One of the key areas the Patriots defense will be looking to get on track in Philadelphia will be stopping the run. The Pats gave up over 200 yards rushing to Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, but Baltimore's unique attack doesn't exactly translate to the rest of the league.
Still, the Pats had shown some holes on the ground before the Ravens, allowing 159 yards to the Browns rushing attack led by Nick Chubb, 145 to the Redskins (65 of which came on one touchdown-scoring play) and 135 to Frank Gore and the Bills.
If there's one statistical weakness thus far for the Patriots defense it's against the run where they're 26th in yards-per-attempt and 14th in run defense DVOA. It's not a glaring terrible problem, but it's one that the team will be aiming to improve upon in the second half and that starts against a dangerous trio of backs in Philadelphia -- Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders and Darren Sproles.
"Sanders is used more in the passing game, kind of like [Darren] Sproles," said Bill Belichick this week. "I'd say it's more Sanders and Sproles are more similar. They're both explosive players, certainly can run the ball and they can run inside, run outside, make explosive plays, catch the ball, screen passes, turn check-downs into long catch-and-run plays, things like that.
"Howard is a tough downhill runner. He plays in the passing game too, but I'd say those guys show up more in some more explosive plays – wheel routes, seam routes, some plays down the field that are pretty challenging for the defense. They can put five good receivers out there, whoever they are, whatever personnel group they're in."
The stress in the passing game will be a unique problem for the Patriots, one that Devin McCourty was keenly aware of.
"You know, I think that’s the tough thing. Like, you can come out there in 12 [personnel] and if they go empty, you now have five receivers on the field," said McCourty. "So, again, it comes down to kind of understanding that, understanding where guys are aligned, how they want to attack us, who’s the threat in what situation."
But it's not just the downhill running of Howard or the receiving ability of Sanders and Sproles. The Eagles run a variety of Run-Pass Options as well which can put a defense on their heels.
"The RPOs – there's a couple different versions of them – they use both and they have," said Belichick. "They'll definitely run some. But they have a couple different varieties of it; it's not just one way of doing it. They have a couple of different looks, so it's a challenge to the defense that way."
Overall, it speaks to the how challenging the Eagles offense is. Their playbook is an offshoot of Kansas City's and contains many unique twists that will give the Patriots defense a variety of things to prepare for.
"That’s what’s tough about this league, and I think especially when you have an offense like this with [Doug] Pederson, and how they’re able to game plan and dial things up," said McCourty. "They do a really good job of creating things that they want from an offensive standpoint, so we have to be prepared and ready to go defensively to know what they want to do, and then be ready to adjust on some of the things that we just haven’t seen that they’re going to bring up."
Harry checks in
N'Keal Harry opened training camp with some promising and acrobatic catches, but injuries set him back, culminating in an ankle issue that would land him on IR for the first eight weeks of the season. Back at practice for the last few weeks, Harry has been working hard and is poised to make his NFL debut, perhaps against the Eagles.
"It feels great to be out there with my team," Harry said on Wednesday speaking with the media for the first time since the summer. "Just getting better every day with them, just looking for my role and a way to help the team."
Earning trust from Tom Brady can be a difficult task for any rookie receiver, even more so one who missed so much time. The first-round pick is doing his best to catch up.
"It's been great just going out there with the mentality to just to get better every day," said Harry. "You know, just get better at something every day."
Harry was asked by Mike Reiss of ESPN if he had been trying to push through an injury this summer before going down in the first preseason game against the Lions. Harry said no.
"Me going out there and playing hard and just playing through stuff, that's just the type of mentality that I have and that's just the type of mindset I grew up having," said Harry. "It wasn't me trying to show toughness or anything, it was just me being me."
As for the challenging start to his career, Harry remained upbeat.
"I just looked at it as a blessing. I just looked at the positive things. God has done so much throughout my life. He's put stepping stones in certain places, I just looked at it the same way."
Practice & Injury Report
It was another cold practice for the Patriots on Thursday but not quite as frigid as Wednesday's. The team was once again missing Nate Ebner from the 53-man roster, but all others were present and accounted for in shells for practice.
John Simon joined the injury report with an elbow issue, otherwise it remained the same as Wednesday's.
DID NOT PARTICIPATE
S Nate Ebner, Ankle/Back
S Patrick Chung, Heel/Chest
TE Matt LaCosse, Knee
DT Danny Shelton, Ankle
DE John Simon, Elbow