Philadelphia's quarterback vs. Tom Brady
With Donovan McNabb suffering ankle and thumb injuries in last weeks game against the Dolphins, the Eagles will have to be prepared to play without him. Backup A.J. Feely came in last week in McNabb's absence and had a solid performance, throwing for 116 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Before McNabb left the game last week, he was 3/11 passing with 34 yards and two interceptions. Whoever is line up under center for the Eagles will need to avoid a strong New England pass rush and take care of the ball to have a chance.
For the Patriots, Brady has had a season for the record books. He currently has thrown for 3,059 yards, along with 38 touchdowns and only four interceptions. With these numbers, he is on pace to break the single season passing touchdown mark, finish with the highest quarterback rating ever and smash many other milestones. Brady has not shown a weakness all year and only finished one game with a quarterback rating under 100. Against the Indianapolis, Brady finished with a 95.2 rating and threw two interceptions.
Since joining the Patriots in the off season, the 30-year old Moss has returned to the form of his days in Minnesota when he looked like a future hall-of-famer. At 6-foot-4, with great hands and speed to go with his amazing leaping ability, Moss has been one of Tom Brady's favorite targets all year and will probably fill that role on Sunday. He currently leads the NFL in receiving yards (1052) and touchdowns (16) and has only been held without a score in one game this season.
Brown and Sheppard will need to be prepared to face off against one of, if not the best, wide receivers in football today with hopes of slowing down New England's scorching offense. Both corners are at a disadvantage in terms of height, giving up six inches to the explosive Moss. While Sheppard missed four games this season with a knee injury and has not been the same play-maker he was in 2006, Brown is the only member of Philadelphia's secondary who has started every game so far and has continued to develop his reputation as a hard-hitting cornerback. This year, Brown has 42 tackles and two interceptions, while Sheppard has recorded 22 stops and has picked off one pass. The Eagle's pass defense has allowed 12 touchdowns through the air and gives up 210.8 yards per game through the air, fifth fewest in the NFC.
Brian Westbrook vs. New England's run defense
When McNabb left the game against Miami last week with an injury, the offense looked to Westbrook to carry the
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load, and he responded to lead Philadelphia to its fifth win of the season. The sixth year running back out of Villanova had a career-high 32 carries last week and gained 148 yards on the ground, his highest rushing total this year. Westbrook currently has 849 rushing yards, fourth most in the NFL, to go along with five touchdowns and his average of 94.3 rushing yards per game is the second most in the league. As the Eagle's most effective offensive weapon, Westbrook also leads the team with 55 receptions for 518 yards and has four touchdowns through the air. He currently leads the league in yards from scrimmage with 1367.
With McNabb's status for Sunday's game still questionable, Westbrook might have to be the focal point of the offense again for the Eagles, and New England's defense will more than likely be up for the challenge. The Patriot's defensive unit has only allowed five rushing touchdowns this year and has allowed an average of 89.3 yards per game on the ground. Tedy Bruschi and Rosevelt Colvin are battle-tested veterans who have earned Super Bowl rings with New England and have been a big part of the team's success. Bruschi leads the team in tackles with 56 stops, and Colvin has been a playmaker this season recording 24 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles. New-comer Adalius Thomas signed as a free agent in the summer from Baltimore, has fit in well with the Patriots and is another one of their big play guys. On the year, Thomas has 44 tackles, 3.0 sacks, four tackles for loss and an interception. The return of three-time all-pro Richard Seymour a few weeks ago solidified the Pats run defense as one of the best in the NFL.
Andy Reid vs. Bill Belichick
Reid and Belichick are two of the most highly regarded coaches in the league and each has a strong resume to prove it. The Eagle's head coach has made one super bowl appearance and four NFC championship appearances, and managed to win the NFC East last year despite a slow start and the loss of his franchise quarterback. Belichick of course has three Super Bowl rings, one coming from a win over Philadelphia in 2004, and has put together one of the most successful dynasties in league history.
Both coaches have had to deal with their share of controversy this year as well. Reid has had family issues that have caused him to take short breaks from the team to handle the situation. Belichick was accused of cheating and taping other team's play-callings signals and received a hefty fine and other penalties.
Reid will need to use his personnel effectively against New England to create mismatches and will have to be ready for an offensive shoot out. While Brady and the Patriots are jumping out of the gates quickly and cruising through opponent’s week-by week, the Eagle's head coach needs to find some kind of way to slow them down.
Both Cole and Vrabel have given opposing quarterbacks problems this year and they are among the best pass rushers in the NFL this season. For the Eagles, Cole has emerged as a star and leader on the defensive line and he has a chance to make his first pro bowl with the numbers he is putting up. He currently is tied for the NFC lead in sacks with nine, and has also recorded 51 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and forced two fumbles. Cole will be looking to break his three game streak without a sack against the Patriots.
For New England, Vrabel has been a solid pass rusher and is currently tied for the league lead with 9.5 sacks. He also has five forced fumbles on the year, tied for the second most in the league. Vrabel has been mainstay on the team and played in all three of the Patriots recent Super Bowl victories. Vrabel is also versatile enough to be used in the Patriots offense from time to time, lining up as a tight end in goal line situations. This year, he caught touchdown passes against Cincinnati and Washington and most Eagles fans remember Vrabel best for his touchdown reception against Philadelphia in Super Bowl XXXIX.