By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots have had two whole weeks to sit and stew about their first loss of the season. Now they’re ready to take out their frustration on the Philadelphia Eagles.
Both the Patriots and Eagles are coming off their bye week, which should make for an interesting Week 11 showdown at the Linc in Philadelphia. There’s also that little matter of this being the first regular season matchup between the two teams since Super Bowl LII, a loss that Tom Brady and several others admitted they still aren’t over. But that is in the past, and both teams are focused on the present. The Eagles will try to further cement themselves in the NFC playoff picture, while the Patriots will attempt to bounce back from their only defeat on the year. Though the Eagles are only 5-4 on the season, a win in Philly would fit the bill as a quality road win for New England.
And under Bill Belichick, the Pats are pretty good coming out of their bye week. The team owns a 14-5 record in games following their bye during the Belichick era, and they’ve won four of their last five, with their last post-bye week loss coming in 2016 in Seattle.
New England begins their toughest stretch of the season on Sunday afternoon, and here’s what we’ll be watching for when the Pats and Eagles kick off.
New England’s Red Zone D vs. Philly’s Red Zone Offense
The Patriots defense is still very good, despite that massive hiccup in Baltimore. Part of their very good play is not allowing automatic points when opponents reach the red zone. The Patriots have allowed the opposition to find the end zone on just 45.5 percent of their trips to the red zone, which ranks fourth-best in the league.
That strength will be tested on Sunday, as the Eagles have scored touchdowns on 63.3 percent of their trips inside the red zone, ranking eighth-best in the NFL. Going against a team that can actually execute in the red area will be a great test for the New England defense this weekend.
Philly’s 2-Tight End Set
Another great test for the defense will be against Philadelphia’s 2-tight end sets, with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert leading the charge. New England fans know plenty about Ertz from two years ago, and he sits comfortably atop most stats among tight ends, tied for fourth with 46 receptions, fifth with 527 yards and fourth with 28 first downs. Ertz is Wentz’s favorite target and he’s money when the QB looks his way on third down, with 11 of his 19 third-down targets moving the chains. Goedert is more of a blocking tight end, but he’s racked up 21 receptions for 221 yards and three touchdowns. Bill Belichick called the two “interchangeable” earlier this week, and having a talented duo of tight ends makes up for Philadelphia’s massive lack of weapons at wide receiver.
Their matchup with the Ertz/Goedert duo comes off the Patriots allowing three Ravens tight ends to catch nine of 10 targets two weeks ago, good for 63 yards and a touchdown. Sunday afternoon will be a much tougher assignment for the likes of Patrick Chung, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty and Terrence Brooks.
Struggles Against The Run
The Eagles run the football well, and that is problematic considering the glaring weakness with the New England defense is their porous ways against the run. The Patriots have allowed 369 rushing yards over their last two games, and are surrendering a whopping 4.7 yards per carry on the season.
Led by Jordan Howard (525 yards) and Miles Sanders (336 yards), the Eagles are averaging 127 rushing yards per contest. They’re averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Their 10 rushing scores (six of which belong to Howard) rank in the top 10 in the NFL. They’ve eclipsed 120 yards five times this season, winning four of those games. They’re 1-3 when they pick up less than 120 yards, so stopping the run will be key for New England on Sunday.
And if you’re hoping the Patriots’ own run game wakes up coming out of the bye, you’ll probably have to wait a little longer. The Eagles have given up just 87.3 rushing yards per game this season, ranking fourth in the NFL.
Maybe this is the week we get to see New England’s first-round pick dip his toes into the offense. Then again, just because Harry is active doesn’t mean Tom Brady will throw him the football.
But it would be nice to see what the No. 32 overall pick can bring to the offense. It wouldn’t be fair to place high expectations on a 21-year-old who missed the first nine weeks of the season, but it would be nice to see him do something.
And this should be a good week for the Patriots passing offense. They’ve struggled to find their way at times during the season, but the Eagles secondary has been so-so at best, albeit while battling injuries. Don’t be surprised if the New England passing attack has their best game of the year on Sunday.
Tune in to Sunday’s Patriots-Eagles clash on WBZ-TV — the flagship station of the New England Patriots. Coverage begins at 11:30 a.m. with Patriots GameDay, with the game kicking off at 4:25 p.m. After the game switch over to TV38 for Patriots 5th Quarter!