The New England Patriots will kick off the 2023 season in week one at Gillette Stadium against the NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles. With Jalen Hurts leading the high-flying offense featuring A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, the Eagles are a tough test in the first game of a challenging season that sees the Patriots with the most difficult schedule based on projected wind totals of all thirty-two NFL teams.
The Patriots will need their strong defense, which returns ten of eleven starters (only the retired Devin McCourty does not return), to step up after an inconsistent and dysfunctional offense derailed their 2022 season. With a pass rush featuring Matt Judon, Josh Uche, Christian Barmore, Daniel Ekuale, Deitrich Wise Jr., and rookie Keion White, they should be a difficult test for the Eagles’ offensive line.
This week’s game will be broadcast on CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 and WPRI-TV Channel 12 in Providence. The top announcing team at CBS is in Foxborough, MA this week as the great Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with increasingly more annoying Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will report from the sidelines.
This week’s game will be broadcast to a national audience by ESPN Radio. ESPN personality Steve Levy will call the game with one of the best radio voices in the game in Sal Paolantonio, providing analysis.
Locally, 98.5 The Sports Hub, the flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network and with 33 stations in New England (and one outpost in Rochester, NY), will feature play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci calling the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak handling the color analysis.
With the preseason in the rearview mirror, the real games begin this week.
Patriots’ Defense vs Eagles’ Offense:
The Patriot’s defense was exceptionally good against unbelievably bad teams and overwhelmed against extremely strong offenses in 2022. The unit has a lot to do to be considered one of the top units in the NFL, even though they have the potential to be a top-five unit.
The Eagles have a mobile quarterback in Jalen Hurts, who can drop and get the ball out quickly to playmakers such as wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. Tight end Dallas Goedert is a weapon on third downs and in the red zone and the upgraded running back room includes the offseason additions of dual-threat runner and receiver D’Andre Swift and former first-round draft pick Rashaad Penny.
For New England, the key to their defense is creating turnovers. The defense was second in the NFL with 30 turnovers created last season.
This is the primary key to pulling an upset over Philadelphia, as the Eagles had nine turnovers in their three regular-season losses and just ten turnovers combined in their fourteen wins. In the playoffs, their only turnover was in the Super Bowl, which was not-so-coincidently their only loss.
New England must goad Hurts into throwing an interception (he only had six all of last season) or forcing a fumble when tackling or sacking him. Hurts, who can run and extend plays in the pocket with his mobility, did have nine fumbles last season and lost seven.
Philadelphia is also exceptional at extending drives. They were fourth in the NFL in third-down (102 of 222 – 45.9%) and fourth-down conversion rate (22 of 32 – 68.8%) last year. In addition, they got into the end zone when they hit the red zone, finishing third in the league with a 67.8% conversion rate (40 of 59).
New England must be able to make stops and force the Eagles to punt. In addition, they must hold them to field goals when they reach the red zone. Although the Patriots were second in the NFL on fourth downs (10 of 27 – 37%), they struggled on third downs, finishing in the bottom third (21st overall, 97 of 241 – 40.2%)
The Patriots struggled in the red zone last year, as well. New England allowed opponents to score touchdowns on 58% of their drives inside their twenty-yard line (29 of 50). New England needs to tighten up on third down and in the red zone to pull off the huge upset at home.
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Three Matchups to Watch:
#1 Cornerbacks vs A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith
Whoever ends up playing at cornerback on Sunday (Jack Jones is unlikely to play due to a hamstring injury) will have a tough task lining up against two very different but very effective wide receivers. A.J. Brown had 88 receptions for 1,496 yards and 11 touchdowns. DeVonta Smith had 95 catches for 1,196 yards and seven touchdowns.
Jonathan Jones is expected to be involved in the coverage, likely on the shifty and smaller Smith. First-round draft pick Christian Gonzalez gets a “welcome to the NFL” moment with the big, strong, sneaky-fast Brown opposite him. Besides the rookie, the New England secondary is smaller and Marcus Jones and Myles Bryant are expected to play in the slot against Quez Watkins.
