consistent pass rush but most of that is due to injuries. Having Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby gives the Eagles a pair of competent–if unspectacular–cornerbacks and second-year slot cornerback Avonte Maddox. Darby is a gambler and Mills is average, but they are so much better than rolling with Sidney Jones (poor at best) and Rasul Douglas (below average).

A key match-up on Sunday afternoon to watch is how Avonte Maddox deals with Julian Edelman. Add in using Mohamed Sanu in the slot to exploit the match-up–Maddox is just five-foot-nine–and the offense should be able to move the ball through the air. 

The exciting match-ups will be on the outside with rookie N’Keal Harry expected to make his debut. Harry could be a serious match-up nightmare for the Eagles as Mills (six-foot) and Darby (five-foot-eleven) do not have even close to the size to match-up outside the numbers and in the red zone. 

At safety, former Viking Andrew Sendejo was the best at the position and was waived to preserve a 2020 compensatory draft pick. Malcolm Jenkins is having a down year so far and looks to have lost a step at age 32. Rodney McLeod plays deep centerfield and is average. If the Patriots had any tight ends, they could look at the safeties as a match-up to exploit.

New England should be able to move the ball at will through the air against the Eagles’ average secondary. Rookie N’Keal Harry could have an impact against the undersized secondary. Look for the Patriots to come out throwing until the Eagles show any ability to slow them down.

ADVANTAGE: New England

The New England offense faces a defense whose reputation precedes their play. The Eagles lack play-makers at linebacker and in the secondary. The Patriots should be able to hold-up on the offensive line as they have all season long. If the Eagles’ trio of pass rushers cannot force turnovers, it will be a long day for the Philadelphia defense against a rested and rejuvenated New England offense.

NEW ENGLAND EXPECTED POINTS SCORED: 27

-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01

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