Eagles analysis

Eagles-Patriots player matchups to watch in Week 1

The Eagles kick off their 2023 season against the Patriots in Week 1. Here are some key matchups to watch.

NBC Universal, Inc.

The Eagles will begin their season on Sunday afternoon on the road to face the Patriots in New England.

Last season, the Eagles went 14-3 before losing in the Super Bowl. The Patriots went 8-9 and missed the playoffs.

Let’s get to the matchups:

Patriots’ middle of field options vs. Avonte Maddox, linebackers

After winning a Super Bowl ring with the Chiefs in February, JuJu Smith-Schuster left in free agency and joined the Patriots on a three-year deal. In the wake of the Super Bowl, Smith-Schuster wasn’t quiet about the defensive holding call against him on James Bradberry in the Super Bowl and his talking rubbed the Eagles the wrong way. But this matchup isn’t about that.

While Smith-Schuster has been dealing with a knee injury of his own, he’s a good test for Maddox, who had toe surgery this offseason. Maddox was still getting over that surgery this summer and didn’t have as strong of a camp as we’ve seen from him in the past. Smith-Schuster hasn’t had a huge season since 2018 but did have 933 receiving yards in 2022 with the Chiefs.

With how strong the Eagles’ outside corners appear to be heading into the 2023 season (Darius Slay and Bradberry looked great all summer) it’s fair to wonder if teams will test the middle of the field. In this first game, that might mean a lot of passes to Smith-Schuster against Maddox, but also passes to top tight ends Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki.

The Eagles lost their starting linebackers and safeties from the 2022 season, which gives them four new starters who could presumably be in coverage on Henry and Gesicki. Neither of those tight ends are elite but they’re solid and might test these new linebackers and safeties early.

Calvin Anderson vs. Haason Reddick

The Eagles should have the potential to get after Mac Jones in this game but if there’s one matchup to circle, this is the one. The Patriots put starting right tackle Riley Reiff on IR this week, which means Anderson is likely to get the start at right tackle. That’s a great opportunity for Reddick, who is going to be hampered after having thumb surgery this summer. Reddick is going to play through the injury but will have to alter his game. But even with that ailing thumb, this is a chance for Reddick to get after Jones, especially if the Eagles can bottle up the run.

Also, keep an eye on Josh Sweat vs. big Trent Brown on the other side. If Brown (6-8, 380) gets his hands on you, it’s a wrap. But Sweat is so quick around the edge that he could give Brown fits. And one more: Right guard Mike Onwenu missed all of training camp after offseason ankle surgery. He’s expected to play but it’s fair to wonder how he’ll hold up. Onwenu (ankle) and left guard Cole Strange (knee) were limited on Thursday.

Rhamondre Stevenson vs. Eagles’ run defense

All that talk about pass rushing can be mitigated if the Patriots run the ball well in Week 1. Stevenson is coming off a 1,000-yard season in 2022 and will be joined in the backfield this year by former Cowboy Ezekiel Elliott. 

The Patriots weren’t a particularly good running attack last season (they ranked 24th) but the addition of offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien could help. O’Brien has been in the NFL before as an OC and a head coach and ran the offense at Alabama the last couple seasons. The Patriots might end up running way more RPOs in their offense with O’Brien, which could help the rushing attack and help Jones be a little more effective as a passer.

Jordan Mailata vs. Matt Judon

The Patriots have a couple of good edge rushers in Judon and Josh Uche. Judon is really the guy to watch. He had 15 1/2 sacks last season after a 12 1/2-sack season in 2021 and mostly rushes from the right side of the defensive line. That’s where he’ll see a ton of Jordan Mailata. Why waste Judon on the other side where he’d have to see Lane Johnson?

Mailata had some ups and downs in 2022 and some of that is probably because of a shoulder injury he played through, but he did give up a team-high six sacks, according to ProFootballFocus. To be clear, Mailata is still a very good left tackle but this is a matchup that isn’t an easy one out of the gate.

Eagles’ receivers vs. Christian Gonzalez

The Eagles have one of the best receiver duos in the NFL and they’ll get a rookie going against them in Week 1. Now, Gonzalez is obviously a very good rookie. He was a first-round pick for a reason and I’m still not sure exactly why he fell to the Patriots at No. 17 overall. Gonzalez (6-2, 201) is a long cornerback who has a great mix of size and athleticism.

But talk about getting thrown into the deep end. The Eagles will line either A.J. Brown or DeVonta Smith against Gonzalez and that’s going to be a tough matchup for a rookie, especially on a defense that’s known for playing a ton of man coverage. What really impressed me this summer about Jalen Hurts throwing to Brown and Smith was just how much he trusted those guys to make plays. We saw a ton of timing routes and back-shoulder balls and getting man coverage against a rookie is a perfect recipe to do those things in Week 1.

Jalen Hurts vs. Bill Belichick’s defense

The longtime Patriots head coach has had some very lofty praise for Hurts this week. When asked on Wednesday about using Malik Cunningham as the Hurts of the scout team, Belichick had this to say.

Yeah, that’s high praise.

Getting back to the matchups, this could end up being a big running day for Hurts with his former quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson now calling the plays. Take a look at what two of the best running quarterbacks in the NFL did against the Patriots on the ground last year:

Lamar Jackson in Week 3: 11 attempts, 107 yards, 1 touchdown

Justin Fields in Week 7: 14 attempts, 82 yards, 1 touchdown

In his career, Jackson has faced the Patriots three times. He had 38 rushing attempts for 223 yards and 3 touchdowns in those games.

Hurts has yet to face Belichick’s defense in the regular season. But the Patriots were in town for joint practices during Hurts’ first training camp.

Subscribe to Eagle Eye anywhere you get your podcasts: 
Apple Podcasts | YouTube Music | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | RSSWatch on YouTube

Contact Us