For all the talk this week about the Eagles’ history with the Patriots, the most important Eagle doesn’t have any.
New England is one of five NFL teams Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has never faced. Not in the regular season (the teams last met that way in 2015, the year before Wentz was drafted), not in Super Bowl LII, of course, and not even in their 2018 preseason matchup, which Wentz sat out while recovering from knee surgery.
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“Not really,” Wentz said Wednesday, when asked if he thought this was any kind of factor in Sunday’s encounter between the 5-4 Eagles and the 8-1 Pats at Lincoln Financial Field. Wentz said he thinks more about “the track record of the Patriots, who they are and where they’re at, especially this season – they’re one of the best in the league, and they’re up there for a reason. I’m just excited for the opportunity to go compete on Sunday.”
The Patriots’ having never faced him, and him never having faced them, is “neither here nor there,” said Wentz, who stood under the falling confetti and helped Nick Foles hoist the Lombardi Trophy, but then limped into the background back on Feb. 4, 2018.
The game will be treated as a matchup between Wentz and Tom Brady, though Wentz was quick to note that they won’t be lining up across from one another.
“Ton of respect for him and what he’s done,” Wentz said. “Like I always say, I’m facing their defense and he’s facing our defense … but it will be cool to compete on the same field with him.”
Wentz’s backup, Josh McCown, has started games against New England each of the past two seasons, on behalf of their AFC East rival New York Jets. McCown, 40, is 0-4 lifetime against the Pats, while playing for the Arizona Cardinals, the Detroit Lions, and the Jets.
The Lions loss deserves an asterisk, because McCown played wide receiver in that 2006 game, catching two passes for 15 yards. In 2017, McCown threw for 354 yards against the defense Foles would later best in the Super Bowl, McCown completing 31 of 47 passes, with two touchdowns and two interceptions, in a 24-17 defeat.
McCown didn’t want to get into what he might have told Wentz about New England, “in the spirit of Bill Belichick,” he said. But generally, McCown said, he would tell anyone to “expect them to be very well-prepared, especially coming out of a bye. You know that they’re really going to be ready to go.”
McCown said it’s hard to look at past games and apply that to what New England will do against you.
“They have games and packages where they disguise, and games where they just line up and play. I think that’s what they’ve done well throughout the course of their history, especially with coach Belichick, is be able to reinvent themselves from week to week, according to the game,” McCown said. “You understand that when you’re getting ready to play them, you could see something totally new, that you’ve never seen [from them] before, and you have to be ready for that.”
Wentz was asked if he has pored over the Super Bowl LII tape, or maybe checked in with Foles about facing the Pats.
“Shoot, that was a long time ago,” said Wentz. “The teams are similar but there’s plenty of players different. … We’ve watched a lot of tape of this year and last year. That tape’s in there, too, but you don’t put a ton of stock into it.”
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox called the Super Bowl “like old war stories” at this point.
Coach Doug Pederson said: “We’re a different team, they’re a different team from then. Their defense is different today than it was then, offense is different, personnel is different. It’s something that’s part of our cut-ups, but it’s not something that’s a focal point at all going into this game.”
Tight end Zach Ertz, who scored the winning touchdown in that Super Bowl, said he hasn’t felt the need to tell Wentz anything about New England.
“He’s watched enough film on them. … He’s going to watch a ton of film, like he always has,” Ertz said. “He was here Monday for like 10 hours watching film, so I won’t really tell him much.”
Center Jason Kelce said facing New England isn’t going to be so much about personnel and concepts that Wentz hasn’t seen, but about matching their efficiency.
“The Patriots are unique in that they do a lot of different looks, they’re well-coached, they’re going to find a way to try to take away what you do really well and make you win another way. I think that’s kind of always been their model,” Kelce said. “They’re going to find out what plays you like to run, how you like to attack people, and try to take that away. They’re going to try to find out who your best players are, double ‘em, do whatever they can to make sure that guy is not the one that’s going to beat ‘em.”
Lots of teams aspire to this, Kelce said, but what makes the Patriots different is that “they’re very good at it.”
New England has the NFL’s No. 1 defense, albeit against a mostly unimpressive list of opponents. When the Pats finally played a top contender, the week before the bye, they got whacked by Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, 37-20.
New England’s D has some impressive numbers. The one the Eagles are most wary of is its league-high 19 interceptions, a number that fuels an NFL-best plus-17 turnover ratio. The Eagles are minus-1, even though Wentz has only been intercepted four times in nine games.
McCown said the Eagles are “focused on their ability to take the ball away and to put up points on defense.”
Pederson said that in his bye week self-scouting, he noticed that “in our five wins, we took care of the football, we reduced penalties, created some turnovers.”