Commentary

Desperate Eagles should challenge Pats

Updated: November 24, 2011, 11:13 PM ET
By Tedy Bruschi and Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

Every week during the season, Mike Reiss and Tedy Bruschi break down the New England Patriots' upcoming game. This week's breakdown is on Sunday's game in Philadelphia against the Eagles.

Mike: In some ways, this game reminds me a little bit of facing the Raiders in recent years, with the idea that there are a lot of talented players on the team but they struggle in critical situations. The Eagles are minus-8 in turnover differential (28th in the NFL), tied for 25th in red zone offense (20 touchdowns in 45 trips), and last in the NFL in red zone defense (18 touchdowns allowed in 26 trips). It's no wonder they've struggled.

Tedy: They are 4-6 and in third place in the NFC East. They are going to have to win out to have any chance of making the playoffs. This is a desperate team, and so are the Philadelphia fans who are hungry for a football champion. They had a lot of high hopes early in the season, but now they're hoping for a miracle that the team can win out.

Eagles' offense vs. Patriots' defense

Mike: Let's start in the obvious spot, at quarterback, where Michael Vick missed the Eagles' win over the Giants because of a rib injury. Vince Young stepped in and now the question this week is if Vick will be ready.

Tedy: It might have been a good thing for the Eagles that Vick didn't play because watching that game, they had a renewed sense of urgency. One of their leaders was out, so all the other players felt they needed to step up. That's probably the attitude they should have had the entire season, but it looks like they're possibly figuring things out. When your quarterback goes down, sometimes it helps your team open its eyes and say, "Let's stop looking to him to make plays, he's not there anymore, so I have to do more with my game." Eagles coach Andy Reid came out this week and talked about Vick not practicing Wednesday and how Young would get the reps. You have to love a coach who just gives out that information; it's great for fans and for media types like us, Reiss. For the Patriots, that creates a situation where you really have to prepare for two quarterbacks.

Mike: What did you see from Vince Young in the win over the Giants? He was 23-of-36 for 258 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.

Tedy: He was very rusty at the beginning and tried to start by throwing quick passes to the flat to get the rust off. He threw a couple of interceptions early but really settled down in the second half, when he was 15-of-18 for 169 yards. The majority of his throws were in the 5- to 15-yard range, and one deep ball he threw was intercepted. He had another deep ball but it was nullified by a penalty. So you add all that up, and look at the impressive 18-play, 80-yard drive that he led in the fourth quarter against the Giants, and Young is clearly capable if he's playing.

Mike: As for Vick, this situation has some similarities to 2005, when he was with the Falcons. The Patriots were preparing all week to face him and then he showed up on the injury report late. This is obviously a little different, but what are your thoughts on Vick?

Tedy: With him, I think you have to be ready for street ball. He hasn't been spending a lot of time in the pocket and he looks for the big play constantly. If his receivers aren't open down the field, he just takes off. So whether it's Vick or Young, look for the Patriots to implement a spy on the quarterback. The spy would be someone that doesn't rush and has no overwhelming coverage responsibility, instead focusing on keeping the quarterback contained. It could be an athletic linebacker or a defensive back.

Mike: You also picked up something else on tape that figures to be on the Patriots' radar.

Tedy: Yes, it was interesting to see the Eagles running the read option with Vince Young and receiver Chad Hall. We've seen Young do it before, and Hall played at Air Force, where he had experience with it.

Mike: At running back, third-year man LeSean McCoy leads the way. He has an NFL-high 1,019 yards on 188 carries (5.4 average) with 10 touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeMcCoy
Debby Wong/US PresswireLeSean McCoy is second in the NFL with 10 rushing touchdowns.

Tedy: He's one of the best in the business, one of the most explosive backs in the NFL. The Giants contained him well last week, and he had 46 yards on his first 22 carries. Then he broke a 60-yarder on his final carry to ice the game. He can do that at any point in the game. The Eagles love to run the "Take 2" draw, and it's so effective because offensive tackle Jason Peters is a big, strong, athletic guy. He'll invite an edge rusher up the field, and as the edge rusher takes the bait, he clubs him upfield with the inside arm. As the defensive end is recovering to make it back to the line of scrimmage, Peters then climbs upfield to get a block on a linebacker, in essence "taking two" in blocking two players on the same play. As the defensive end tries to make his way back to the line of scrimmage, it's too late, because McCoy is too quick and Peters is already blocking someone else. Defensive ends Andre Carter and Mark Anderson have to be alert for this play, read the sets of the offensive tackle, and not take the bait in going upfield. This is a staple play in the Eagles' running game.

Mike: Here's a stat that might surprise you: While Vick has been charged with eight fumbles, McCoy hasn't fumbled this year in his 188 rushing attempts.

Tedy: Watching on film, I am surprised at that because McCoy's ball security is shaky. He swings that ball around like it's a loaf of bread. He has to be a ball security target for the Patriots' defense. As for the offensive line, which only surrendered one sack against the Giants, this isn't a unit that will blow you off the ball. In this West Coast system, it's a more athletic group that wants to position block you and shield you from the play. I don't see them dominating the Patriots' defensive line.

Mike: When you say West Coast, how do you define that?

Tedy: One word is rhythmic. When you're going up against it, you have to be ready for the up-tempo pace. It's not hurry-up, but sometimes it feels like it. Andy Reid wants precision and tempo, so after a play is complete, they'll get to the huddle, get the play and get back to the line of scrimmage and there is a quick snap count. It puts stress on your adjustments and substitutions because they have to be made so quickly. There will be a script. Usually I'd say expect quick timing routes, but with these two quarterbacks, a quick timing route can turn into a quarterback extending the play and taking a shot down the field.

