The key here is for them not to be in passing mode all game where their offense gets very predictable. While the Eagles are really a passing offense, they have to get New England to respect the run or they'll sit on the receivers all day.
Don't underestimate the expected return of star receiver Terrell Owens for at least a limited role for the game. With Owens playing, the Patriots will have to account for him. That's at least two players (running back Brian Westbrook being the other) that they have to be concerned about. In fact, we would get Owens and Westbrook on the field as much as possible. Even if Owens can't do certain things on the field, just having him out there will cause New England to use double-teams on him. That being the case should open things up elsewhere with one-on-one coverage with their receivers or with Westbrook.
One of the other big keys is to get Westbrook in space where he can easily beat a linebacker. Any time they see a defensive formation where they can get Westbrook with a favorable matchup, they need to exploit it. He's the kind of player that can take a short pass and make it a long play.
One final big key for the Eagle offense is to take advantage of their inexperienced quarterbacks. We have been saying this for a while but the Patriots' opponents have rarely taken advantage of that. While Colts' quarterback Peyton Manning might be the best in the game, he doesn't have quite the arm strength that Donovan McNabb does.
Any time the Patriots bring safety Rodney Harrison in to the box, the Eagles need to go after their secondary down field. This is an area where Owens or even reserve receiver Greg Lewis can exploit a good matchup.
Their defense will be challenged because the Patriot offense is one of the best balanced offense in the league.
It starts up front for the Eagles. They must do a good job of controlling running back Corey Dillon. When Dillon is successful, you'll see them run a lot of play action fakes with a lot of down field passing to their speedy wideouts. It's almost impossible to stop their offense when Dillon is running well. If they can control Dillon, that will make the Patriot offense more one-dimensional.
Another key for their defense is to get physical with the wide receivers. All of them are capable of making a big play down field so it's important that they get a piece of them within the allotted five yards.
Everyone knows the Eagles like to blitz. Picking the right side of the offensive line to do that against will be key. That side is clearly the right where tackle Brandon Gorin resides. He'll go against right end Jevon Kearse so you can be certain that the Patriots will look to chip him with an extra tight end or fullback. Using overload blitzes where the Eagles can use multiple defenders attacking the offensive line should prove to be an advantage.
What the Patriots have to do to win
While the Eagle run defense certainly has improved of late, they haven't faced a talented back such as Dillon. The key here will be for Dillon to break off a few good runs so the Eagles will have to bring at least an extra defender in to the box (likely safety Brian Dawkins). That's a good time to throw the football with Dawkins out of the secondary and up front.
Pass protection will be an issue in this game for the Patriot offensive line. With the propensity for the Eagles to blitz, it's of great importance they protect
The areas to run against them are outside where the Eagles have undersized linebackers. Dillon can wear them down the more he gets to run the ball.
The Eagles have three Pro Bowlers in the secondary so passing the ball will likely be a chore for quarterback Tom Brady. However, the more multiple receiver sets they use the more effective they can be. The Eagles don't have solid sub defenders in the secondary and this is one area where they can certainly be successful in the passing game.
As we have mentioned quite a bit in this space all season, the Eagle defense isn't good at covering the tight end so since they will be bring a lot of blitzes, tight end Daniel Graham should be a factor in the game on short routes.
They must identify Westbrook early and not let him get matched up one-on-one especially with a much slower linebacker. Head coach Andy Reid is a master to the matchups and he will look for that type of advantage wherever he can find one.
Another key for the Patriot defense will be to stay in their gaps where McNabb can or Westbrook are capable of making big runs. McNabb is a master at the improvisational play as we saw in that game at Dallas earlier this season where he took around 14 seconds to make a sensation play down field to receiver Freddie Mitchell.
Another important facet of their defense is for them to confuse McNabb. What defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel does very well is make a quarterback think he's going to see one thing but he sees another. Essentially, they show one look before the snap and once the ball is snapped, they show another. The post-snap phase is a key element to their schemes. Confusion is a big key for them in creating turnovers.
One other key for the defense is to get physical with the Eagle receivers who usually struggle against press coverage. Other than Owens, none of them are strong enough to handle constant physical play.
Finally, when and if Owens is on the field, they have to make sure he never gets one-on-one coverage. Even at well less than 100% efficiency, Owens is still capable of beating a much lesser defensive back.
What They Have to do to Win on Super Bowl Sunday
Patriots Insider Top Stories
AFC Championship: Tom Brady Torches SteelersNew England Patriots QB Tom Brady passed for 384 yards and 3 touchdowns in the Patriots win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship.
Patriots InsiderYesterday at 8:39 AM
AFC Championship: Chris Hogan HighlightsNew England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan caught 9 passes for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Patriots win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship.
Patriots InsiderYesterday at 8:23 AM
AFC Championship Highlights: Steelers v. PatsThe Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots for the 2016 AFC Championship. Check out the highlights from the Patriots dominant 36-17 win.
Patriots InsiderYesterday at 7:04 AM
Watch: Blount Carries Seven SteelersNew England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount drags defenders for 18-yard gain.
Patriots InsiderYesterday at 6:32 AM