New England at Philadelphia; Game Preview

Breakdown preview of the New England Patriots at Philadelphia Eagles battle in week-two of the NFL season.

New England Patriots (0-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (0-1)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Phil Simms
SERIES: 9th meeting. Eagles lead series 6-2. The Eagles have won the last five meetings, the most recent a 24-9 win over the Patriots in December of '99, Andy Reid's first season in Philadelphia.
2003 RANKINGS: Patriots: offense 28th (12th rush, 26th pass); defense 18th (20th rush, 16th pass). Eagles: offense 26th (11th rush, 27th pass); defense 20th (14th rush, 20th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Eagles could be without FS Brian Dawkins (foot), CB Bobby Taylor (foot strain) and DE Brandon Whiting (hamstring). The domino effect is Philadelphia will have a more difficult time getting to Patriots QB Tom Brady, who will be working against a depleted secondary. New England still needs to discover a running game, because Buffalo sat on their short passing game last weekend. The Patriots will likely mix 3-4 and 4-3 defensive fronts, and attempt to keep Eagles QB Donovan McNabb in the pocket. With their defense banged up, the Eagles need to run the ball and control the clock.
FAST FACTS: Patriots: K Adam Vinatieri had his streak of 101 consecutive games with at least one point snapped last Sunday. ... QB Tom Brady has thrown four touchdown passes and seven interceptions in his past six games. Eagles: Coach Andy Reid is 21-2 when the Eagles lead a game in time of possession. ... QB Donovan McNabb needs 273 passing yards to pass Tommy Thompson (10,255) for fourth-most in team history.

PREDICTED SCORE: Eagles 23, Patriots 13

   --C Damien Woody is still recovering from a chest injury and sat out practice for the second straight day, but expects to be on the field in Philadelphia on Sunday.
   --WR David Givens is progressing as he recovers from a strained leg muscle, but isn't expected to be in the lineup against the Eagles.
   --CB Tyrone Poole got off to a slow start in training camp because of family issues, but once he focused his attention on football, he climbed the depth chart. He started camp at the bottom of the depth chart, but started in Buffalo Sunday, his experience giving him the nod over rookies Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel. "He plays with a lot of confidence," head coach Bill Belichick said. "He's played well in the league and his experience definitely helped him."
   --DE Ty Warren, the Patriots' top draft pick, has been slow to progress. His playing time was limited in Buffalo and doesn't figure to increase much any time soon. "I'm getting better every day and learning a ton from the older guys in this locker room," Warren said. The Patriots had to hope that Warren, the 13th pick in the draft, would make more of an immediate contribution.
   --TE Daniel Graham, who was drafted in the first round last year along with the Giants Jeremy Shockey, doesn't relate to comparisons between the two. Shockey had a Pro Bowl rookie season while Graham struggled with injuries and the adjustment from college to the NFL. "I don't make comparisons," he said. "(Shockey) can't do anything to make the Patriots win so I don't care what he does."

   --CB Bobby Taylor will miss Sunday's game with a strained foot, but with a bye week next week, they hope to get him back for their third game on Sept. 27 against Buffalo.
   --DE Brandon Whiting, who injured his hamstring last week, won't play Sunday against the Patriots and there is serious doubt that he'll even be ready for the Eagles' next game on Sept. 27 against Buffalo.
   --DT Darwin Walker will move from right tackle to left end for as long as injured Brandon Whiting is out.
   --DE Marco Coleman, who was signed two days before the season-opener after Derrick Burgess went down with a season-ending Achilles injury, will be the swing man at both end positions Sunday, backing up Darwin Walker on the left side and N.D. Kalu on the right. Counting Walker, who is actually the club's starting right tackle, the Eagles only have three healthy ends.
   --DT Hollis Thomas is a starter again. Thomas, who missed all of last season with a broken foot and lost his starting job to Darwin Walker, will start at right tackle Sunday because Walker is sliding over to left end to replace injured Brandon Whiting.
   --S Clinton Hart never played in an NFL game before last week, but the former Arena League player will be the Eagles' starting free safety Sunday, replacing Brian Dawkins, who will be out anywhere from two to six weeks.
   --RB Brian Westbrook will return both kickoffs and punts this week against the Patriots. Westbrook just handled the kickoff return chores last week. But the Eagles want Lito Sheppard, who returned punts last week, to concentrate on cornerback, where he'll replace injured Bobby Taylor.
   --CB Lito Sheppard will get his first NFL start Sunday against the Patriots. He'll replace injured right corner Bobby Taylor. Sheppard filled in for Taylor in the second half last week against the Bucs and had a tough time. He gave up a touchdown pass to Joe Jurevicius and was picked on a lot by quarterback Brad Johnson.

