PHILADELPHIA (CBS 3)- There is no one formula for beating an NFL team over the course of several seasons. Personnel changes so rapidly in today’s game that different strengths and weaknesses reveal themselves each September. However, for the New England Patriots, there has been at least one constant over the last two decades. If you want to beat them, you have to make Tom Brady uncomfortable.
As the (8-1) Patriots descend upon Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday to face the (5-4) Eagles, that formula remains true according to NFL on CBS analyst Dan Fouts.
“You still have to be able to get pressure on Brady. It begins and ends right there. He is so good at getting the ball out quickly. He knows where he wants to attack you,” said Fouts. “If you give him time, I don’t care who you have playing on the defensive side of the ball, he’ll carve you up. He has done it forever, and I don’t see him slowing down anytime soon.”
Though there have been whispers about the 42-year-old’s potential decline for years, there seems to be no sign of it just yet. Brady is completing just one percent fewer of his passes this year than last year (64.8 vs. 65.8) and is a half yard lower in his yards per attempt (7.1 vs. 7.6). Outside of that, the numbers are still pretty incredible, with Brady throwing for over 2,500 yards and 14 touchdowns in the first nine games.
The team added receiver Mohamed Sanu prior to the trade deadline and, after a bye week to further integrate him into the offense, the receiving corps is threatening once again. Joining Sanu is Julian Edelman (663 yards), receiving back James White (404 yards) and potentially first-round pick N’Keal Harry. That group will test an Eagles secondary just beginning to get healthy, with Jalen Mills and Avonte Maddox recently returning to the lineup.
While the secondary held up against the Bills and Bears, each of those quarterbacks are obviously nowhere close to the level of Brady. Which is why Fouts says, “pressuring Brady has to be the number one thing for Philly. Get Tom off his spot and make him uncomfortable.” That may be difficult for a Jim Schwartz defense that has not generated the same kind of pass rush as in years past. The Eagles rank 15th in the league in sacks with 24.
The bright spot, recently, has been the return to form of tackle Fletcher Cox. In each of the last two games, Cox has consistently pushed the pocket back into the opposing quarterback’s lap, even though it hasn’t shown as much in individual stats, it’s been noticeable on the broadcast. Cox and the rest of the defensive line group will have their hands full trying to get after Brady. The offense will have similar issues, with protecting Carson Wentz being a key factor against a Patriots defense that ranks fourth in the league in sacks with 32. The most difficult part of facing New England’s defense, Fouts notes, is the versatility that allows them to disguise which guys are rushing the passer each snap.
“New England’s defense, the problem they give you, they are so versatile. They have so many players that can play more than one position. When they get you into an obvious passing situation, it becomes very difficult to identify who is rushing the passer,” said Fouts. “This will be a challenge for Wentz and that offensive line to figure things out. And you have to figure things out a lot of times after the ball is snapped.”
The Eagles line has done a solid job of protecting Wentz this season, ranking in the top half of the league in sacks allowed (20) and QB hits (49). But, they are likely starting rookie Andre Dillard at left tackle. Dillard has been solid this season, but this will be a different test on Sunday.
The Eagles rushing attack has been a strength in the team’s last two outings, and they could find some room to run against a New England front allowing 4.7 yards per carry on the year. Oddsmakers have the Birds as 3.5-point underdogs at home. Jim Nantz, Tony Romo and Tracy Wolfson will have the call on CBS when things kick of from Lincoln Financial Field Sunday afternoon at 4:25 p.m. Eastern Time.