Assuming that neither quarterback Michael Vick nor wide receiver Jeremy Maclin play -- and it is all but official, and that official word doesn't come until the game inactive list is announced -- the Eagles have to again tweak their offensive game plan with Vince Young at quarterback and Riley Cooper at wide receiver.
We saw it last week. The Eagles don't have Vick's breakaway ability in the backfield, and they don't have Maclin's all-around skills at wide receiver. They have a taller, still-mobile Young who played a very strong second half against the Giants on Sunday night. They have Cooper, a big body who has good hands and who can hurt a team in the intermediate passing game.
We don't know at this moment if cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha will play -- I think it will be tough for him to go, but we shall see -- so the defense has to make adjustments. Asomugha figures/figured to play a huge part in blanketing New England's double tight end threat of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Without Asomugha, how does Juan Castillo change the scheme?
He would like use Brandon Hughes outside -- against wide receiver Deion Branch, a tricky matchup to watch -- and Joselio Hanson inside against slot receiver Wes Welker. Linebacker Keenan Clayton could see significant time in coverage against the tight ends, along with linebacker Akeem Jordan. The safeties will have to help over the top. New England doesn't have a burner at wide receiver, per se, but they have great coordination in the passing game with quarterback Tom Brady and have been gashing defenses in the air.
There are a lot of moving pieces in the defense should Asomugha not play. Can the cornerbacks, Asante Samuel included, bump at the line of scrimmage and try to take the timing away from New England's passing game? How do the linebackers play the screen game, which Brady is sure to use to try to slow down the Eagles' pass rush? And don't sleep on New England's running game. The Patriots aren't prolific on the ground, but they run it just enough to keep defenses honest.
On the other sideline, New England has substantial injury concerns. Starting center Dan Connelly is out, and his big 6 feet 4, 313-pound body is a loss for the Pats. In steps third-year man Ryan Wendell, at 6-2 and 290 pounds. It makes a difference. Wendell has two career starts under his belt, both last season. He was not a drafted player, having been signed by New England as a rookie free agent in 2008.
New England is also without wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, although he has not had much of an impact, with only 11 receptions. Taylor Price, a high draft pick and a very talented player who has not yet blossomed, steps in. Branch was limited in practice during the week after suffering a hip injury, so his during-the-game status bears watching.
Defensively, the Eagles must take advantage of some personnel challenges in New England's back seven. Linebacker Brandon Spikes is out, so the Patriots are without his coverage skills and physical play at the line of scrimmage. Cornerback Devin McCourty is also out. McCourty is a Pro Bowl player and the best of New England's coverage players. The Patriots are extremely thin at cornerback, so much so that they've used wide receiver Julian Edelman as a dime corner. Can the Eagles isolate him in coverage and make a big play that way?
At safety, Patrick Chung is out, so the Patriots have to go deep into their reserve lot there. Add it up with Spikes, McCourty and Chung and New England is without some of their major players on defense.
That's why, as the focus and the concern the last couple of days have been on the Eagles' defense because of Asomugha's injury and the obvious Brady Factor, the Eagles must play a great game offensively to win this critical contest. The protection must give Young time to throw the football against a defense that is going to junk it up scheme wise to compensate for the losses in personnel.
Young must be crisp, not force his throws and eliminate the turnovers. New England can focus all it wants on running back LeSean McCoy, but the Eagles still must get the football to him. He has to get his 25-plus touches in this game.
It's a gorgeous day at Lincoln Financial Field. Absolutely perfect. The kicking game is critical and it will not be negatively impacted by wind, or cold or any of those factors. The field has been re-sodded and looks perfect.
The season is again on the line. We're used to be in this spot, right? The Eagles have to run the table to reach the playoffs. That's the mindset they have to have. It begins today against the 7-3 Patriots and the aura they bring to South Philadelphia. You expect Brady to be great. You expect head coach Bill Belichick to have something up his sleeve.
The Eagles have to win with intensity and with a great game plan that the players execute. With all of these injuries, coaching -- as much as it ever has -- is the focus. The team that makes the best adjustments will put itself in position to win this game.