Patriots - Eagles: Matchups and Strategy

A look at the important matchups of the game adn key injuries


The Eagles probably will be down a safety Sunday with injured starter Quintin Mikell not expected to play. But the Eagles decided against making a roster move. If Mikell can't play, J.R. Reed, who was cut earlier this season, will start at strong safety, alongside FS Brian Dawkins. Marcus Paschal, an undrafted rookie who was signed off the practice squad two weeks ago, would be their only backup, though CB Sheldon Brown could move back to safety if the Eagles needed him to.

GAME PLAN: The key to the Eagles' defensive game plan Sunday will be getting pressure on QB Tom Brady. They're not likely to be able to do that with a four-man rush. So they'll probably send five after him frequently and drop six back into coverage.

KEY MATCHUPS: Eagles C Jamaal Jackson vs. Patriots NT Vince Wilfork -- The Eagles must find a way to neutralize the 340-pound Wilfork if they hope to have any success running the football.

Eagles CBs Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown and Joselio Hanson vs. Patriots WRs Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth -- The Patriots' receiving corps is far and away the best in the NFL.

Eagles TE L.J. Smith vs. Patriots SS Rodney Harrison -- If Smith can have success in the middle of the field, it will open things up for the wideouts on the outside.

INJURY IMPACT: QB Donovan McNabb's was downgraded to out for Sunday's matchup.He suffered a sprained ankle and jammed thumb against Miami last week. A.J. Feeley will start. McNabb's mobility has been his most valuable tool the past couple of weeks. Due to his injuries and inrun, the Eagles are probably better off with Feeley behind center this week.

SS Quintin Mikell suffered an MCL sprain in his knee Sunday and probably won't play this week. If he can't go, J.R. Reed would replace him. Former practice-squadder Marcus Paschal would be the lone safety backup.


The Patriots have a chance to generate a lot of big plays versus the Eagles. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Johnson likes to blitz and that means corners Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown will be matched up one-on-one with Randy Moss and Donte' Stallworth on the outside. Advantage Patriots. When Tom Brady isn't bombing away, he should be able to pick apart slot corners Akeem Jordan and Joselio Henderson by connecting with Wes Welker over the middle. The Eagles have been known as a big-play defense over the years, but going into their matchup with Miami, they had only recorded 10 takeaways on the season. Trent Cole leads the NFL in sacks and should generate pressure from the right side, but unless the front four steps up and plays its best game of the year, Brady will have the time to sit in the pocket and dissect the Eagles secondary.

GAME PLAN: Getting pressure on the Eagles quarterback shouldn't be too much of a problem for the Patriots considering that every good defense the Eagles have faced this season has been able to get heat on McNabb. Offensive tackles William Thomas and Jon Runyan have had their problems with speed rushers, so Mike Vrabel, Rosevelt Colvin and Jarvis Green should see a lot of time in the Eagles backfield. McNabb has never been the most accurate quarterback and he really gets flustered when he's forced to move around in the pocket. The Eagles receivers don't scare anyone, so Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs will be able to lock up on them, while the pass rushers get pressure off the edge.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Patriots LB Adalius Thomas vs. Eagles RB Brian Westbrook. Westbrook is the key to everything the Eagles do offensively. He's not only dangerous as a runner, but Westbrook is also one of the best pass-catching backs in the league. Philadelphia will have an advantage when Westbrook is matched up with a linebacker, but Thomas -- who has been limited by an ankle injury -- has the best chance to slow him down.

Patriots WR Randy Moss vs. Eagles CB Lito Sheppard. The Eagles like to send a lot of blitzes and because of that, the team asks its corners to be on an island a lot. Being on an island with Moss isn't a place cornerbacks usually like to find themselves. Sheppard is Philadelphia's best cover guy but because of the Eagles' attacking style of defense, Moss will have some chances to make big plays on Sunday night. With the way Moss is playing this season, that's not good news for the Eagles defense.

INJURY IMPACT: The Patriots really only have two players with injuries right now, but it hasn't slowed the team down one bit. Starting guard Stephen Neal missed last week's game with a shoulder injury but Russ Hochstein replaced him and did a stellar job. The Pats don't lose much when Hochstein is in the game, so even if Neal can't go this week, the offensive line will be fine.

Safety Eugene Wilson missed yet another game with an ankle injury but the emergence of third-year player James Sanders makes Wilson's loss irrelevant at the moment. Even when Wilson comes back, it's doubtful that he'll regain his starting job because Sanders is playing at such a high level.

Starting running back Laurence Maroney left last week's game with a minor foot injury but he's expected to go against the Eagles.

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