Philadelphia hosts the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots today
DeSean Jackson is out of the picture until January at the earliest and fellow wide receiver Alshon Jeffery likely won’t be available on Sunday as well.
Running back Darren Sproles is out for the year now too, coach Doug Pederson confirmed Friday, with a hip flexor/quad injury, and fellow running back Jordan Howard (shoulder) isn’t physically sound.
All of this has led the Philadelphia Eagles to look to the past yet again for help in Jay Ajayi, who was signed after a workout on Friday. He hasn’t played football in more than a year.
None of this bodes well for a game Sunday (4:25 on CBS) against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, who look nothing like the team the Eagles outscored in a shootout to win Super Bowl LII 21 months ago.
This Patriots squad has a defense. A real good defense. A defense so good that until its last game was on pace to allow the fewest points in the history of the NFL’s 16-game schedule.
And because the Patriots gave up 37 points in suffering their first loss of the season (to Baltimore) the last time out, it makes them that much more dangerous on Sunday because they are 47-9 after losses under coach Bill Belichick since 2003. That’s the best in the league.
Even having last week off won’t figure to help the Eagles much, because the Patriots were off too.
One thing — and probably the only thing — the Eagles can reasonably try to exploit is New England’s sudden vulnerability against the run. The Patriots gave up 210 rushing yards to Baltimore in their lone loss and 159 yards on just 22 attempts a week earlier in a win over Cleveland.
But for a team that is hurting at running back and has absolutely no vertical passing dimension without Jackson, that could be difficult.
Which is why defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said on Wednesday that “we have to make this game about us.”
Meaning, don’t worry about all the things their opponent does well. Just focus on the things the Eagles do well and play fearlessly.
Like that last time they met.
Only the Eagles also look nothing like that juggernaut they assembled for the 2017 season. They come in with a different quarterback, four different running backs, a new second tight end and a receiving corps that’s in a state of decline with Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and newly acquired Jordan Matthews.
Matthews begins his third stint with the Eagles after being signed Monday to take Jackson’s roster spot.
Because of the way New England notoriously plays defense, especially this season, it means Matthews could end up as quarterback Carson Wentz’s leading target in his first game back.
The Patriots typically scheme to take away at least one of their opponents’ top offensive options. In the Eagles’ case, tight end Zach Ertz (team-highs of 46 catches and 527 yards) is their leading receiver. Jeffery, who probably won’t play anyway, is No. 2.
As already mentioned, the Eagles might just have rookie Miles Sanders, second-year man Boston Scott and newly signed Ajayi available at running back Sunday.
That’s not what you want against a team coach Doug Pederson said reminds him of the 2000 Ravens, whose 165 points allowed were the fewest in league history over 16 games. This year’s Patriots are on pace to allow 174.
They already have taken the ball away 27 times on 19 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries.
“You can obviously draw some parallels with those two defenses,” Pederson said in a conference call with Patriots reporters. “I think the biggest thing that jumps out to you right now, the glaring thing is the turnover ratio. I mean, the fact that they’ve got six defensive scores this season, the interceptions, the fumbles they’re causing — it’s a brand of defense where they just smother you. They just corral you.
“They’re OK with giving you two, three, four yards, but they’re right on top of you. Their secondary is that way aggressively and their front seven are that way. And that’s something I think when you look back, if I remember correctly with that Baltimore team, the same structure, the same style of defense. It was a smothering style of defense and they played fast and they played aggressively."
In short, not good for the crippled Eagles offense.
Not good at all.