Even with all the off-the-field drama hovering over the Eagles this season, they've found a way to pull it together. The team has won its last two games over the Redskins and Dolphins, bringing Philadelphia's record to 5-5 and putting them in the playoff mix.
Despite all the criticism he receives in Philly, Donovan McNabb isn't having a terrible season, especially when you consider the offensive line he plays behind. McNabb doesn't have a great set of receivers to begin with, and with the line not giving him much time in the pocket, it's no wonder McNabb has struggled at times this season. Pass protection could be a big problem this week facing a Patriots defense that has already recorded 29 sacks on the season.
McNabb injured his ankle against the Dolphins and was replaced by backup A.J. Feeley, who went 13 of 19 for 116 yards and a touchdown while leading the Eagles to victory.
The entire Eagles offense revolves around all-everything back Brian Westbrook.
Westbrook doesn't always get the attention that some of the other top backs in the league do, but he's every bit as valuable to his team. He's not only the Eagles' primary ball carrier, but Westbrook is the team's leading receiver as well. Westbrook is coming off his best performance of the season, rushing for 148 yards last week against Miami.
"He does everything well. He's just an outstanding player," Bill Belichick said about Westbrook. "He's got great quickness; he's a hard guy to tackle out in space. He's very good on screen passes and out of the backfield. He's obviously got good hands. He's a good inside runner; he has good vision, good balance and good speed. He's leading the league in production from the line of scrimmage. He does it in a lot of different ways. That's what makes him hard to defend -- he's pretty good at everything."
Westbrook can give the Patriots defense fits but the line needs to play its best game of the season in order for that to happen. Philly's offensive front has done a solid job at run blocking this season, but on the other hand, it has been awful in pass protection. McNabb has already been sacked 30 times in 10 games. To put that in perspective, Tom Brady has only been sacked 10 times.
Defensively, the Eagles have struggled with injuries and inconsistency all year long. The injury bug has hit the secondary particularly hard. Safety Brian Dawkins missed five games with a neck injury, while the Eagles' best cover corner, Lito Sheppard, was sidelined four games with a bum ankle. Both Dawkins and Sheppard are Pro Bowl players, so their absence really hurt the pass defense.
Defensive end Trent Cole has pressured quarterbacks from his right defensive end spot. Cole has recorded nine sacks on the year but his sacks tend to come in bunches. Cole hasn't recorded a sack in five of the Eagles' 10 games because teams are double-teaming him and rolling the quarterback away from Cole's side.
In the past, that would have been a bad strategy for an offense with Jevon Kearse lining up at left defensive end. However, The Freak is just a shadow of his former self. Things have gotten so bad for Kearse that he was a healthy scratch against the Dolphins, a sure sign that his days in Philly are coming to an end. Juqua Thomas and rookie Victor Abiamiri are now getting most of the reps at left end.
Putting pressure on the quarterback is key for the Eagles defense. In Philadelphia's best defensive games this season, it was able to get a lot of pressure on the quarterback. The Eagles recorded four sacks against Green Bay, 10 against Detroit, three against the Jets and four against Minnesota. The Birds will need a similar kind of performance this week when they take on the NFL's top-ranked passing offense or it will be a long night for Philadelphia's beleaguered defensive backs.
The Eagles have always been known as a big-play defense under Jim Johnson, but so far this season, the team hasn't been able to force many turnovers. After 10 games, Philadelphia has only caused 10 turnovers, ranking them near the bottom of the NFL. However, Johnson isn't ready to push the panic button quite yet.
"They tend to come in bunches," Johnson said about getting turnovers. "I think as long as we stay healthy on defense, the turnovers will come."
The Eagles come into this game hot but they now have uncertainty at the quarterback position with McNabb going down last week. Philadelphia will need to be at full strength on Sunday night as they try and become the first team to knock off the Patriots and keep its hopes for a playoff berth alive.
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