By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The last time they took the field, the Patriots were served a heaping dose of humble pie, as Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens showed zero sign of being intimidated by an 8-0 record. Baltimore landed an initial heavy blow in building a 17-0 lead, withstood the Patriots’ best efforts at coming back, and ultimately rolled to a 37-20 victory.
And the Patriots will have had a very, very long time to think about that loss when they next return to action on Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia.
The question that lingers heading into that matchup centers around whether the Patriots will be able to channel the anger from losing into one of those classic Bill Belichick/Tom Brady beatdowns against an opponent whose greatest sin was simply standing on the tracks as the train barreled into town. What could help the Patriots in that endeavor would be if that opponent … stunk.
So, without further ado, let’s assess: Do the Philadelphia Eagles stink?
A Case For Stink: They lost to the Atlanta Falcons. In a real game. In 2019.
It would be wrong to judge a team only on its worst loss. After all, the Ravens’ horrible loss to the Browns didn’t stop them from beating the previously undefeated Patriots, now did it?
Still … some losses are worse than others. And a loss to the Falcons … in the year 2019 … that is a whopper.
This one came back in Week 2, on Sunday Night Football, before we all understood just how bad the Falcons are. It involved Carson Wentz running into the end zone late in the fourth quarter and then converting a two-point conversion to give Philly a three-point lead, only for the Eagles’ defense to allow a 54-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones on a fourth-and-3. It was a pass that was completed behind the line of scrimmage, and it was one for which the Eagles’ defense was not prepared.
JULIO JONES. 54 YARDS.
Falcons take the lead! pic.twitter.com/Z9yNiAsAFy
— NFL Stats (@NFL_Stats) September 16, 2019
The Eagles almost stormed back for the win, but Wentz’s pass to Zach Ertz was completed about a foot shy of the line to gain on a fourth-and-8, leading to a turnover on downs.
And so … the Eagles lost … to the Falcons. (After that Week 2 win, the Falcons didn’t win again until last weekend, in Week 10. They were outscored 202-153 in the six games that followed.)
A Case For A Lack Of Stench: Carson Wentz is pretty good.
Statistics are just one angle, but nevertheless, take a gander at the 2019 QB comparison.
Tom Brady: 64.7% passing, 2,581 yards, 14 TDs, 6 INTs, 93.1 rating
Carson Wentz: 62.7% passing, 2,060 yards, 15 TDs, 4 INTs, 93.7 rating
Wentz also has 144 rushing yards on 37 attempts, slightly higher than Brady’s 3 yards on 14 rushing attempts. Wentz may not be the MVP-type player he was in 2017, when he threw 33 touchdowns and seven picks in 13 games, but he still has some flashes.
Against Washington, Wentz completed 71.8 percent of his passes for 313 yards with three touchdowns and no picks. Brady completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 348 yards with three touchdowns and one interception against that same defense. Wentz has also thrown at least one touchdown in every game this season, and he’s avoided interceptions in six of his nine starts.
The bottom line: Wentz, whose record has been creeping back toward .500 over the past two years, is good enough to win a football game.
A Case For Stink: They lack receivers.
The leading receiver on the Eagles in terms of receptions, yards and targets is a tight end, the aforementioned Ertz. He accounts for over 25 percent of the Eagles’ receiving yards, which is good for him but doesn’t say much for the overall health of Philadelphia’s passing attack.
Health has been the key word there, as DeSean Jackson has managed to play in just three games (but really, just one). Jackson and Alshon Jeffery had dreams earlier this season of being the best receiving duo in the NFL, but that has clearly not materialized. Jeffery has just 353 receiving yards on 55 targets, though he does have three touchdowns, and Nelson Agholor has just 282 receiving yards on 54 targets. The team’s receiver situation is such that Jordan Matthews was picked up off the street this week in an effort to bolster the receiving corps.
Against a secondary as potent as New England’s, that figures to be an issue.
A Case For A Lack Of Stench: They can run the football.
If the Patriots’ defense has shown a flaw, it’s been in the run game. Cleveland ran for 159 yards on 22 carries in Week 8, and Baltimore ran for 210 yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries in Week 9. Despite a defense that can still finish the year with a record low for points allowed, the Patriots rank seventh-worst in the NFL, allowing 4.7 yards per carry.
That could play a factor on Sunday, because the Eagles can run the ball fairly decently. They rank 11th in the NFL in rushing yards per game. When they’ve run for more than 120 yards this season, they’re 4-1; when they rush for less than 120 yards, they’re 1-3. Though they’re middle-of-the-pack in terms of average yards per rush, their 10 rushing touchdowns have them ranked in the top 10 of the league.
That does not stink.
A Case For Stink: They still lost to the Falcons.
Really can’t stress that one enough. A Falcons loss looks U-G-L-Y on that schedule of theirs.
In terms of wins, a victory in prime time in Green Bay was nice, as was putting up 31 points in a 31-13 win in Buffalo against a feisty Bills defense. But their losses combine for a big ol’ bowl of Meh soup. They lost at Atlanta, obviously, and they lost in consecutive weeks at Minnesota and Dallas … by a combined score of 75-30. They also lost at home to Detroit.
And again, one more time, with feeling: They lost to the Falcons.
A Case For A Lack Of Stench: They cash in when they’re in the red zone.
One of the Patriots’ greatest strengths this season has been their red zone defense. New England has allowed touchdowns on just 45.5 percent of opponents’ red zone trips, which ranks fourth-best in the NFL. They’ve also allowed touchdowns just 57.1 percent of the time when opponents reach a goal-to-go situation, tying them for fifth in the league.
That strength will meet a strength of the Philly offense on Sunday, though. Philly has scored touchdowns on 63.3 percent of their red zone trips (eighth in the NFL) and in 87.5 percent of their goal-to-go situations (second-best). Keeping the Eagles out of the end zone will be slightly more difficult than, say, stopping the Dolphins, Redskins and Browns.
A Case For Stink: Their pass defense struggles, they’re going to give up sacks, they’re going to turn the ball over.
Consider this: The Eagles have held opposing passers to an average of just 178 yards per game over the past three games. Despite that, the Eagles still rank 16th in passing yards allowed per game and 20th in yards allowed per pass play. That goes to show just how rough of a start that Philly defense endured this season.
And suffice it to say, Brady should present a more difficult challenge than Josh Allen, Mitch Trubisky and Dak Prescott have over those past three games. (“Limiting” Prescott to 239 yards was merely a technicality, as the Cowboys ran for nearly 300 yards with three touchdowns in a 27-point victory.)
On the other side, the Eagles have allowed sacks on 6.5 percent of Wentz’s dropbacks this season. That puts them in the middle of the NFL pack, but against a Patriots defense that has recorded sacks on nearly 11 percent of opposing QB dropbacks, it should spell trouble for Sunday.
Plus, despite Wentz’s low interception total, the Eagles have not been overly careful with the football. Their five team interceptions and nine fumbles lost give them 14 giveaways on the season, tied for 12th-highest in the league. That should be problematic against a Patriots defense that leads the NFL with 27 takeaways.
Final Verdict On The Level Of Stench
Eh, they’re all right. They may not stink all the way, and they’re certainly capable of winning any game. But if the Patriots play to their own potential, they should roll to a comfortable double-digit victory.