The 8-1 Patriots are back off their bye and will travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles, their second tough road game in row and one that should tell us a lot about the second-half trajectory of the defending Super Bowl champs.
The 5-4 Eagles are coming off two-straight wins and are currently tied for the top spot in the NFC East. They'll be looking to repeat their gutsy performance from Super Bowl 52 that saw them hang 40 points on the Patriots despite giving up over 500 passing yards to Tom Brady.
The statistics might point to this being a middle-of-the-pack Eagles team, but facing the Patriots always seems to bring out the best in the birds. They have all the pieces to challenge a New England team coming off their first loss of the season and should play far better than a team that's just one game over .500.
It's just the kind of challenge the Patriots should relish for a bounce-back opportunity. Unlike most of their opponents of the first two months, the Eagles won't be pushovers and we can't just pencil in an easy Patriots win. Add in the hostile environment and this will be one of the Patriots stiffest tests of the year and a great platform to prove they're still favorites.
What do they need to do to get back on track with a win on the road that might cure a few lingering demons from their last Super Bowl loss?
Here are the Keys to the Starting Lineup presented by CarMax!
The Patriots defensive line was pushed around against the Ravens. Yes, Lamar Jackson's uber speed was a big part of that, but it's hard to recover against any offense when your defensive line is getting turned and moved downfield. The Eagles offensive line is a solid group, despite missing Jason Peters who has been recovering from a knee scope, and they'll be ready for the fight.
Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton and Adam Butler must get back to winning the line of scrimmage. Prior to the Ravens game, all three were playing the best football of their careers and they were enabling the Patriots linebackers to make game-changing plays. Everything, especially stopping the run, starts with them and they'll either lead the way to a win or be a key reason why the defense can't get off the field for a second game in a row.
Patriots.com's Mike Dussault shares his players to watch during the Patriots Week 11 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, November 17, 2019.
Tight End Tango
Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert are the key pieces to the Eagles passing attack. Matching Alshon Jeffrey (if he plays) with Stephon Gilmore and Nelson Agholor with Jonathan Jones seems obvious. That leaves a stable of Patrick Chung, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty and Terrence Brooks to use in combination on the two tight ends who were called "interchangeable" by Bill Belichick.
Ertz is used more like a wide receiver and he has 20 more targets than anyone else on the roster, grabbing 46 catches on 75 balls thrown his way. He's also the leading third-down receiver, though Jeffrey and Agholor are right there with him. Taking away Ertz is where it all starts though, as forcing Wentz to make tougher throws later in the down will force mistakes and no one preys on takeaways like the Patriots defense. If there's one weapon the Pats can't afford to let beat them, it's Ertz.
Isaiah Wynn should be back in the mix next week against the Cowboys, giving the Patriots offensive line a needed boost. But the problems haven't been solely about his replacement Marshall Newhouse. Most troubling has been the inconsistency from their best blockers like Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon. Joe Thuney has had his moments as well, despite arguably the most solid season of the group. Usually, Dante Scarnecchia gets the o-line locked down by this point in the season regardless of personnel, but their struggles have continued.
Mason was off the injury report after the bye week, he had been battling an ankle injury that held him out of the Browns game. The Patriots need him, Thuney and Cannon to put together their best football now. Ted Karras and Newhouse are limited athletically, but that's no excuse. If the line can all play together and play consistently, the offense should find a lot more success, especially on the ground where it's often looked like each lineman taking turns blowing assignments.
Return of the Boogeymen
The Patriots defense was the great equalizer through the first two months of the season. Any struggles the offense experienced were offset or even hidden by a D playing at a historic rate, forcing turnovers, even scoring six defensive/special teams touchdowns. But against the Ravens, the defense couldn't make the key plays when they needed to and the offense couldn't overcome their shortcomings, despite showing some flashes with their no-huddle attack.
We can hope the run game gets on track, that the offensive line puts together a 60-minute effort or even that N'Keal Harry grabs a couple catches in the red zone. But none of it really matters if The Boogeymen return in Philadelphia. If Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy are making plays, containing the edges and leaving Wentz seeing ghosts, the Patriots should roll in this game.
This is another big football game for the Patriots and we should enjoy the opportunity to see them tested once again by a good team that feels confident about themselves and their chances. Over the bye week the Patriots were focused on how to better play to their strengths and disguise their weaknesses. They might also have some new twists to unveil on the Eagles. We'll see a slightly re-tooled Patriots team, but will the new tweaks pay off?
It's been a long two weeks off, with the loss to the Ravens just marinating in everyone's minds. Doubt can seep in if you're not careful, but this Patriots team has too many veterans and has been in too many big games to blink at this point.
It might not all be suddenly perfect in all three phases, but impressive bounce back wins are what the Patriots do best.