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Scouting the Matchups: Patriots poised to get back on track

The struggling Eagles could provide the perfect antidote to get New England back in the win column.


The Eagles rank near the bottom of the league in run defense, including a vicious scorching at the hands of Tampa's Doug Martin, who carved them up for 235 yards in Week 11. A whopping 162 of Martin's yards came after contact, indicating major tackling issues with Philadelphia's defense. The Patriots haven't run it much since Dion Lewis' knee injury, but given the problems with pass protection and their injuries at the receiving position, the Patriots could draft up a game plan similar to the one they used in Week 9 against Washington's equally porous run defense in which LeGarrette Blount rushed 29 times for a season-high 129 yards. Releasing Trent Cole and acquiring fellow linebacker Kiko Alonso in exchange for LeSean McCoy has played a role in crippling Philadelphia's defense. The Patriots should take advantage. Advantage: Patriots



The Eagles offense exploded during the first two years of the Chip Kelly era and figured to get better this year after replacing McCoy with DeMarco Murray, but last year's NFL rushing leading has struggled all season, with some going as far as to question his effort during Philadelphia's three-game losing streak. Ryan Mathews, the former San Diego Charger, has provided a spark in a complementary role, but a concussion sustained in Week 10 leaves him a risky proposition, even if he's active. The Eagles have also had injury problems up front. New England, meanwhile, remains one of the top run defenses in spite of Sunday's ghastly performance in Denver. Even with Dont'a Hightower suffering an injury against the Broncos, facing Murray now isn't as frightening as it would've been a year ago with him running behind the Cowboys offensive line. And all signs point toward the return of Jamie Collins. Advantage: Patriots



The Eagles secondary has been a disaster. Moving their best cornerback, Walter Thurmond, to safety hasn't had the impact on the defense they thought it would, and now cornerback Nolan Carroll is out for the season after breaking his ankle on Thanksgiving. His replacement, Eric Rowe, quickly gave up a pair of touchdown passes to Calvin Johnson. Philadelphia ranks near the bottom of the half of the league in pass defense, but the Patriots have problems of their own offensively. Life without Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola has proven to be a challenge, and the offensive line is still struggling to get in sync. The Patriots also lost Rob Gronkowski down the stretch last week in Denver, creating more issues offensively. Tom Brady should still be able to pick apart this secondary, provided he gets enough time to work in the pocket and is able to avoid turning it over considering the Eagles 12 interceptions on the season.  Advantage: Patriots



Inconsistent play and injuries at the quarterback position have doomed Philadelphia over the past month. The passing game has arguably suffered the most from Kelly's offseason overhaul. The Eagles traded Nick Foles for Sam Bradford, who ranked near the bottom of the league in passer rating with 11 interceptions in nine starts before suffering multiple injuries in Week 10. Kelly also traded his leading receiver, Jeremy Maclin, and has gotten limited production from the team's lone outside threat, Jordan Matthews, who only has three touchdowns. The Patriots give up their share of yards in the passing game but rank among the league leaders in takeaways and have received stellar production from No. 1 cornerback Malcolm Butler. Bradford should be back this week, so at least the Eagles won't have to watch Mark Sanchez. Advantage: Patriots



Even with Chris Harper's gaffe Sunday in Denver, special teams remains one of New England's secret weapons. They've blocked field goals, recovered onside kicks, forced fumbles on punt returns and have consistently won the field-position battle with production in their own kicking game. The Eagles have fallen apart on special teams. In Week 10, they suffered from two poor snaps from long snapper Jon Dorenbos and also had a punt blocked, while Caleb Sturgis missed a short field goal. The one bright spot has been their defense in the return game, where they rank among the top 10 on both kickoffs and punts, but they haven't gotten much production from their own return game, aside from a Darren Sproles touchdown in Week 3. It's hard to imagine anyone having the edge over New England on special teams. Advantage: Patriots



This is another home game for the Patriots, who haven't lost at Gillette Stadium all year, against a team on its way toward the bottom of the NFC East in complete freefall mode after losing three in a row, the last two in embarrassing fashion. Bill Belichick remains the constant figure of authority and discipline in New England, while Kelly has lost control of his team. His offseason overhaul has blown up in his face, players are anonymously questioning the effort of their teammates and the team has slipped from a respectable 4-4 through eight weeks to 4-7 heading into a tough road game against a Super Bowl contender. The Eagles haven't looked motivated in weeks. Maybe the opportunity to slay an NFL giant will bring out the best in them, but it's hard to find any singular category on or off the field where Philadelphia has an edge. Advantage: Patriots


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