Mike: Let's wrap up this aspect of the matchup by touching on some of the Eagles' weapons.

Tedy: They have a quality tight end in Brent Celek and receiver Jeremy Maclin should be back from his hamstring injury. And, of course, you have DeSean Jackson, another very explosive player. I'd like him a lot more if he was more mature. He missed a team meeting and was sent home on game day, and then he comes back this week and catches a 50-yard pass from Vince Young but taunts Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell by flipping him the ball. His ability is obvious, but he just has to make better decisions.

Eagles' defense vs. Patriots' offense

Mike: This is a 4-3 defense with some of the biggest names in the game in the secondary.

Tedy: They made a splash with the trade for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, although we won't see him because of an ankle injury. They signed cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, giving them another top player. This is a defense with some playmakers, but I still think the biggest playmaker they have is Asante Samuel. He's still making plays, although a lot of times I watch him and think to myself, "I still wish you caught that interception in the Super Bowl against the Giants!" It's no hard feelings, I love Asante, but it's just "I wish you could have squeezed one more interception in there." He's a gambler, not really a shutdown man corner who is going to follow a receiver from left to right. He's one of the best in the league at reading a quarterback and understanding where he needs to be in zone coverage, deciphering route combinations. When receivers threaten his area, and he sees a quarterback favoring his side of the field with his eyes, those playmaking abilities come out.

Mike: Tom Brady said this week that he knows the type of playmaker Samuel is, and I wouldn't expect him to challenge him much.

Tedy: The majority of stress will be on the Eagles' safeties and linebackers, because the Patriots' passing game is in between the numbers. The Patriots' receivers don't threaten teams outside the numbers.

Mike: You had to be impressed with the Eagles' defense last week against the Giants. They limited the running game and it looked like they were making life hard on quarterback Eli Manning.

Tedy: This defense plays mainly zone and it rushed four the majority of the time against the Giants. I think the defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo, sent an additional rusher once and they got hit with a big play by Giants receiver Victor Cruz. As a defensive coach, when you have something that works and then you try something different and get hurt with it, I'm not sure how much you'll see that again. So if I'm the Patriots, I'm expecting a four-man rush scheme with zone coverage behind it, and that's something Tom Brady can eat up. The Patriots' offense has been caught off guard when teams have gone away from the norm -- against Pittsburgh, you expect zone blitzes and they play more man-to-man, the Jets are always changing it up and present problems. That's Dick LeBeau and Rex Ryan. Can Castillo do the same thing? He's a first-year coordinator, and you wonder if he can.

Mike: Let's talk about some of their personnel up front and how they play.

Tedy: Against the Giants, the Eagles got good penetration from their interior defensive linemen, like Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins. You saw a front four starting to come together a bit, and you're seeing the pass rush and how players are getting off the ball. There's been a lot of talk about the "wide-9" with ends Jason Babin (team-high 10 sacks) and Trent Cole (5 sacks), but they've tightened down a bit and improved play from the interior defensive linemen has helped. Overall, this is a very gap-controlled defense -- get in your gap and let the linebackers get their reads.

Mike: The Eagles rank second in the NFL in sacks per opponents' pass play (29 in 354) and have been solid on third down, with opponents converting 36.2 percent of the time. But in addition to the red zone, there are some vulnerabilities.

Tedy: I think the Patriots can attack them with off-tackle runs. We saw Nate Solder used a lot as the third tight end and that's an area where the Patriots have been getting good production. The idea of crashing down on the 9-techniques (defensive ends) with a big, athletic body like Solder -- putting stress on the edge -- is a good way to attack them.

Mike: As usual, special teams figures to be a factor. The Patriots finally got their big return on Monday -- Julian Edelman's 72-yard punt return for a touchdown -- and the Eagles have their own explosiveness in that area.

Tedy: DeSean Jackson is feast or famine back there on the punt returns. He can break out for 50 yards but the next one might be minus-5. He takes chances and trusts his speed, sometimes too much. Coverage lane discipline is important. You might think you have contain, but you really don't until he's tackled.

Mike: Prediction time. It's a tough one without knowing the status of Vick, as that alters the picture. I'm going to assume he plays and I think this is the type of matchup that could hit at some of the Patriots' defensive vulnerabilities. The speed on the outside is a concern, as is a quarterback who can make plays with his feet after things look broken down. Offensively for the Patriots, some of the protection issues could hurt against an Eagles team that gets after it. I think it's a close game, and with that, I'll lean toward the home club. Eagles 24, Patriots 21.

Tedy: I'm going to have to disagree with you on that one, Reiss. The Eagles have too many ball security liabilities on the offensive side of the ball. Both quarterbacks are careless and I'm calling for LeSean McCoy's first fumble of the season. The Eagles' defense plays a lot of zone and I see Tom Brady and Wes Welker having a field day against it. Patriots by 10. Patriots 34, Eagles 24

Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th anniversary team. Mike Reiss is the Patriots blogger for ESPNBoston.com. You can reach Mike by leaving a message in his mailbag.

Tedy Bruschi

Columnist, ESPN.com
Tedy Bruschi spent his entire 13-year career with the New England Patriots after being drafted in the third round out of Arizona. He played in five Super Bowls, winning three. He retired prior to the 2009 season.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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