Patriots Report: Eagles, What to Look For
By Chris Goodhue, Site Contributor
The key to stopping the Philadelphia Eagles lies within two players, one of whom may or may not suit up come Super Sunday. Terrell Owens and Brian Westbrook have totaled 1903 receiving yards on the season, which is good for 45 percent of the Eagles passing game. This staggering figure surely would have been higher if either Owens did not go down with an ankle injury Week 15 vs. Dallas, or if Philadelphia was not so quick to top their inferior NFC competition for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Terrell Owens certainly plans on playing Sunday night. "I will play on Sunday," Owens said during Tuesdays Media Day. "I know the type person I am. I have a lot of faith in my ability. I feel great. I'm proving a lot of people wrong. The sky is the limit for me. There are no limitations." Whether his doctor clears him is a different story all together. Keep in mind Dr. Mark Myerson was also Orlando Magic star Grant Hills ankle surgeon, and we know how that has worked out for the former Duke Blue Devil. To say the least, hes not Dr. Bill Morgan.
During the season, Owens and Westbrook caught 77 and 73 of Donovan McNabbs passes respectively, while the next highest was Mary-Kate Olsens roommate Todd Pinkston (63, 180 lbs.) with only 36 receptions. It would certainly appear that McNabb has tunnel vision with these two receivers, as 20 of his 31 TD passes (65%) in the regular season were thrown to them. If this is the case, then why did McNabb throw only 8 interceptions all year? One could point out that many of the teams the Eagles faced were not very adept at picking the ball off, as only 4 of their opponents (Carolina, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati, a Week 17 game in which McNabb didnt play) were ranked in the top 10 in that department, compared to 8 by the Patriots, who themselves were ranked 9th in the league.
Perhaps its not tunnel vision, but receivers that simply cant create separation and get open. For a quarterback that has been continuously labeled as mobile, McNabb was sacked multiple times in 12 games this season, including 3 cases in which he was sacked 4 times (Pittsburgh, Washington, and Green Bay). The offensive line is full of tough veterans like OT Jon Runyan and G Jermane Mayberry, so one has to wonder how many of those came in situations where there was nowhere to go with the ball. The paltry numbers of guys like Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell (22 catches) certainly suggest the possibility. The Pats could drop 6 or 7 men in coverage on 3rd downs to buy time for Ty Warren, Jarvis Green, or Richard Seymour to overpower the offensive line and get into the backfield and disrupt McNabb. After all, it is easier to push forward with momentum rather than back peddle.
Tight End L.J. Smith however, may be a legitimate concern in the passing game. Smith caught 34 passes this season including 5 touchdowns, and with fellow TE Chad Lewis inactive for the Super Bowl, Smith may see some red zone opportunities. At 63, 258 lbs., he is a match-up problem for most defenses, but either Willie McGinest or Mike Vrabel should be able to jam him at the line of scrimmage and disrupt his route and McNabbs timing.
The Eagles are certainly not the power-running team that the Steelers were, as they passed the ball nearly 60 percent of the time during the season. Westbrook, despite his nice average of 4.6 yards per carry, rushed for 100 yards just twice, and scored only 3 TDs on the ground versus his 6 TD receptions. This could be due to the fact that starting fullback Jon Ritchie was lost with a knee injury Week 2, and offensive coordinator Brad Childress might not believe that rookie Josh Parry can bang heads up front like Ritchie can. The Patriots could excel defensively in short yardage situations as long as they dont bite on McNabbs play-fakes.
Whether T.O. plays Sunday, is a decoy, or doesnt strap the pads on altogether may not really make a big difference. The Eagles have feasted on cupcakes all season and in the playoffs, while the Patriots have been busy devouring meat and potatoes like the Colts and Steelers. The question that remains is this: will the Eagles prove to be a tough meal like your aunts steak this Sunday .or does Chef Belichick have their goose cooked?
Chris Goodhue has been a leading fantasy football and baseball expert since 1999. He can usually be found at a local Boston area sports bar settling arguments of sports history, but in case you can't find him out there, send your questions and feedback to cgoodhue in the Insider Forums
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