3 keys to the New England Patriots beating the Philadelphia Eagles
2. Stop the alarming trend of soft run defense
Speaking of developments, the Patriots must prove this weekend that the way their run defense performed against Baltimore and Cleveland was simply a two-game anomaly and not a growing trend and cause for alarm.
The Pats had been stout through the first seven weeks of the year against the run, ranking in the NFL’s top-five in rushing defense through September and October. But something happened in a rainy, sloppy win against the Browns at Gillette Stadium right before Halloween, and the run defense hasn’t looked the same since.
Nick Chubb, Mark Ingram, and Lamar Jackson are three of the better rushers in the league this season – all of them rank in the top-12 in terms of total yards on the ground. So it’s not a complete surprise that the New England front-seven had some difficulties keeping those guys in check… but it’s time to batten down the hatches now.
Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders are nowhere near the talent level of those three players that gashed the Patriots in back-to-back weeks. Howard is currently 16th in the league in rush yards, and Sanders trails him significantly at 36th overall. Howard has six rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown this season, and Sanders has one of each. Both backs are averaging 4.4 yards per rush attempt.
None of this is said to disparage either Howard or Sanders, both of whom have done their job well enough in the Eagles offense this season.
The point, though, is that the Patriots defense should be able to win the battle against these backs and force Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz to beat New England with his arm. If the Patriots allow 100+ yards on the ground to either one of these backs on Sunday evening, then Bill Belichick has a much bigger problem on his hands with this defense than anyone might have initially imagined.