By Gregory Hunt
The New England Patriots will look to get back on a winning track when they face the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. After winning their first 10 games of the 2015 season, the Patriots finally suffered a loss last week when they dropped a 30-24 overtime decision to the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. According to one report, tight end Rob Gronkowski will not play against the Eagles due to a bruised knee he suffered against Denver.
The Eagles sit in third place in the NFC East with a 4-7 record, but that puts them only one game out of first place because the Washington Redskins and New York Giants lead the division with identical 5-6 records. Philadelphia is in the midst of a three-game losing streak, having lost to the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions in the past three weeks.
The all-time series against New England dates back to 1973, when the Eagles overcame a 17-point deficit to pull out a 24-23 victory at Veterans Stadium on November 4, 1973. The Eagles lead the regular season series 6-5, but the Patriots won their only postseason meeting 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX on February 6, 2005 at Alltel Stadium. Including that game, the Patriots have won the last four meetings between the teams. Philadelphia's last victory in the series came on December 19, 1999, when the Eagles earned a 24-9 win at Veterans Stadium.
Eagles on Offense
Expectations for the Eagles' offense were high when former Oregon Ducks head coach Chip Kelly was hired to lead the Eagles in 2013. His Oregon teams were known for their explosive offenses, but he hasn't achieved the same results in Philadelphia. He did lead the Eagles to back-to-back 10-6 seasons in 2013 and 2014, but the quarterback position has been a revolving door, and last March he traded star running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills after his relationship with McCoy deteriorated.
Philadelphia's starting quarterback is Sam Bradford, a sixth-year player who has been inconsistent at the NFL level since finishing a stellar college career at Oklahoma. His passer rating of 82.4 ranks 22nd in the NFL among quarterbacks with at least 250 passing attempts this season. At wide receiver, the team doesn't appear to have an impact player that opposing defenses need to focus on. However, despite the loss of McCoy, the rushing game is averaging a respectable 114.5 yards per game, which ranks 13th in the league.
Eagles on Defense
One month into the season, the Eagles appeared to have the best run defense in the league, but their performance has slipped over the past two months. In early October, opposing teams were averaging only 3.1 yards per rush against Philadelphia, but now that average is up to 4.4. On Thanksgiving Day, the Eagles gave up 45 points to a Lions team that came into the game with a 3-7 record. After that loss, Philadelphia defensive coordinator Billy Davis admitted he didn't have any answers.
"I have to figure out why the defense was playing so well early (but then) had two bad weeks in a row," said Davis. "The guys are here, the scheme is here. I just have to figure out how to get it done. That's all."
That performance against Detroit prompted speculation that Kelly might fire Davis, but Kelly came out in support of his assistant.
Eagles Players to Watch
Former Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is still capable of making big plays, although the overall performance of the Philadelphia offense has put a damper on his statistics. After the Detroit game, he admitted his frustration with his team's situation, so he'll be looking for redemption against the Patriots.
Defensive end Fletcher Cox leads the Eagles in sacks with 5½. Cox was a sprinter and high jumper in high school, so look for him to pressure the quarterback by using his speed against a banged-up New England offensive line.
The Eagles will face a highly-motivated New England team that appeared quite angry about blowing a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead over the Broncos. That defeat may actually help New England regain any focus it may have lost during its 10-game winning streak. Because of a number of injuries on offense, the Patriots aren't as explosive as they were the first half of the season, but they are still capable of identifying favorable match-ups and exploiting them. Look for New England to start a new winning streak.
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He's also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women's college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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