Fly Eagles Fly is the team’s slogan, but it’s the Philadelphia running game that presents the more interesting matchup for the Patriots this week.
A New England defense that has been run on effectively for two weeks in a row will contend with a good young tandem of running backs Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. The outcome of that battle could have implications in the final score and ramifications for the rest of the season.
Howard is the Eagles’ most productive runner, with 525 yards rushing and six rushing touchdowns this season. Both he and Sanders are averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Sanders gets the handoff from Carson Wentz a bit less often, with 336 yards and one rushing touchdown, but is also reliable as a pass-catcher. He has 305 receiving yards on 22 catches with an 81.5 percent catch percentage.
Wentz is a capable runner — he won’t be confused with Lamar Jackson though — and is a potential ball carrier the Patriots defense will have to consider.
“He’s certainly athletic enough to keep the ball and extend plays and scramble if he’s in trouble,” Bill Belichick said Tuesday. “But, I mean, I wouldn’t say he’s looking to take off all the time. I wouldn’t characterize it as that. But, yeah, he can certainly run.”
The Eagles are 4-1 this season in games in which they’ve rushed rushed for 120 yards or more, and 1-3 when they don’t. They still run plenty of run-pass option plays under coach Doug Peterson and offensive coordinator Mike Groh, and the offense has been at its best when the ground game is a genuine threat.
Peterson and Groh have featured the running game this season — the Eagles have the sixth-most rushing attempts in the NFL and 11th-most rushing yards through Week 10. They run the ball frequently in the red zone (ninth-most rushing touchdowns league-wide) and have scored touchdowns on 63 percent of their possessions inside the opponent’s 20-yard line (eighth-best).
The Patriots, meanwhile, need to turn their rushing defense around. New England gave up 159 yards (7.2 yards per carry) rushing against the Browns and 210 yards (5.1) against the Ravens.
Inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo is one of the few Patriots coaches with an active social media profile. Mayo is on Twitter, has an Instagram profile full of pictures of his family, and often posts to his Instagram story with inspirational quotes or motivational stories.
“I just like to drop little nuggets of wisdom, and I’m hopeful, honestly, that my linebackers see those posts,” Mayo said Tuesday. “It definitely helps motivate me.”
Makes sense, and in most ways is a perfectly normal way to use social media. It’s novel, though, to hear a Patriots coach talk about social platforms as tools he can use to communicate with players.
It’s not how his coaches communicated with him, but clearly Mayo is adaptive.
“I remember when I first came into the league, you think about the room. It was like Junior Seau, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi — guys who had flip phones,” Mayo said. “They had flip phones for the longest time. They still had Blackberries in their pockets. So, they weren’t even really thinking about social media. So, when you would go in the locker room, I would say that just the overall vibe, you were in there playing cards and things like that. Now, the younger generation, they’re checking their social media.”
No looking back
With the Patriots playing their Super Bowl LII opponent Sunday, Belichick spoke about how he has gotten teams to move on from losses without falling apart, whether the loss was in a championship game or in the middle of the season before a bye week, like the Patriots’ 37-20 loss to the Ravens on Nov. 3. “If you look back at a team one year and compare it to the next year, whatever the end analysis is, it is. And, there’s value to that and merit to it, but the reality of it is we’re in a week-to-week business, and this week’s about this game, and the preparation and the performance two teams have on Sunday afternoon,” Belichick said. “I’m not sure that 2015, ’16, ’17, ’18 really have a lot to do with it.” The challenge, Belichick said, will be to execute the game plan and win one-on-one battles . . . The Patriots’ Week 16 game against Buffalo has been officially scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 21, at 4:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium (NFL Network) . . . Rookie receiver N’Keal Harry, who is back on the active roster but was inactive against Baltimore, continues to make progress, according to Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. “He works hard and each week is an opportunity that we’re trying to add more in terms of the things he can do, the things he’s comfortable doing, the things we’re comfortable with him doing within our offense,” McDaniels said. “I think it’s all positive. Everybody’s working hard for the same goal, which is to have him contribute and help us win games moving forward.”