The 8-1 New England Patriots will travel to the face the 5-4 Philadelphia Eagles in a Super Bowl 52 rematch. While both teams are coming off their bye week, the Eagles are currently on a two-game winning streak and are tied for first place in their division. New England, on the other hand, is coming off an embarrassing loss to the Baltimore Ravens and will be looking to make a strong rebound.
New England’s defense must come into this game with their number one priority being to stop Philadelphia’s rushing attack. Earlier this week, the Eagles inked 26 year old running back Jay Ajayi to a contract while placing Darren Sproles on season ending injured reserve. The signing, along with Philadelphia’s number one wide receiver Alshon Jeffery being ruled out, indicates the Eagles will enter Sunday with a run heavy offensive game plan. Philadelphia’s rushing attack is currently averaging 127.3 yards per game, which ranks 11th in the league. Strong rushing attacks have been the achilles heal to this Patriots defense that has otherwise been solid in every other aspect. While New England’s defense ranks 11th in rushing yards per game, they have given up more than 150 team rushing yards during their last two games. The Patriots can not afford to be soft and sloppy on their defensive front as they were throughout their loss to Baltimore. Linebackers and defensive linemen need to play fast as well as aggressive in order to force the Eagles into passing down situations. Additionally, with Jeffery ruled out, the Eagles number one pass catching target will be tight end Zach Ertz. Ertz ranks fifth in receiving yards among tight ends and given the Eagles lack of weapons at wide receiver, Ertz should be the focus of New England’s secondary. Ertz should see bracket coverage for a majority of this game and I would not be surprised if the Patriots choose to put Stephon Gilmore one on one with the tight end during certain situations. Gilmore has been matching up with the opposing team’s number one receiving target throughout this entire season. Furthermore, considering Gilmore’s 6-1, 200 pound frame, he easily has the size to compete with the 6-5 Ertz.
Offensively, New England needs to start this game aggressive and synchronized. If the Patriots win the coin flip, they need to elect to receive the opening kickoff and score first drive points. The Eagles 16th ranked pass defense has been atrocious this season, allowing an average of 239 passing yards per game. Additionally, this Eagles defense has given up 16 passing touchdowns through just nine games this season. The Patriots need to get their passing attack in rhythm and score early points in order to put pressure on Philadelphia to go away from their running game.
The Patriots entered their bye week coming off a sloppy loss filled with undisciplined play in all facets of the game. This will be a statement game from New England’s defense as it will set the tone for the second half of their season.
Rian Queen is a Contributor for the Unwrapped Sports Network website. Follow him @takes_boston on Twitter.