   The Patriots' passing attack needs to shift gears for the offense to pick up any speed and it won't be any easier this week against a fast Eagles defense than it was last week against a revamped Buffalo unit.
   Quarterback Tom Brady did not have a strong summer and his uneven play carried over to the opener when he posted a career low 20.4 passer rating while throwing four interceptions. The offensive woes start with Brady, who seems to be struggling with his trademark accuracy that made him so successful for most of his first two seasons as the starter. Also, is ability to avoid mistakes, another strength, is starting to crumble.
   "I have to complete more passes," he said after hitting on only 14-of-28 against the Bills and averaging just 4.4 yards per attempt. "That's a big part of it. And (I can't) throw it to them and turn the ball over and be careless with the ball. You make mistakes and you throw interceptions and you fumble the ball and you just try to evaluate what the problems were and you try to get better from them."
   The problem for the Patriots is identifying the problem. Is it execution? Is it match-ups? Or is it a lack of talent? It's probably an element of all three.
   New England did little to address its offensive shortcomings in the offseason, using a second round pick on a raw, but fast wide receiver, Bethel Johnson, who they hope can stretch the field, and a fifth round pick on an offensive lineman, center Dan Koppen. Instead the Patriots focused on defense and relied upon the improvement of second-year players Deion Branch and Daniel Graham to aid the offense. That improvement that has yet to show up.
   Graham is perhaps the one player on the offense who, as a tight end, can cause some match-up problems and by doing so, can take some attention away from the other capable targets and more specifically, Troy Brown, who sees a ton of double coverage.
   "I have an itch to get the ball thrown my way more," Graham admitted. "I feel more relaxed that I did last year and I know all my assignments."
   The Patriots hope Graham can force defensive backs to stay honest down the deep middle of the field rather than roll coverages to the outside, but that hasn't happened and until Johnson can prove he is the deep threat the Patriots hope he will be, the short passing attack and running game will continue to suffer. Then again, Brady must deliver on the deep passes or it won't matter who's running downfield.

   The Eagles will go with a new punt returner this week against the New England Patriots.
   Lito Sheppard is out and Brian Westbrook is in. Sheppard returned punts last week in the Eagles' 17-0 Monday night loss to the Tampa Bay Bucs. He averaged just 3.8 yards per return and made some poor decisions fielding punts.
   But that's not necessarily why he's being replaced. The 5-10 cornerback will be getting his first NFL start Sunday in place of injured Bobby Taylor, and the coaching staff wants to lighten his load.
   "Right now, the plan is to go with Brian," special teams coach John Harbaugh said. "This will let Lito concentrate on playing corner."
   Westbrook was initially expected to be the club's primary punt and kickoff return man. But when he missed a sizeable chunk of the preseason with a knee injury, the Eagles gave the punt return job to Sheppard.
   Westbrook returned kickoffs last week, and opened the game with a 47-yard return. He'll handle both return jobs this week, as well as rotate with Duce Staley and Correll Buckhalter at running back.
   "Brian has been catching punts again for the last two weeks," Harbaugh said. "He went through three weeks in training camp when he didn't catch any. Now he's back and looks comfortable doing it. I'm excited to see how well he'll do."

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