As they prepare to square off against the New York Jets on Sunday, the Eagles face a do-or-die situation entering the sixth week of the season. Coming off a bye week with a record of 1-3, Philadelphia finds itself in last place in the NFC east. While the Jets are struggling themselves at 1-4, another early season loss would put the Eagles far behind the leaders in the NFC and could jeopardize their post-season aspirations.
With so much on the line, the bye could not have come at a better time for the Eagles than last week, and they should get a boost this week with key players returning from injuries. After sitting out the 16-3 loss to the Giants with an abdominal injury, running back Brian Westbrook and his game breaking ability will return to Philadelphia’s backfield on game day. This is bad news for the Jets, who let up an average of 127.6 rushing yards-per-game, ranking 25th in the league. So far this season, Westbrook has been effective running the ball, averaging 5.7 yards-per-carry and scoring two touchdowns. He is also tied for the team lead in receptions, with 19 catches for 223 yards and a touchdown.
Westbrook and Donovan McNabb should both benefit from the return of left tackle William Thomas, who sat out week four with a sprained MCL. While Thomas was out, the offensive line did not give McNabb enough time to find open receivers and the Eagles offense struggled to move the ball. Thomas’s return should bring back some consistency to the offense. With the status of guard Todd Herremans as questionable for Sunday’s game, reserves Scott Young and Max Jean-Gilles are both prepared to fill in if necessary. Even if Herremans sits out, the line should be able to handle the Jets pass rush which ranks 30th in the league with three sacks.
The Eagles are also expecting tight end L.J. Smith to return to the lineup after dealing with a sports hernia for much of the year. Smith is one of McNabb’s more reliable targets when healthy and could create match up problems for New York’s defense.
While these players make their comebacks, Philadelphia will still be without safety Brian Dawkins, who is nursing a stinger he suffered against the Redskins in week 2. Lito Sheppard might also miss Sunday’s game with a knee injury, further depleting the Eagles secondary. Although Dawkins and Sheppard’s replacements have filled in nicely so far, the Jets have a quality duo of receivers in Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles. Cotchery has 30 catches and ranks 8th in the NFL in receiving yards with 414 while Coles has 32 catches for 300 yards and four touchdowns.
Much of the Jets offense will rely on quarterback Chad Pennington’s arm, as New York is 29th in the league in rush yards per game. Pennington is an accurate passer, completing 71.2% of his attempts, and has put up solid number this year, but his most recent outings have been shaky. Last week against the Giants, Pennington threw three interceptions, the last of which was returned for a touchdown and put the game out of reach.
In front of Pennington, the Jets young O-line, led by center Nick Mangold and tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson will have to be at its best and provide good protection against Philadelphia’s intimidating defensive line. The Eagles currently average a league high four sacks-per-game and rank sixth in the NFL in run defense. The line is led by third year defensive end Trent Cole, who has 17 tackles, 5 sacks, and two forced fumbles on the season.
As both teams enter Sunday’s game hoping to turn around their season and get back on the road to the playoffs, recent history does not bode well for New York. Not only is Andy Reid undefeated in his Eagles career coming off a bye week with and 8-0 record, but the Jets have never had success against Philadelphia, losing in all seven match-ups the two teams have had. The Eagles are the only team the Jets have never beaten.
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