Who are the Philadelphia Eagles and what is their identity? Head coach Chip Kelly, the nominated Future of Coaching (TM), and his innovative and explosive offense comes to mind. Kelly and his system- that's what the Eagles are, for better or for worse.
So what is this system and can someone pull the plug? The Eagles offense has averaged 15.5 points over the past two games, while the defense has allowed 45 points in each contest. Something is broken. This might not be the week to fix it.
When the Eagles run the ball
DeMarco Murray is the running back worth knowing as Ryan Mathews remained sidelined with a groin injury. Murray lead the league in rushing last season as a member of the Cowboys and it seems like he's missing the Dallas offensive line. Murray currently leads the Eagles in yards from scrimmage as the lead back and the team's 4th leading option in targets out of the backfield.
Murray is a one-cut runner who loves to plant and go. The Eagles have one of their worst offensive lines in recent memory as the departure of left guard Evan Mathis to Denver has left a bigger hole than expected. Allen Barbre, Mathis' replacement, isn't very good. He gets blown back in the rushing game as defensive tackles close rushing lanes with ease.
The best Eagles runs result from bounces to the outside, which should make Patriots fans a little bit nervous, especially if the rangy New England linebackers are unable to play. However, these aren't stretch runs like Gary Kubiak and the Broncos utilize, but instead result from failed interior runs.
If the Patriots are able to prevent Murray from breaking outside with superior edge containment, the Eagles won't be able to run the ball and they will have to operate out of third and long situations.
Darren Sproles is the other back worth highlighting as a 3rd down, receiving type of option. The Eagles don't mind giving him the ball on draw plays, but he's not overly dangerous as a runner between the tackles. His value comes in the passing game on the edge.
When the Eagles pass the ball
6'3, 212-lbs wide receiver Jordan Matthews leads the Eagles with 89 targets, followed by tight end Zach Ertz with 62. Running backs Sproles (58) and Murray (48) rank 3rd and 4th. The #2 wide receiver is either Miles Austin (31), Josh Huff (29), Riley Cooper (28), or Nelson Agholor (27), while #2 tight end Brent Celek (27) sees his fair share of targets at well.
It should be noted that this means that Matthews, Ertz, and the running backs are the only players likely to see more than three targets in any given game. This greatly simplifies how the Patriots can defend the Eagles offense because Bill Belichick would be happy to take away Matthews and Ertz, and force quarterback Sam Bradford to win with Miles Austin.
Matthews aligns all over the formation, but is primarily a slot receiver like the Saints Marques Colston. The idea is that teams typically field smaller slot corners than on the outside, so Matthews would be a mismatch. The Patriots could feel comfortable putting Malcolm Butler on an island against him, but I would match up Logan Ryan on Matthews with Devin McCourty over the top, and let Butler work on an island on the outside against whichever #2 receiver the Eagles put on the field.
Ryan has experience in the slot and has done very well against top targets when given the opportunity, while Butler definitely thrives when he gets to use the sideline. Receivers like Austin and Cooper could be shut down by Butler by himself.
Patrick Chung would assume his typical tight end duties to lock out Ertz, who will be returning from a concussion. Both Sproles and Murray deserve coverage every time they leave the backfield, so it's also possible for Chung to draw coverage of these backs, while McCourty matches up with the tight end and Duron Harmon sees time as the deep safety.
With another option, the Patriots could put Tavon Wilson back on the field to handle some coverage responsibilities because he seemed to stand out when given the chance.
The Eagles goal on offense is to take up as much space on the field to open up lanes for yards after the catch, so they often combine safety clearing routes with horizontal routes, with a running back swinging out of the backfield as a checkdown. The goal is for the horizontal routes to have plenty of daylight, so the Patriots will need to make sure their linebackers drop to appropriate coverage depths to take away the inside lanes.
When the Patriots run the ball
This is going to be another long week as the Eagles are extremely stout up the middle. Defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan are as good as they come, while the Eagles 3-man front usually adds edge defenders Connor Barwin and/or Brandon Graham on first down. Linebackers Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans are aggressive and can quickly close down rushing lanes.
The Buccaneers had a ton of success running against the Eagles because Doug Martin was able to use his agility to shake the initial hit, and once the linebackers close in to make the stop, there are no defenders left in the second level. The Patriots don't really have a running back that offers the same shake-and-bake that Martin offers, and LeGarrette Blount probably isn't going to have success running up the middle of this defense.
The Patriots have to treat the Eagles defensive front like the Seattle Seahawks' and have to use swing passes to running backs as an extended rushing attack. Brandon Bolden will have to touch the ball at least 5 times in order for the Eagles to respect the notion of a Patriots rushing game.
When the Patriots pass the ball
Good thing for New England is the Eagles inability to defend against wide receivers. Philadelphia converted a pair of cornerbacks into their safeties, so their tight end defense is above average, but the corners really struggle when matching up against quality receivers.
Part of the issue is the off-coverage that the Eagles utilize, which allows receivers plenty of free reign to dictate the offense. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell is going to have a field day with comeback routes and possible back shoulder throws because of all of the space the Eagles give the opposition. Those that have watched LaFell this season know that comebacks are his bread and butter.
Danny Amendola is also set to have a good day, if he's active, since the Eagles borrow some tendencies from the Seahawks and struggle against lateral movement, but also because they just lost starting cornerback Nolan Carroll, so whichever back-up corner takes the field against the Patriots will likely be a target for Tom Brady throughout the day.
It's also possible that the Patriots will work with Scott Chandler across the formation, but the Eagles have been very successful- Patriot-like, in fact- at stopping opposing tight ends.