W2W4: New England Patriots vs Philadelphia Eagles
By Hal Bent
When the Patriots Pass the Ball:
Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
The Patriots are going to have to fight through the next few weeks with Rob Gronkowski sidelined with a knee injury and not likely to play until week fourteen at Houston at the earliest, but an ultra-conservative approach by the Gronkowski camp and the team may be best. If the Patriots are going to make a return trip to the postseason, they will need a healthy Gronkowski. Keeping him out until after Christmas (week sixteen on the road against the Jets) may be the best approach.
With Julian Edelman hoping to return from his broken foot by the end of the regular season, the Patriots have had to lean on Danny Amendola to pick up the slack. He did–before he was slowed by a knee injury as well and left midway through the Buffalo win. Amendola did not play in Denver and the offense showed how much it missed its key players against an elite defense as the Patriots were forced to punt 10 times.
Tom Brady continued his amazing season at age 38 as he has now passed for 3,600 yards, has a 65.2% completion percentage, 28 touchdowns, and just four interceptions in 11 games. Last week he almost defeated the best passing defense in the NFL throwing to Brandon LaFell, Scott Chandler, Brandon Bolden, Keshawn Martin, Chris Harper, and Asante Cleveland. That’s a bad offense for a preseason game, let alone facing the best on the road.
If Brady can throw for 280 yards and three touchdowns against Denver, he should find an easier road against the Eagles at home. Getting Amendola back should be a huge boost to the offense and allow them to improve on their 2 of 13 conversion rate on third down and improve their time of possession.
Another understated loss last week in Denver was blocking tight end Michael Williams. No team asks as much of their tight ends in pass blocking as the Patriots. Often Williams is isolated against an edge rusher with little or no help and manages to allow the tackle to slide inside and pick-up blitzers or help the guard. Asante Cleveland just does not have the blocking skills to duplicate what Williams (and Gronkowski) can do on the edge of the line.
Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
New England will have their regular starting offensive line back together for a third straight game. They have seemed to settle on having Sebastian Vollmer at left tackle, Marcus Cannon on the right side, and Bryan Stork at center. Josh Kline still plays at both left or right guard depending upon which rookie is playing guard. Shaq Mason usually plays at left guard moving Kline to the right side of the line and Kline flips to left guard when Tre’ Jackson slides in at right guard as he rotates series with Mason.
As bad as Philadelphia has been against the run, they have been just as bad defending opponents’ passing attacks. Philadelphia is 20th in passing yards allowed and were lit up by Matthew Stafford and the Lions on Thanksgiving. The Eagles have allowed the second-most passing touchdowns in 2015 (25) and allow opposing quarterbacks to have an average passer rating of 93.4.
The Eagles paid a premium to snag cornerback Byron Maxwell in free agency to start opposite veteran Nolan Carroll. Carroll is out for the season with an ankle injury and that makes a weak secondary even weaker. Rookie Eric Rowe and journeyman E.J. Biggers are being forced into bigger roles. Add in a dinged-up Walter Thurmond at safety and the Eagles secondary looks strong at one position: free safety where veteran Malcolm Jenkins has been the only consistent perfromer.
The Eagles miss Trent Cole as the sack numbers of Connor Barwin and Fletcher Cox show. Linebacker Kiko Alonso–when healthy–and linebackers Demeco Ryans, Brandon Graham team with Mychal Kendricks for a solid if unspectacular linebacker group. None are elite pass rushers and they catch a break with Gronkowski sidelined.
The Eagles defense will struggle to contain Scott Chandler, Brandon LaFell, Keshawn Martin, and Danny Amendola–which is a strong indictment of how bad the Eagles have been in 2015. Expect Tom Brady to get the offense back in the 30 point range against the weak Eagles pass defense on Sunday.
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