The 5-4 Eagles will face the 8-1 Patriots at 4:25 p.m. Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. It will be the first time the two teams have played each other since the Eagles’ dramatic 41-33 win over New England in Super Bowl LII.
To borrow a phrase from former Eagle Terrell Owens, get your popcorn ready. Here is a breakdown of the matchup:
When the Eagles run
The Eagles are averaging 30 rushing attempts, sixth most in the NFL. They rushed for 380 yards in back-to-back wins over the Bills and Bears, running the ball 76 times in those two games.
Jordan Howard has been Howie Roseman’s best offseason acquisition. He’s a decisive between-the-tackles runner who is averaging 4.5 yards per carry in the last six games behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. He’s been very effective on first down, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, which is the 10th highest first-down rush average in the league. The only problem is, he suffered a stinger in the last game against the Bears and may not play Sunday.
If he can’t, Eagles will have to rely more on talented rookie Miles Sanders. Sanders is an explosive back who averaged 8.9 yards per carry in the last two games, including a 65-yard touchdown run against the Bills. But he’s averaging just eight carries per game.
The Patriots are 11th in run defense (99.1 yards per game) but 26th in opponent rush average (4.6). Just one team has run the ball more than 22 times against them. That was the Ravens, who rushed for 210 yards on 41 carries in their Week 9 win two weeks ago. A week earlier, the Browns rushed for 159 yards against them. And the Redskins rushed for 145 yards against them in Week 4.
When the Eagles throw
Carson Wentz came out throwing this season, averaging 39.3 pass attempts in the Eagles’ first three games. But he has averaged just 30.8 attempts in the last six games as the Eagles have leaned more heavily on the run.
Wentz hasn’t had much luck with the deep ball since DeSean Jackson got hurt in Week 2. Two years ago, 20 of his 33 touchdown passes came on throws of 10 yards or more. Last year, 10 of 21. This year: just 5 of 15.
The Eagles are using a ton of two-tight-end sets with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. In their last five games, they have used 12-personnel 51.4% of the time. Wentz has a 101.7 passer rating and a 67.1 completion percentage in 12-personnel. Ertz has 46 catches but just two TDs. He had nine catches against the Bears before the bye, including eight for first downs.
The Patriots have one of the league’s best pass defenses. They have allowed just three TD passes in nine games. They’re first in opponent passer rating (45.8), interceptions (19, five by safety Devin McCourty), yards allowed per attempt (5.3), and opponent completion percentage (54.1), and fourth in sacks (32).
When the Patriots run
The Patriots are averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, third lowest in the league. The problem there is with the offensive line.
Their anchor, center David Andrews, had a blood clot diagnosed in his lungs before the season and is out. So is 2018 first-round pick Isiah Wynn, who figured to be the starting left tackle this season. Wynn, who has been on IR since Week 2 with a toe injury, is eligible to return Sunday.
Rob Gronkowski’s retirement affected the run game every bit as much as the pass game. He was the league’s best run-blocking tight end. The Patriots do have 13 rushing TDs, third most in the league.
The Eagles have one of the best run defenses in the league. They are fourth in rushing yards allowed (87.3 per game) and fifth in opponent rush average (3.8). Their only real clunker came in Week 7 against Dallas, when they gave up 189 rushing yards to Zeke Elliott and Co.
They got defensive tackle Tim Jernigan back from injury before the bye, which helps both their run defense and pass rush.
When the Patriots throw
The last time Tom Brady faced the Eagles two years ago in Super Bowl LII, he threw for 505 yards and three touchdowns. But the two guys who were on the receiving end of 268 of those 505 yards — Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola — both are gone.
Brady’s passing numbers have suffered without Gronk. His touchdown percentage (14 in 355 attempts) is the lowest of his career. His yards-per-attempt average (7.1) is his lowest since 2014. His overall passer rating (93.1) is his lowest since 2013, and his third-down passer rating (80.6) is his lowest since 2006.
Running back James White is his third-down go-to guy. White has 44 catches overall, a team-high 18 of them on third down. Slot receiver Julian Edelman has a team-high 63 catches. He doesn’t have great speed, but he has a knack for getting open, particularly against zone coverage.
The Eagles’ pass defense is in much better shape now than it was a month ago. Most of their corners are healthy again, which will allow them to use their four-corner dime package a lot. Key for the Eagles will be the inside pressure Fletcher Cox and Co. are able to put on Brady.
Eagles kicker Jake Elliott has nailed all 12 of his field goal attempts through nine games, but he has missed a pair of PATs. He has had just one FG attempt longer than 41 yards. That was a 53-yarder in the Eagles’ Week 6 loss to the Vikings.
Punter Cam Johnston is having an exceptional season. He’s fourth in the league in gross average (47.6) and fourth in net average (43.1). He has put 13 of his 34 punts inside the 20 and has had only 15 returned.
Dave Fipp’s coverage teams have done well for the most part. They gave up a 100-yard kick return for a TD to the Lions’ Jamal Agnew in Week 3, and a 24-yard punt return last week to the Bears’ Tarik Cohen, but otherwise they have been pretty solid. Punt returner Darren Sproles returned last week after missing three games with a quad injury.
The Patriots are on their third kicker. Stephen Gostkowski suffered a season-ending hip injury in late September. They replaced him with Mike Nugent, but he was released after missing a pair of field goal attempts against Cleveland, and replaced by veteran Nick Folk.
Punter Jake Bailey is 10th in net average (42.0). He has put 21 punts inside the 20, second most in the league. Just 16 of his 48 punts (33.3%) have been returned. The Patriots’ coverage teams are among the best in the league.
Both teams are coming off byes, and both historically have played well the week after their bye. Since 2001, the Eagles and Patriots both have 14-4 records the week after the bye.
Eagles 23, Patriots 20
Eagles NCB Avonte Maddox vs. Patriots WR Julian Edelman: Edelman, who will line up in the slot most of the time, is a tough receiver who knows how to get open and has tremendous chemistry with Brady. Neutralizing him will be a big challenge for Maddox. ADVANTAGE: Patriots
Eagles offensive line vs. Patriots defensive line: The Eagles’ offensive line is starting to hit its stride. It’s coming off dominating performances against the Bills and Bears. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Eagles DTs Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan vs. Patriots C Ted Karras, LG Joe Thuney, and RG Shaq Mason: The Eagles’ interior rush is going to be critical to disrupting Brady. Cox appears to finally be back to where he was before his foot injury. Karras has replaced injured David Andrews and could be a weak link. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Keys to the game
Keep it close. Playing catch-up won’t be an option. The Eagles will need to keep pace with New England right out of the gate. The Patriots’ 87 first-quarter points are the most in the league. Their 153 first-half points are the third most. Their plus-105 halftime scoring differential is the biggest in the league. The 49ers are a distant second at plus-69. Teams that are trailing at halftime usually lose.
The turnover battle. This, more than anything, except maybe their ultra-soft schedule, is why the Patriots are 8-1. They lead the league in takeaways (27, including 19 interceptions) and turnover differential (plus-17). Wentz has thrown just four interceptions all season, but the Eagles’ nine lost fumbles are the third most in the league, and they have just 13 takeaways in nine games.
Eagles’ run game. The Eagles will need to run the ball effectively to beat the Patriots. It will help them control the ball and keep Brady off the field, keep them out of third-and-longs, and set up the play-action game for Wentz. If Howard can’t play, that will be more difficult.