The X-Factor is Shaun Wade, who has length and size but has had limited opportunities despite being on the 53-man roster after arriving via a trade with Baltimore. Belichick has adamantly kept Wade outside and not in the slot for two seasons–does he finally put him out on the field in a larger role against A.J. Brown and other larger wide receivers on the schedule in 2023? Belichick has pulled some rabbits out of his hat in the secondary over the years, but this would be a huge surprise.
#2 Safeties vs Dallas Goedert
For all the attention on the wide receivers in the Philadelphia passing game, the tight end position has been a major part of the offense for almost a decade. Zach Ertz held down the position for years until the Eagles spent a second-round draft pick on Dallas Goedert in 2018. His consistency and ability to get free on third down make him an underrated weapon vital to the Eagles’ success.
For New England, the only player not returning to the starting defense in 2023 is safety Devin McCourty who retired. The Patriots will use all four safeties in various roles throughout the game in different defensive looks and alignments. Jabril Peppers, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger and Jalen Mills will all likely find themselves responsible for Goedert in coverage at some point.
Dugger was among the best in the NFL in pass coverage on tight ends last season but may see more time shadowing quarterback Jalen Hurts to prevent him from making big plays in the running game. Phillips is undersized and the six-foot-five and 255 lb Goedert would be a match-up nightmare that the Eagles would look to exploit.
Jabril Peppers (five-foot-eleven and 215 lbs) and Jalen Mills (six-foot-one and 190 lbs) may have the titanic task of trying to stay with Goedert and prevent him from using his body positioning to shield them from the ball and make plays to extend drives. New England must keep Goedert from making big conversions on third down to slow the Philadelphia offense.
#3 Josh Uche and Matt Judon vs Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson
For the last matchup to watch, let’s turn the tables and put the Eagles on their heels. New England was third in the NFL with 54 sacks last season. This was with interior penetrator Christian Barmore injured most of the season and only amassing 2.5 sacks. New England also used a second-round draft pick on edge rusher Keion White, who looked dominant in limited preseason action.
But to slow the Eagles’ offense, the pressure will need to come from the edge from Matt Judon (15.5 sacks) and Josh Uche (11.5 sacks). These two were instrumental in ending drives with timely sacks on third down last season. But they have a tough assignment in week one this season.
Lane Johnson is one of the best right tackles in football and has been a rock for a decade in Philadelphia. Whatever physical loss while aging has been negated by his intelligence and technique that make him so dominant. Jordan Mailata is an Australian rugby player who came to the US and the Eagles scooped up in the seventh round in 2018.
First-round pick Andre Dillard was supposed to be the future at left tackle for the Eagles. Instead, Mailata, who never played college or high school football, spent two seasons getting acclimated before taking over at left tackle. His size, strength and athleticism make him a wrecking ball on the edge and ascending into one of the better left tackles in the league.
If Judon and Uche cannot dominate on the edge as they did so often last year, the Patriots are in a bind on defense as Hurts will pick apart the secondary with too much time. Beating Mailata and Johnson on third downs is vital for the Patriots to be able to hold down the Eagles’ explosive offense.
Patriots Score Prediction:
I tried to talk myself into it, Patriots Nation. I really did. At home. Opening week. An actual competent offensive coordinator. The offense will be improved over 2022, I have no doubt. But to beat a Super Bowl team loaded on both sides of the ball?
The Patriots need a lot of luck. The offensive line needs to be phenomenal. The young cornerbacks will have to step up their game. The pass rush must win one-on-one battles. The defense needs to generate multiple turnovers. The offense cannot turn the ball over and must win consistently on third downs. The special teams have to make a couple of big plays.
Is it possible? Sure. Is it likely? Nope.
I see the Patriots putting up a heck of a fight and keeping it close before Jalen Hurts makes one of those crazy Jalen Hurts plays and Philadelphia survives a test on the road with a hard-fought 28-21 win over the Patriots.
– Hal Bent has covered the New England Patriots for the past five years at FullPressCoverage.com and can be found at @Halbent01 on Twitter (and now on Threads) and manning the @FPC_Patriots account each game day, providing game updates, instant analysis, complaining about uncalled holding penalties and calling out Steve Belichick for playing too much zone coverage in crucial situations.
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