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Spadaro: A heavyweight showdown to open the season

Lane Johnson
Lane Johnson

They are deep into the study of a defense that specializes in finding weaknesses, probing the depths of an offensive attack to expose the leaks. The Eagles' offensive line has been down this road before, but this time has a different opening script: It's Week 1 and New England's front seven presents significant challenges.

This is going to be fun to watch on Sunday (4:25 PM kickoff, CBS).

"Great defense. (Matthew) Judon (outside linebacker), and they've had some guys there for a number of years and they've been pretty consistent with what they do," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "They run a multitude of different fronts. Essentially what they do, they kind of build a wall with their fronts, try to build a bear in some ways to stop the run. They're pretty efficient at it. They have good pass rushers.

"Yeah, man, it's going to be a challenge."

To that end, the Eagles have been preparing for Sunday for quite a while. Johnson said they treated one of the practices last week like a fourth preseason game and started installing their plan to defeat a defense that in 2022 registered 54 quarterback sacks (third in the NFL), allowed just 20.4 points per game (11th in the league), and held quarterbacks to a passer rating of 83.5 (8th overall). And they are experienced in the defense. Judon, who had 15.5 quarterback sacks and has 28 sacks in his two seasons with New England, is in the prime of his career in his eighth NFL season. Ends Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise are in their seventh New England seasons. Josh Uche, in his fourth season with the Patriots, had his breakout campaign in 2022 with 11.5 quarterback sacks. Tackle Davon Godchaux is a load at 330 pounds and enters his third season as a starter and his seventh season in the league.

You get the point. New England knows how to get it done, and the Patriots know how to throw in a few curveballs to keep an offense off-kilter.

"Have you met Coach Stout (Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Jeff Stoutland)? He doesn't like surprises," left tackle Jordan Mailata said, "so he will go through, from the origin of the Patriots' defense. He will start from day one and he will make sure that he will iron out every single wrinkle or crinkle. And when we do get surprised, that's when we do gameplan adjustments on the sideline. If there's a look that we haven't seen during the week, then we'll just go from there."

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There certainly is a respect here, and at the same time the Eagles have a special thing going up front. They know how important they are to the success of the offense – it all starts in the trenches, right? – and with the continuity up front, the Eagles are positioned to again establish themselves at the line of scrimmage. Four of the starters from 2022 return, and each of them has league-wide credentials – Mailata was a Pro Bowl alternate, while left guard Landon Dickerson, center Jason Kelce, and Johnson were Pro Bowl selections. Johnson and Kelce were voted as All-Pro performers. This is an experienced group that has dominated for multiple seasons.

The lone change from 2022 among the starters is Cam Jurgens, a second-year man who takes over at right guard. A second-round draft pick in 2022 whom many thought would be the heir to Kelce at center, Jurgens set out to earn playing time in 2023 and he flat-out won the right guard spot with a strong spring and summer performance. He's looking forward to his first NFL start.

"It's what I love to do," he said. "I've worked hard and learned a lot. I'm learning every day, so to go out there and help this team win, that's all I want to do. I know how hard it is to play at this level, so I'm going to be prepared to play my best football."

That is what it will take against the Patriots' defense, one that will throw multiple looks at the Eagles and do everything possible to unsettle quarterback Jalen Hurts and take the football away – something New England does very well. The Patriots ranked third in the NFL in 2022 with 30 takeaways, so their formula is one that the Eagles understand: Ball security is going to be of utmost importance.

So, the responsibility is on the Eagles up front, and that's nothing new. In fact, it's welcomed in these parts. The Eagles have for many years invested in the offensive line and that commitment has paid off. Of the nine offensive linemen on the 53-man roster, the Eagles added two new players from last season – veteran Fred Johnson, a backup tackle who finished 2022 on the Eagles' practice squad, and third-round draft pick Tyler Steen, a guard/tackle. Both are here, along with Jack Driscoll and Sua Opeta, to provide quality depth.

And in a game like the one that the Eagles anticipate will happen on Sunday when New England will throw everything and then some at the offense, all hands on deck are needed.

Relive the greatest games and plays between the Eagles and the Patriots ahead of Sunday's season opener.

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