Here are 10 things to know about Sunday's Eagles-Patriots matchup:
1. We start with (who else?) Tom Brady. The supporting cast has changed, but Brady remains one of the best in the game. His 102.5 QB rating and 23 touchdowns were second to only Aaron Rodgers entering Week 12. Brady doesn't have a classic deep threat like Randy Moss, but don't be fooled, the Patriots' offense is capable of hitting on big plays in the passing game. Only Philip Rivers (43) has more passes of 20+ yards than Brady (42). And he's averaging 8.44 yards per attempt, which will be a career-best if it holds. Brady's been picked off 10 times (once every 38.7 attempts) and has four fumbles.
2. A couple things to zero in on with Brady. The first is YAC. No one's been better at giving his receivers a chance to pick up yards after the catch. According to STATS.com, 1,605 of Brady's passing yards have come after the catch; that was tops in the league entering Week 12. Wes Welker leads all wide receivers with 505 yards after the catch. And tight end Rob Gronkowski is not far behind with 408. On Gronkowski’s second touchdown against the Chiefs last week, he was lined up at fullback, caught the ball 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage on a swing pass, broke a tackle and flipped into the end zone for a 19-yard score. Tackling by Eagles linebackers and defensive backs is going to have to be nearly flawless. Brady is completing more than 65 percent of his passes. He's going to find his receivers, but the Eagles need to limit the damage after the catch.
3. The other aspect that looks to be a giant mismatch is the Eagles' red-zone defense against the Patriots' red-zone offense. New England has scored touchdowns 62.2 percent of the time (third-best in the NFL). The Eagles have have allowed touchdowns 69.2 percent of the time, dead-last. Brady's thrown 22 touchdowns and two interceptions in the red zone. Only three of his 25 touchdown passes have not come inside the opponents' 20. Welker leads the NFL with 14 catches in the red zone (five for touchdowns). Gronkowski is second in the league with 11 (eight for scores). And Aaron Hernandez has seven red-zone receptions (five for touchdowns). Again, huge advantage here for the Patriots. On the other side of the ball, the Eagles are 26th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 44.4 percent of the time. The Patriots' defense ranks 16th, allowing touchdowns 50 percent of the time.
4. Overall, Welker has a team-high 95 targets and a 71 percent catch rate (receptions per target). Only Carolina's Steve Smith has more catches of 20+ yards than Welker (17). Gronkowski has 56 catches on 69 targets and a 70 percent catch rate. He has 12 catches of 20+ yards, tied for ninth-most and second among tight ends. Deion Branch has 39 catches for 503 yards, and Hernandez has 41 catches for 418 yards. Chad Ochocinco has just 11 catches on the season. Opposing QBs have an 84.5 rating against the Eagles (15th-highest). The Birds have given up 32 pass plays of 20+ yards (tied for 17th-most). But teams are completing just 56.9 percent of their passes against the them, seventh-lowest. The Eagles have allowed 18 touchdowns, tied for fifth-most. And maybe most significantly, according to Football Outsiders, the Eagles defend opposing tight ends better than anyone in the league, allowing 34.9 yards per game.
5. The Eagles' best chance of containing Brady and the Patriots' offense is with pressure from their front four, which dominated last week against the Giants. The Chiefs actually did a good job of pressuring Brady in the first half last week. On an early third down, they sent a five-man blitz with a linebacker up the middle, forcing an incompletion and an intentional grounding. Later, the Chiefs had six men at the line of scrimmage, but only rushed four; Brady couldn’t find a receiver, scrambled, was sacked and fumbled. He's fumbled in four straight games. Jason Babin and company need to do their best to not only get to Brady, but to strip the ball when they get pressure on him. Last week against the Giants, the Eagles only blitzed once on 39 dropbacks. Expect a similar formula against Brady. New England's offensive line has allowed 19 sacks and is 12th in sack rate. The Eagles' defense is third in sack rate and has 29 overall.
6. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has 541 yards on 136 carries (4.0 YPC), but his longest run of the season is 18 yards. Four of his five touchdowns have come inside the 10. Avoiding missed tackles is key for the Eagles in the run game too. Green-Ellis carried defenders with him on a 10-yard gain in the red zone last week against Kansas City. Danny Woodhead's averaging 4.3 YPC. Neither running back has been a major factor in the passing game. Woodhead has 14 catches for 131 yards. Green-Ellis has six catches for 74 yards. Last week, Green-Ellis picked up 25 yards on a screen. And Woodhead lined up out wide on one play and picked up 12 yards on a wide receiver screen.
7. On the other side of the ball, LeSean McCoy continues to play as well as any back in the league. He leads the NFL in rushing yards (1,019) and runs of 10+ yards (38). No other running back has more than 28. He's also averaging 7.2 yards per carry in the fourth quarter, a league-best. The Patriots, meanwhile, are allowing 4.3 yards per carry (T-13th most). The Chiefs ran the ball effectively last week. Thomas Jones bounced a run outside for a 26-yard gain. And Dexter McCluster averaged 5.0 yards per carry on nine attempts.
8. The Eagles should be able to hit on some deep balls against the Patriots' pass defense. New England has given up 51 pass plays of 20+ yards, most in the NFL, and is allowing 7.9 yards per attempt (T-7th highest). DeSean Jackson probably could have had 200 yards receiving last week, if not for the taunting penalty and an underthrown ball by Vince Young. The pair needs to be on the same page and hit on big plays when given the opportunity on Sunday. The Patriots' 15 interceptions are tied for second-most in the league.
9. The Eagles' offensive line was outstanding in pass protection last week, allowing just one sack and one QB hit against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Andre Carter, who played against the Eagles twice a year as a member of the Redskins for five seasons, has a team-high nine sacks. He has 8.5 sacks in the past five games and will likely be lined up against Jason Peters. Mark Anderson has seven sacks and will go up against Todd Herremans. Overall, the Patriots' 23 sacks are tied for 16th, but they are 23rd in sack rate. The Eagles' offensive line has allowed 17 sacks and is seventh in sack rate.
10. The Patriots' special teams rank eighth, according to Football Outsiders; the Eagles rank 12th. The Birds are tops in the league in kickoffs/kickoff coverage. Last week, Julian Edelman had a 72-yard touchdown on a punt return.
Extra point: The Eagles are averaging 1.6 takeaways per game, tied for 14th. The Patriots are averaging 2.0, tied for sixth. The Eagles are averaging 2.4 giveaways per game, tied for a league-high. The Patriots are averaging 1.5, tied for 12th.
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