I’m convinced that the key to the Birds defensive success against the Pats starts in the middle of their defensive line with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and his partner Tim Jernigan. The Eagles desperately need Cox to take over this game in much the same way he has done so far in the playoffs against both the Falcons and the Vikings. The Patriots are definitely going to try to double team Cox and take their chances with Jernigan being matched in one-on-ones.
We must hear some noise from Jernigan on Sunday. He’s been battling the flu this week, but he has some time to get his strength back before Sunday. He will play a key role because the Patriots are going to do everything they can think of to stop Cox from taking over the game.
Cox and Jernigan need to get penetration up the middle or they must push the pocket back into Tom Brady’s face. Cox, Jernigan and their backups Beau Allen and Destiny Vaeao need to dominate this battle with Patriots center, David Andrews and the two guards, Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason.
New England’s future Hall of Fame quarterback has no problem stepping up and avoiding the pass rush of defensive ends. It’s the pressure in his face that forces him to take his eyes off of downfield targets and move out of the pocket. He can’t run, so most of the time, he will try to slide in the pocket, avoid the rush and continue looking for an open receiver. Brady is at his best when he doesn’t have to move off of his spot in the middle of the pocket. Cox and company must force him to move.
The fact that the Eagles rotate their defensive line will be a big plus because they must maintain the pressure on Brady and hit him every chance they get. Pass rush pressure from their front four is a requirement for the Birds because Brady has always been very good at recognizing blitzes, adjusting the blocking scheme to pick it up, then getting the football out of his hands before the rush can get to him. Schwartz can sprinkle in some blitzes, but he can’t do it too much or Brady will make him pay.
The defensive ends will need to play at a fever pitch for the entire game, as well. Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett must have Brady running for his life for sixty minutes and more if the game goes into overtime. The defensive ends need to be thinking “strip sack”, if they get the chance to force a fumble.
The Patriots running game isn’t dominant, but it’s effective enough to keep the defense honest. The Pats were tenth in the league in rushing, so they are capable of hurting you on the ground, if you don’t keep lane integrity, which means every Eagles defensive player occupy the correct gap on each play. They must be disciplined and focused for the entire game versus the Pats.
The Eagles defense, which was number one in the league versus the run, must eliminate New England’s running game. They must take run away and force Brady to throw the ball nearly every play, so that the pass rush can pressure him and pound him. If New England is allowed to run the football, the Birds are in trouble.
The Birds defense must be thinking of ways to force a turnover on each play. The second, third and fourth man in on a tackle must be going after the football. Every time they get the chance to sack Brady, they must be thinking strip sack. The Eagles defense needs to force at least two or three turnovers. That means the defensive backs and linebackers must catch the football if it hits their hands.
The Eagles can win this game, but the Birds defense will need to play their best football of the season. The key to it all will be Cox and the big fellas upfront. They must dominate from start to finish. I think they’re capable of it, but they’ve got to go out and do it.