PHILADELPHIA (CBS 3)- The Super Bowl LII rematch between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots, set for this Sunday, doesn’t have quite the same luster as it was assumed to have in the preseason.
The Eagles (5-4) enter on a two-game winning streak, but they are not the offensive juggernaut that many were expecting in the preseason. And the Patriots defense has been a dominant unit all season, likely crushing any hopes of a fireworks show similar to the 41-33 final score we were treated to in Minneapolis two years ago.
That said, the matchup is still an intriguing one for several reasons. As CBS Local digital anchor Katie Johnston notes, “we watched the Ravens offense expose the Pats ability to stop the run, and that is really going to be one major key for the Pats to walk away victoriously this week.”
While the Patriots defense has looked impenetrable for much of the year, some cracks were shown in that Week 9 loss to the Ravens. Baltimore rushed for 210 yards on 41 carries (5.1 per carry) in the 37-20 victory. Granted, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson had a big hand in that, as the threat of his spectacular running ability forced the New England defense to account for him on every play, leaving holes for Mark Ingram to exploit elsewhere.
But, the week prior against the Cleveland Browns, the Patriots allowed Nick Chubb to steamroll for 131 yards on 20 carries. The Eagles have put an emphasis on establishing the run in their last two games, with Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders combining for 55 carries and 294 yards. Howard’s status for this game is in doubt due to a shoulder injury, and the team brought veteran back Jay Ajayi for a workout Friday. So, it looks like Sanders will be the lead back, with a possibly freshly signed Ajayi joining him. Not the same 1-2 punch that the Eagles offense has enjoyed in recent weeks.
The Eagles would like to exploit the running game as much as possible, due to the fact that New England boasts one of the league’s best pass defenses. The Patriots rank second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric against the pass, largely due to the versatility of the players they have on the defensive side of the ball. It makes it difficult in passing situations to figure out which players are rushing. Protection of quarterback Carson Wentz will be key.
Meanwhile, the Eagles defense, as Johnston notes, will have to “put some pressure on Tom Brady in the pocket and maybe challenge that offensive line and force a few turnovers,” if the Birds are going to pull out a victory. Pressuring Brady with a strong front-four pass rush has seemingly been the key to having a chance against the Patriots since time immemorial, and it will once again be a factor Sunday.
On the Patriots side of things, Johnston points out that, “Untimely errors on offense were a major factor in the Patriots first season loss.” Brady’s interception in Ravens territory with the team down 10 early in the fourth quarter was basically the stamp on the loss, and the Patriots will look to avoid that this week. The Eagles have been solid at forcing turnovers this season with eight interceptions and five fumble recoveries.
Overall, Johnston thinks that the Eagles, as long as they pressure Tom Brady, “can add another loss to New England’s record. Not a popular opinion but I pick the Eagles for this one.”
The Patriots and Eagles are CBS’s game of the week and will be broadcast by the crew of Jim Nantz, Tony Romo and Tracy Wolfson. Kick off is slate for Sunday afternoon at 4:25 p.m. Eastern Time.