Monday, January 31, 2005

A Prescription For Victory- Part One

A Philadelphian could get very depressed listening to endless drivel being spouted by America’s so-called football mouthpieces this week. As someone with the credibility of 9-1 ATS picking the Eagles over the past four years, I am here to tell you the Patriots are not a foregone conclusion in this spot. They better come to Jacksonville looking for a fight.

This is the first of two postings- where I will carefully explain, unfortunately using big words at times, how the Eagles can beat the New England Patriots. It is not often you can get, for all intents and purposes, a 15-1 team giving a touchdown. For the simple lack of anything else, the Eagles are a pro-team not coached by Joe Gibbs. They have a sound chance.

I will begin by saying I love the New England Patriots. Love them. Thought they would kill Pittsburgh. Thought they would humiliate Indianapolis. This is no easy task ahead of Philadelphia.

This morning, the over/under is at 48- which suggests there is support in Vegas for a game played in the upper-twenties- by the winning team at least. Clearly, the Eagles are going to have trouble reaching that number against this Patriots defense. There are few match-ups there, on said offense, that break in the Eagles favor. No, to get this done, the defense must come to play- and keep New England to a manageable number- something south of 21.

In a lot of ways, New England is a lot like Philadelphia on offense. Outside of Brady, you don’t really look at the Patriots’ passing attack and get blown away by their weapons. It is merely a collection of solid pros who both know what they are doing and have played together a lot. The rushing game and star tailback have some gaudy numbers- but like most good NFL teams the Patriots use the run merely to set up damage through the air. I don’t care so much if they rush for 100. It is if Brady can use all those 2nd and 5s to throw for 300 more.

However, the fact that New England can both run and pass with proficiency makes them harder to defend than Minnesota or Atlanta. Wrap all that up in a superior quarterback, who like McNabb, is a master of ruthless efficiency at the position: no mistakes, no turnovers, complete all the make-able throws and execute flawlessly in the red zone.

While Minnesota and Atlanta were good offense teams- Minnesota has a better passing attack than New England, the Falcons featured a fairly comparable rushing attack- the Eagles were able to focus on taking away their preferred attack mode- rush (Atlanta) or pass (Minnesota)- and dare them to do the other successfully 25 or so times.

Regardless, the seeds for success were there in those two stellar defense outings. Both Minnesota and Atlanta had "good-plus" offensive lines- and the Eagles were able to dominate both easily- without committing extra help. Of course, the Eagles’ defensive backs need to continue to handle wideouts without assistance. Frankly, they ought to be able to handle this mob- which simply isn’t in Minnesota’s league. So, if the Eagles can get dependable pressure with their front four, and successfully cover the base offense with their largely All-Pro secondary, they ought to keep Brady under some semblance of control.

Then, if Philadelphia can reliably get the nickel on the field, I don’t think Brady, or anyone frankly, can mange the pocket well-enough against our third down pressure- particularly to hurt us down the field consistently. I’m more worried about Brady hurting us early in down and distance. The Eagles are just too good upfront and in the secondary to get killed in 3rd and long too often. This point is very important. Playing Brady, it is all important to get your defense off the field when you have a chance. He is a smart quarterback who makes a living moving the sticks. The Eagles have the capacity to turn a 1st down mistake into a Patriot punt via their nickle!

I don’t think any of that is too unreasonable to expect. Regardless of the quality of your rushing attack, the Eagles are plainly hard to throw on. The defensive backfield never needs help- so if the linebackers are committed hard elsewhere- who cares? Accordingly, they will be tough to throw on Sunday too.

The Patriots running game is more exigent- but also in many ways not as important. The Eagles have been fantastic against the run since the insertion of Trotter. Accordingly, they have made football an easy game for Trotter to play- a game where he plays downhill all day. Against both the Falcons and the Vikings, he was able to focus solely on moving forward and destroying people. If it was a pass, he just became a stand up inside rusher. If it was a run- well, you saw the play-offs games. He was just short of Ray Lewis good against the rush. Trotter is a no doubt about it top-five linebacker if all he has to do is move forward. So let him do that- again and again. Maybe the Pats can block him. Fortunately, no one has in three months.

Brady will hurt them at times no matter what they do, he is the best. It is impossible to play error-free football in the defensive backfield in today’s NFL- and Brady never messes up in those situations. But this isn’t the slop Indianapolis called defense, and the Eagles’ stoppers won’t be struggling to overcome turnover after turnover like Pittsburgh. Philadelphia will be cagey and physical- and make New England successfully execute a dozen plays, rather than six, to score.

Okay, the Eagles varsity defense will be hard pressed to hold New England to fourteen points- like they have the last eight offenses they have faced (five of them to ten points or less). But Philadelphia will keep them in the 21-point range- and maybe less- with a turnover or two. A great truism about the NFL is that if your front four can get pressure, your middle ‘backer can play the run, and your corners can cover, you are a tough out. The Eagles will bring these three things Sunday. And that is good enough to give McNabb a shot to steal this.