NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
Whenever I’ve looked at the Patriots upcoming schedule recently, this is the game that keeps standing out. Would this be the Patriots’ biggest remaining challenge? Who will we actually see play in this game? Will we see a classic Andy Reid mistake? How will the Patriots deal with a scrambling QB?
With Michael Vick, Jeremy Maclin, Desean Jackson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and now Nnamdi Asomugha all knicked up, this might be the best time for the Patriots to be facing off against Philly.
Here are some things I’ll be looking out for in Sunday’s game:
PATRIOTS RUSH DEFENSE VS. MCCOY, YOUNG
The Patriots rush defense has looked impressive all year, but they haven’t faced a running back as good as LeSean McCoy and they haven’t faced a dual threat QB like Vince Young yet.
Since the Patriots switched over to the 4-3 defense, speedy outside runners have fared better than bruising between the tackle runners. That could mean bad news against McCoy. McCoy’s ability to catch balls out the backfield and be a constant checkdown option also presents a threat to the Patriots defense.
If the Patriots run a typical zone coverage against the Eagles, it typically leaves the short middle of the field open for tight ends and running back to feast on. It hasn’t been a huge problem yet, because like I said, they haven’t faced a back as talented in open space as McCoy.
Young could also be a problem, especially if he’s forced to scramble. I’ve noticed all year that the Patriots haven’t really respected opposing QB’s legs. I would assume the Pats will have a linebacker keyed in on Young if he decides to try to do some damage with his legs.
I’d be a lot more confident if the Patriots linebackers weren’t so beat up. Everyone makes such a big deal about the Patriots’ rash of injuries in the secondary, but middle linebackers is just as bad. Dane Fletcher has had the longest lasting “thumb” injury recorded in modern history and Brandon Spikes knee is still banged up and is almost surely going to keep him out. With Jeff Tarpinian being placed on IR with an “illness” also known in Belichickian terms as a “concussion,” they’re left with Gary Guyton, Niko Koutouvides, Tracy White and Jermaine Cunningham at LB depth. Oh and everyone’s favorite 198 lb. nickel linebacker Julian Edelman.
That’s like someone telling you, “Yeah, we’ve got plenty of Thanksgiving leftovers: summer squash, zucchini, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and asparagus.”
The closest thing the Patriots have to look forward to would be to either just stay in sub packages the entire game, which would force Rob Ninkovich into more coverage, or bump Cunningham to SLB, Nink to WLB and Mayo to MLB. Even then, the Patriots have three players technically playing out of their prime positions.
Spikes and Fletcher need to come back and they need to come back soon. Unfortunately that won’t be this week and they have McCoy and Young to look forward to. I’d usually petition against Guyton playing, but this week he’s probably one of the “lesser evils.” I don’t think there’s a lot there with White, but I’d be willing to see what he’s got over Guyton on Sunday. His athleticism could be needed.
THE RETURN OF THE “NAMED” SECONDARY?
We’ve had the “no name” secondary for two weeks now, so if Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty come back will it be the “no no name” secondary or the “named” secondary?
Regardless, it will be nice to see Chung and McCourty back. Sterling Moore and Antwaun Molden have been fine, but they’re a lot better as reserves and actually bring a decent amount of depth to the Patriots secondary.
If McCourty comes back healthy, he and Kyle Arrington should make a top tier CB duo. Chung will likely pair up with James Ihedigbo, but Sterling Moore has proven to be a better reserve than Sergio Brown or Ross Ventrone.
With Maclin likely out and Jackson questionable, the Patriots will likely be facing off against Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Steve Smith and Chad Hall. The Patriots secondary isn’t great, but I think they can handle that.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles are neck and neck with the 49ers for the best pass rushing defense. Trent Cole and Jason Babin have been ridiculous on the outside and Cullen Jenkins has been almost as good on the interior.
The Patriots offensive line will have their hands full. Even if Matt Light is fully healthy this week, I might rather see Nate Solder this week. Solder is the far more athletic player and that will pay off against either Trent Cole or Jason Babin. The Eagles rely on beating one on one coverage against their 9-technique ends and I think that Solder, Vollmer or Lighty will be able to handle them. If Light can play, I’d still expect to see Solder in a lot at TE.
WILL NNAMDI PLAY?
That’s the biggest question of the day. For those that don’t know, Asomugha was carted off the field at practice Thursday with a knee injury. The reports that have come out say it’s not serious, but it could still keep him out against the Patriots.
If Asomugha is declared out on Sunday, we’ll see Asante Samuel at LCB, Joselio Hanson at SCB and Brandon Hughes at RCB. That would be a huge boost for the Pats. Hanson is a solid slot corner, but Welker can definitely beat him. Whoever is lined up across from Hughes is who Brady should be targeting whether it’s Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Deion Branch or even Chad Ochocinco.
INTERIOR PASS RUSH
Going up against Jason Peters and Todd Heremans could present a problem for Andre Carter, Brandon Deaderick and Mark Anderson, so the Patriots might need to rely on Vince Wilfork, Gerard Warren, Kyle Love and Ron Brace to generate some pressure on Young. Unfortunately, they’ve all been pretty terrible at getting after the QB.
The Patriots best bet might be to try to generate some pressure up the middle with their linebackers and defensive backs. Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins are both rookies and can both be exploited against the pass rush.
I’m pretty surprised Kelce has been thrust into a starting role so early. Kelce was a converted linebacker at the University of Cincinnati and still looked like a linebacker when we were scouting him this draft season. Kelce brought nice athleticism, but I thought he would be a couple years off from even playing, let alone starting.
The experiment hasn’t gone very well for the Eagles, as he’s the worst rated center against the pass rush on PFF. Kelce has given up 5 QB hits and 15 pressures this year. If Love and Wilfork can’t get after the QB against Kelce, it might be a lost cause to expect an interior pass rush.