As far as season openers go, it doesn't get much tougher for the Patriots than hosting the Philadelphia Eagles. Coming off a Super Bowl appearance in 2022, the Eagles boast a high-powered offense led by a mobile quarterback and a defense that loves to get after the quarterback. Here are three key matchups to watch on Sunday.
1. Patriots offensive line vs. Eagles pass rush
I'm not sure what more can be said about the state of the Patriots offensive line at this point. Although Isaiah Wynn is thankfully gone, the Patriots line has somehow looked even worse throughout the preseason. Right tackle Riley Reiff was placed on IR and will miss at least the first four games while backup Calvin Anderson missed all of preseason with an undisclosed medical issue. Right guard Mike Onwenu had ankle surgery in the offseason and left guard Cole Strange got injured in the first padded practice and was limited the rest of camp. Not great, Bob!
The last thing Mac Jones would like to see working behind a patchwork line is the Eagles pass rush. Last year the Eagles became the first team in NFL history to have four guys with 10 or more sacks as they recorded 70 sacks on the season. They added Jalen Carter from Georgia in the NFL Draft to help bolster the pass rush and he has lived up to the hype. If the Patriots can't contain the rush on Sunday, Jones will be in for a long afternoon.
2. Patriots corners vs. A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith
Late Thursday night the Patriots received some bad news when Jeff Howe of The Athletic broke the news that cornerback Jack Jones would miss some time with a hamstring injury suffered in practice. Coming into his second season, Jones was supposed to be a key part of a secondary that is in transition. With Devin McCourty's retirement, Jalen Mills has moved to safety leaving Jones and rookie Christian Gonzalez as the outside corners with Jonathan Jones in the slot. Now, one would have to imagine that Jonathan Jones will move outside with either Marcus Jones or Myles Bryant in the slot. Not an ideal situation going against the Eagles wide receivers.
A season ago, Brown and Smith combined for 183 receptions (on 281 targets) for 2,692 yards and 18 touchdowns as the Eagles ended up as the top seed in the NFC. Brown (145 targets) and Smith (136) were each targeted at least eight times per game a season ago so the secondary will definitely have it's hands full. That is a tough spot for anyone, nevermind a cornerback making his NFL debut.
3. Patriots running backs vs. Eagles linebackers
With the offensive line issues and the lack of separation from the receivers, Mac Jones may have to lean on Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott in the passing game on Sunday. Stevenson was heavily involved in the offense as a receiver a season ago, leading the team with 69 receptions from his spot in the backfield. Elliott had a down year in 2022 with the Dallas Cowboys but in the previous four seasons, he averaged 57.5 receptions and has been good in picking up the pass rush.
The Eagles will get after the quarterback but are susceptible to giving up plays in the passing game to running backs. Last year, Philadelphia gave up 86 receptions to opposing running backs so look for the Patriots to try and involved Stevenson and Elliott in the passing game. In 12 career games against the Eagles, Elliott has 49 receptions, by far his most against any opponent.