1. Injuries - The Patriots played without Chad Ochocinco, Dan Connolly, Brandon Spikes, Pat Chung, and Devin McCourty. The Eagles played without Michael Vick and Jeremy Maclin, and while Nnamdi Asomugha suited up, he played an extremely limited role on their defense. In the absence of Ocho as the Patriots "third" receiver, Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez stepped up to complement the typically solid performances of Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker. While Taylor Price was pushed down the depth chart, it was good to see the Patriots still be able to pass the ball. Ryan Wendell played very well at center and looked more control than Connolly has in a few weeks. Tracy White played linebacker over Gary Guyton, which was a great coaching move, as White prevented LeSean McCoy from having a large impact on the game. After the first five minutes of the game, Kyle Arrington and Antwaun Molden combined for a solid game of play and prevented Vince Young from developing a rhythm. The Patriots did a great job of compensating for injuries, while the Eagles were unable to overcome their injured players. A win for the Patriots.
2. LeSean McCoy - Yep, McCoy was eliminated. The defense held one of the best running backs in the league to 31 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries- and 22 of those yards were on one play. That means beyond that one fantastic run (not to take it out of consideration), McCoy rushed 9 times for 9 yards. Yeesh. McCoy was also limited in the passing game with 4 receptions on 7 attempts for 30 yards and two dropped passes. In total, McCoy had 14 touches on 17 attempts for 61 yards and a touchdown, or 4.3 yards/play (3.6 yards/attempt). In comparison, he has averaged 5.5 yards/play (5.3 yards/attempt) on the season, which means that the Patriots made McCoy perform at a level far below his expected level. In other news, running back Tom Brady averaged 5.6 yards/run attempt. A win for the Patriots.
3. Pick Young - I was worried when the game opened up and Young threw a pair of beautiful deep catches. Of course, I was lucky and saved my butt by saying, "As long as the defensive backs can run with the Eagles receivers, then they can be in position to take advantage of errant throws." There was no way Arrington was going to defend that first throw, although the Patriots should have had a safety in the vicinity. The miscommunication between Antwaun Molden and Sterling Moore allowed the second big gain. Beyond that, the Patriots hassled Young and made him look awful (until he padded his stats on the final drive). Molden came down with one of the bad throws, but Young was throwing such difficult throws for his receivers that literally no one on either team was in the area of a few of his other bad tosses. The Patriots didn't really take advantage of turnovers by not putting points on the board, but they did force Young to win the game for the Eagles- and he had no chance. A win for the Patriots.
4. Receivers - Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski show up to play every week. The Patriots offense has made a point of involving Aaron Hernandez on five or so passes every game and he is continuing to grow as a reliable target. Deion Branch finally had a good game after putting up some pretty unspectacular performances. These are the only four players who caught a pass- and that's totally fine, as long as they're the open receiver. When the Patriots play with a blocking tight end (ie: Nate Solder), there's only space for four skill players on the field (+Brady and the offensive line), so if those four players can continue to contribute, this offense could succeed where the past few offenses have struggled: the playoffs. A win for the Patriots (although I'd like to see some running backs catch some passes out of the backfield).
5. Protect Brady - The good news had to end. Tight end Rob Gronkowski had a stellar game blocking. Brian Waters was his usual consistent self. Ryan Wendell had a solid opening performance. Beyond that? Yikes. The Eagles pass rush was relentless and abused the Patriots cornerstones. Matt Light, bum ankle and all, was taken to school by Trent Cole and the Eagles pass rush. Logan Mankins was moved around by Cullen Jenkins. Juqua Parker and Jason Babin had a field day pass rushing against Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder. For whatever reason, the Patriots continue to struggle to establish any consistency with their blocking. Their average level of play forced Brady to move around the pocket and into the open field where, while Brady played exceptionally well against the Eagles, he cannot be expected to perform against top talent in the playoffs. The offensive line needs to solve its issues very quickly. A loss for the Patriots.
Overall, the Patriots took this game 4/5 points. The question still floats about the Patriots' offensive line and their inconsistencies. Was this past game a result of Matt Light's ankle (or Trent Cole's typically high level of play)? Where is Logan Mankin's mean streak as a blocker? Will the right tackle position ever settle down this season? Look for the answers to these questions next week against Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
That could get ugly.