New England Patriots Meet Eagles In Philadelphia
Philly’s LeSean McCoy leads the NFL with 1,019 yards rushing.
When looking at the 2011 NFL schedule, more than a few were suspecting that this matchup featuring New England and Philadelphia could potentially be a Super Bowl preview.
Technically, that’s still possible, although it’s hardly a topic of discussion during Thanksgiving week.
We’ll see what happens when these two meet at the Linc on Sunday. The Don Best odds screen currently lists the visiting Patriots (7-3 straight up, 6-3 against the spread) as a 3-point favorite over the host Eagles (4-6 SU & ATS) at the few Las Vegas wagering outlets that have posted a price at midweek, with a total, where posted, at 50½. Kickoff time will be 4:15 p.m. (ET), with CBS providing the TV coverage.
The reason for the skittishness at the Las Vegas sports books? It’s the status of Philadelphia QB Michael Vick, still unknown as we went to press due to his rib injury. Although the Birds didn’t seem to miss Vick last week, when reliever Vince Young was summoned from the bullpen and led Philly to surprising 17-10 win at Met Life Stadium against the host Giants.
More on Young/Vick in a moment. But allow us to digress for a moment as we recollect on the special nature of this infrequent interconference rivalry from the Northeast Corridor.
The Super Bowl reference is only natural when mentioning these two because of their meeting at Jacksonville in Super Bowl XXXIX back on February 5, 2005. We have always thought that the 24-21 final scoreline in favor of the Patriots was a bit misleading in a game that New England seemed in control for much of the evening.
Indeed, the enduring memory of the contest is of the Eagles and Donovan McNabb taking their sweet time on a 4th-quarter TD drive that demanded more urgency. After a failed onside kick, Philly didn’t get the ball back until 46 seconds remained, and was on its own 4-yard-line to boot. With no timeouts, the drive predictably went nowhere, a McNabb interception to Rodney Harrison with nine seconds to play ending the festivities.
After the game, controversy erupted when Eagles wideout Terrell Owens and other Philly players were indirectly critical of McNabb, which kept the call-in lines at 610 WIP in Philadelphia busy throughout that offseason.
The next meeting between the teams in November of 2007, was also an interesting one, when the Patriots were storming their way toward a 16-0 regular-season mark. Having hardly taken a deep breath while covering nine of their first 10 wins, Bill Belichick’s team was installed as whopping 22-point favorites at Foxborough. The game, however, was not easy for New England, which had to rally late for a 31-28 triumph, in retrospect the first chink in the Patriots’ armor that season, and one the Giants would finally exploit in the Super Bowl.
Sunday’s battle has more urgency attached to it for the Eagles, who are trying to rally their way back into the NFC East race. Wildly inconsistent, the Birds hit one of their high notes last Sunday night in the aforementioned win against the Giants when “V.Y.” came to the rescue.
Young, playing in a mostly-controlled manner in his first start in an Eagle uniform, completed 23-of-36 passes for 258 yards and two scores. Granted, V.Y. suffered three picks, but also expertly led a late, 18-play drive that resulted in a game-winning 8-yard TD pass to Riley Cooper with 2:45 to play.
Evidence would suggest there is little if any dropoff between Vick and Young, mainly because the Birds can rely on other weapons on the attack. Specifically RB LeSean McCoy, now on 1,019 rush yards this season, and WR DeSean Jackson, who caught six of Young’s passes last Sunday night.
More encouraging for the Eagles vs. the G-Men was the effort of a defense that has come under a lot of criticism this season. While most acknowledged that Andy Reid erred when moving Juan Castillo from OL coach to the defensive coordinator position, the Birds have tightened up their stop unit in recent weeks since Reid changed assignments for his defensive staff, with Castillo now getting extra help in calling the defensive signals.
The Patriots have had defensive concerns this year, too, ranking near the bottom of NFL stats all season thanks to a mostly-rebuilt back seven. New England is also showing signs of responding to Belichick’s noted defensive scheming, having allowed only 19 points over the last two games, dominant wins over the Jets and Chiefs that have helped them reassume command of the AFC East, a division they now lead by two games over the Bills and Jets.
As always, keeping QB Tom Brady from causing severe damage will be key in controlling the Patriot offense. New England endured a rare attack-end slump a few weeks back when opposing defenses were succeeding in pressuring Brady from the inside, forcing him into more uncomfortable rolls to his right or left to escape traffic rather than stepping inside of the pass rush, as he would prefer.
A key in this matchup will be if either Young or Vick can pick the pocket of Belichick’s pass defense, which has mostly labored this season. The Pats have allowed 63 percent completions and 15 TD passes, the latter number helped by facing pedestrian Jets and Chiefs offenses the past two weeks. The Eagles’ chances increase if one of their QBs can similarly exploit what has been a burnable New England pass defense.
Also note that Belichick has won his three previous meetings vs. Philly coach Andy Reid in 2003, the Super Bowl after the 2004 season, and 2007, though the Birds have covered the last two.