Patriots at Eagles
Today, 4:15 p.m., Channel 4 (Line: Patriots by 3 1/2)
When the Patriots runNew England’s ground game re-emerged last week as a trio of backs carried the load against the Chiefs. Hard-charging BenJarvus Green-Ellis will get first crack at trying to dent the Eagles. The 5-foot-11-inch, 215-pound Green-Ellis has good vision and will bust through creases with authority. He isn’t speedy but he keeps his muscular legs churning and will give as good as he gets in the punishment department. Danny Woodhead provides a spark with his quick feet and exceptional vision, and he isn’t short on toughness. Woodhead is slippery and has the uncanny ability to avoid big hits. Rookie Shane Vereen got his first carries last week, and there was a lot to like. Vereen runs low and has good balance. With center Dan Connolly out, Ryan Wendell will have his hands full because the Eagles have an excellent pair of defensive tackles in Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson. Jenkins uses exceptionally strong hands to shed blockers quickly and punish running backs. Patterson is quick and powerful and never takes a play off. Jamar Chaney may be the best middle linebacker you’ve never heard of. A tackling machine, Chaney has good instincts and tremendous lateral movement. By the end of the game, you’ll swear there are two No. 51s in green.
When the Patriots passTom Brady continues to put up impressive (but nonetheless expected) statistics: 3,266 yards, 25 TD passes, a 102.5 passer rating. What’s truly impressive is that he’s doing it without a legitimate deep threat. Teams know Brady is going to slice them up using short and intermediate routes, and because he’s so accurate and his receivers are so reliable, they still can’t stop him. Wes Welker and Deion Branch are the only wide receivers making an impact. New England has the best tight end duo in the league in the freakishly big and burly Rob Gronkowski and the athletic Aaron Hernandez. The 6-foot-6-inch, 265-pound Gronkowski is a beast to handle one on one. He is too quick for linebackers to keep up with and too big and powerful for defensive backs to cover. Hernandez has good hands and will fight for every yard (do you too find yourself yelling at him to fall before he fumbles or gets hurt?). Injuries have left Philadelphia’s once-elite secondary reduced to ball-hawking cornerback Asante Samuel and four other guys. Safeties Kurt Coleman (he’s strong) and Nate Allen (he’s big) are solid.
When the Eagles runLeSean McCoy leads a potent rushing attack that owes a lot of its production to the quarterback spot. McCoy, who is generously listed at 5 feet 11 inches, 208 pounds, is a very smooth runner who uses his great vision and excellent lateral movement to slip off tackles and break off large gains. McCoy is extraordinarily shifty and can string together moves as he sifts through traffic to get to the second level. He runs low and with great balance, allowing him to deflect and absorb hits without going down. Rookie Dion Lewis is a compact tailback (listed at 5-8 but don’t believe it) with thick, muscular legs, a quick first step, and good vision. He will explode to the hole and will drive his shoulders into defenders. QB Vince Young is a phenomenal athlete with great size (6-5, 232), tremendous speed, and elite mobility. Few players can turn a busted play into a big gain better than Young. Center Jamaal Jackson is the leader of the offensive line. He’s tough, smart, and instinctive. He’s quick and he’ll battle the equally quick and tough Vince Wilfork all day. Guards Evan Mathis (he’s big but lacks strength) and Danny Watkins (he’s quick but lacks size) are solid. The Patriots will rotate their big uglies and wear down the interior three.
When the Eagles passFor all his tremendous physical attributes - including great size and ridiculously quick feet - Vince Young still hasn’t developed into an elite NFL quarterback. Young has the arm strength to deliver passes into tight windows. His biggest problems have been with decision-making. Young too often locks onto his primary receiver, is prone to throw into double- and triple-teams, and his passes have a tendency to sail, leaving his receivers vulnerable. Negatives aside, the man is a winner (31-17 as a starter). Andre Carter has breathed life into New England’s pass rush. He explodes off the edge and he will keep Young uncomfortable. DeSean Jackson, who is battling foot woes, is one of the most explosive receivers in the game. Jackson has elite speed - he stretches the field consistently - and great hands. When healthy, he will get behind the secondary on a regular basis. Jason Avant has great hands, but lacks speed and strength. Riley Cooper (6-3, 222) is speedy, athletic, and inconsistent. The Patriots’ no-name secondary has been impressive, but will be tested without the injured Devin McCourty (shoulder) and safety Patrick Chung (foot).
EAGLES’ KEY PLAYER: LeSean McCoy
The Eagles have been ravaged by injuries, with some of their top playmakers out or performing at less than 100 percent. McCoy has to emerge as the workhorse to carry this offense.
How he beats you: With quickness and instincts. McCoy is a slick runner who can break ankles with his moves and break tackles with his deceptive power. He’s the real deal.
How to shut him down: By pounding him. McCoy needs to be hit on every down. Even when he doesn’t take the handoff, you have to drill him because he’s a demon on screens, too.
EAGLES’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Outside forces: Defensive ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole have to explode off the edge and punish Tom Brady.
2. Quick thinkers: Go no-huddle. Vince Young is at his best when the game is moving at a rapid pace. The longer he has to think, the more mistakes he makes.
3. Philadelphia flyers: Send DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin deep. A lot. Young has the arm strength, and New England’s corners lack deep speed.
PATRIOTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Confusion reigns: Disguise your defenses to keep Vince Young disoriented. He has trouble with even basic formations. Anything exotic will throw him for a loop.
2. I-Spy: Getting a body on Young at all times is a must. He is at his best when improvising. He can break a defense by fixing plays that appear broken.
3. Spread the wealth: Tom Brady is at his best when he is distributing to everybody (duh). Get the pass-catchers involved early and then hand it off to the backs.
Prediction: Patriots 21, Eagles 20