The skinny: The Eagles have a ton of depth on the defensive line that makes them difficult to prepare for. They also have talent and athleticism both inside and outside. The Eagles signed Jevon Kearse in the offseason to replace the element they lost a year earlier when Hugh Douglas left in free agency. Kearse led the team with 7.5 sacks.
Douglas returned after being let go by Jacksonville following a disappointing season with the Jags and plays about 10-15 snaps per game in relief of starters Kearse or fellow end Derrick Burgess. Jerome McDougle also fills a similar role as Douglas.
Inside Philly uses mostly a four-man rotation with Darwin Walker and Corey Simon drawing the starting assignments while Hollis Thomas and Sam Rayburn rotate in. The interior linemen are not used situationally, but all are versatile enough to rotate in any spot and all are big and physical. That regular rotation forces the Patriots interior offensive linemen, center Dan Koppen and guards Joe Andruzzi and Stephen Neal, to study all four defensive tackles to learn their tendencies.
The eight Eagle regulars combine for 43 years of experience, led by Douglas' 10 years and Hollis Thomas' nine. Their unit is fast and athletic with good size inside and good speed on the edges. They get after the passer and the unit has performed better against the run over the last half of the season, which probably not coincidentally, is when Jeremiah Trotter took over at middle linebacker.
While Kearse is the sack leader, Simon (5.5) and Rayburn (6) added 11.5 combined sacks on the inside.
The Patriots line is unheralded mostly because of its makeup. Matt Light, as a second round pick, is the only day one draft pick on the line. Guards Andruzzi and Neal were both undrafted free agents while Koppen was a fifth round pick and right tackle Brandon Gorin a seventh rounder. That group allowed just 26 sacks this season while quarterback Tom Brady threw for 3,692 yards and 28 touchdowns and Corey Dillon ran for a franchise record and career-best 1,635 yards.
Koppen on the Eagles DL: "You have to be ready for and familiarize yourself with all those guys because they're all good. They're big, physical guys and athletic too."
Belichick on the Eagles DL: "They rotate them through and they seem very comfortable with whoever is in there. They are all pretty good. Simon and Walker have been very productive rushing the passer. I think a lot of that comes from the pressure they get outside because they have very good ends too, with [Derrick] Burgess and of course [Jevon] Kearse and [Hugh] Douglas when he is in there. So, it is really a problem offensively. You have the edge pressure coming from the outside and then you have the inside pressure coming. There is kind of no place for the quarterback to go. They are good pass rushers and they have a lot of them. It is hard to pick out one guy and say, 'Okay, we are going to double this guy or we are going to slide to this guy' because they are well balanced on the rush. They come across the board."
Key stats: The Eagles defensive line accounted for 32 of the team's 47 sacks and 17 of those came from interior linemen. They also had 105 quarterback hurries. The Patriots allowed only 26 sacks, the fifth fewest in the NFL.
Edge: The Eagles defensive line gets the nod because of its versatility. It boasts power and athleticism inside and speed on the edge. It also plays a physical brand of football that will help it match up with the Patriots physical style. The Patriots front could have trouble with Eagles pass rush, and will need to be mentally on top of its game. New England's experience in games is important and it performed well against the Panthers defensive line last year when it was allegedly overmatched on paper. On paper this year, it loses this edge to the Eagles, but not by much.