Patriots Defense Will Benefit from Shorthanded Eagles Offense
News broke on Friday that Philadelphia Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery (ankle) was ruled out for the the team's Week 11 game against the New England Patriots. Jeffery will be joined on the inactives list by running backs Jordan Howard (shoulder) and Darren Sproles (quad) who will miss the rest of the season because of an injury sustained during practice. Nigel Bradham (ankle), a starting linebacker for the Eagles, will also not play Sunday.
The Sproles loss is largely insignificant and the Bradham loss will help the Patriots the run game a tad. However, the Jeffery news shakes up everything when it comes to cover schemes for the Patriots defense. Howard's absence will also leave a void in the Eagles run game, but rookie Miles Sanders and Jay Ajayi, who the teamed signed late this past week, will carry the load in the backfield and should produce similarly to Howard.
Which Eagles pass catcher do Patriots focus on?
The Jeffery loss will make tight end Zach Ertz's job a lot more difficult. A topic of discussion all week was whether Stephon Gilmore would cover Ertz or Jeffery this week. With Jeffery now out, the answer will almost definitely be Ertz.
The only other guy who could cover a guy like Ertz from the Patriots' secondary would be Patrick Chung, who also will be inactive tomorrow. Terrence Brooks will take over in his absence.
The only other receiving threats for the Eagles are Nelson Agholor (who will likely draw coverage from JC Jackson or Jonathan Jones), Dallas Goedert, former Patriot, Jordan Matthews (who just recently signed with the team), Mack Hollins, rookie receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and Sanders.
If the Patriots can focus on taking away the Eagles two tight ends and Miles Sanders out of the backfield, it should be tough for the Eagles to put together enough quality drives to beat New England.
Wentz has struggled to string together wins with a full supporting cast this season. Asking him to win with just Agholor and Matthews would be a tough task.
Something else to monitor:
The Eagles have a very successful run game and like to run a lot of RPOs. Without Howard, who frequently gets twice as many carries as Sanders, the offense will have to morph and play their game a little differently than normal.
While Sanders has been impressive thus far this year, most of his explosiveness has come in the passing game (305 yards on 22 receptions, one touchdown). By no means does he appear ready to handle his normal carries and then take over a chunk of Howard's carries as well, which is why the team decided to sign Ajayi, who had once been the lead back in Philadelphia and can take on the early down workload Sunday afternoon.
With Jeffery and Howard already ruled out, that makes two of the three top skill position players for Philadelphia out of the lineup. That makes New England's gameplay much more specified on defense, which could lead to a bounce back game for a unit that got exposed two weeks ago.
All eyes will be on Ertz, who the Patriots will have to contain in the passing game if they want to completely shut down the Eagles offense.