Eagles vs. Patriots: 6 Key Matchups to Watch in Season Opener

Eagles devonta smith
PHILADELPHIA, PA – OCTOBER 03: Philadelphia Eagles Wide Receiver Devonta Smith (6) sets up for a play in the first half during the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles on October 03, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

The preseason is over. Training camp was a smashing success. Why? Well, simply put, the Philadelphia Eagles escaped with minimal damage in terms of injuries. No starters suffered any significant setbacks as the team enters its season opener against the New England Patriots at full health.

Let’s turn attention to some key matchups to watch when the two sides take the field. It’s no secret the Patriots are going to want to pound the ball against an Eagles’ defense that sometimes struggled at stopping the run. They surrendered 2,068 total yards on the ground in 2022 while giving up 4.6 yards per carry.

While the Patriots didn’t dominate in the run department last season, it’s in Bill Belichick’s DNA to exploit a perceived weakness. And he’ll look to do it by riding the dangerous tandem of Rhamondre Stevenson (1,040 yards) and Ezekiel Elliott (876 yards). Watch out.

The Eagles and Patriots will take the field at 4:25 p.m. on the road at Gillette Stadium. Here are five key matchups to keep an eye on:

1. Eagles D-Line vs. Patriots O-Line:

This one is rather obvious. The Patriots’ offensive line was already suspect before injuries swept through the room. Starting right tackle Riley Reiff was placed on injured reserve to start the year. He’s out, leaving an undrafted player with 71 career snaps (Calvin Anderson) to man the spot. Starting right guard Mike Onwenu (ankle) is listed questionable. Ditto for starting left guard Cole Strange (knee). Oh, and starting left tackle Trent Brown has missed back-to-back practices due to an illness. This is shaping up to be a smorgasbord of sacks for an Eagles’ defensive line which registered a league-high 70 sacks in 2022.

2. Let Jalen Hurts Cook

Yes, Bill Belichick is an expert strategist who can call checkmate on any quarterback if given enough time to prepare. He is the Queen’s Gambit … although if there is one area where the chess master has struggled in recent years it comes when scheming for mobile quarterbacks. Lamar Jackson torched his defense last season for 325 total yards (107 yards on the ground), then watched Justin Fields scorch them for 261 total yards (82 yards rushing). You better believe Jalen Hurts will have his new Air Jordan cleats sharpened.

Jalen Hurts eagles
FILE – Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts looks to pass against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of the NFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023, in Philadelphia. Jalen Hurts is set to sign one of the richest deals in NFL history, agreeing to a five-year, $255 million extension with the Philadelphia Eagles, including $179.3 million guaranteed, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The Eagles announced on Monday, April 17, “QB1 is here to stay,” but terms were not yet announced, according to the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the deal was not yet final. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, FIle)

3. The Matt Patricia Factor

Love him or hate him, no one knows the inner workings of the Patriots’ organization better than new senior defensive assistant Matt Patricia who spent 15 seasons working in New England. That’s not the reason why the Eagles hired him, but it certainly played a factor, something Nick Sirianni admitted to when the team announced the move: “Always been fascinated by that coaching tree, and how I can pick the brain of that.” Well, here is his chance to do that. Look for Patricia to go deep into his bag of tricks on Sunday, while sharing what he thinks he knows about Belichick’s tendencies with his new team.

4. Christian Gonzalez vs. A.J. Brown/DeVonta Smith

It’s unclear how the cornerback-receiver matchups are going to shake out. The Patriots drafted Christian Gonzelez in the first round (17th overall). He was the third cornerback to go off the board. He’s expected to be a perennial Pro Bowler if the scouting reports were correct. However, do they let him sink or swim against a physical monster like A.J. Brown? Or, put him on a crafty, smooth route runner like DeVonta Smith? My guess is they throw him on Brown. Jonathan Jones, on the other side, is slighter in statue and appears to be more equipped to battle Smith. I’m not saying he stops him.

Philadelphia Eagles’ A.J. Brown scores a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

5. Matthew Judon vs. Lane Johnson/Jordan Mailata

The Patriots are going to bring their four-time Pro Bowler off the edge as much as possible. They are going to line him up all over the formation and attempt to create mismatches. The pass-rushing linebacker has 62.5 career sacks, including 15.5 in 2022 alone, so he should be feared. Ditto for Josh Usche (11.5 sacks) who is the younger and more athletic of the two stud defenders. Both Judon and Usche are a bit undersized which could cause problems for the 6-foot-8, 366-pound Mailata.

6. Patriots Tight Ends vs. Eagles Linebackers

Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki aren’t going to remind anyone of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. (Apologies for the latter reference) but they are a formidable pair, especially in an offense that loves utilizing two tight ends. It’ll be up to Nakobe Dean and Zach Cunningham to hold down the fort over the middle. Dean remains unproven in his first year as a starter; Cunningham posted a respectable 65.9 coverage grade in 2022. Also, don’t be surprised to see safety Reed Blankenship lay the wood in support.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire