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Eagles opposing player to stop, Week 1 edition

New England Patriots v Green Bay Packers Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

As if the looming shadow of all-time great Tom Brady is not enough for Mac Jones, the New England Patriots’ third-year quarterback will have to deal with that in person on Sunday (4:25 p.m. CBS), when the Pats honor the all-time great in their season opener against the defending NFC champion Eagles at Gillette Stadium.

Jones knows what he is up against—not in the pressure of inheriting Brady’s position but in dealing with the Eagles’ pass rush. The Eagles led the NFL in sacks last season with a team-record 70. The next highest team was the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs (55). The Eagles joined rare company in becoming just the fourth team in NFL history to get 70 sacks in a season, along with the 1984 Bears (72), 1989 Vikings (71) and 1987 Bears (70).

“They have the best defensive line in the NFL,” Jones said Tuesday on WEEI radio in Boston. “At the end of the day, we just have to go out there and compete, try and control what we can control, and understand that we’re going against a bunch of beasts.”

Legendary Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick reiterated that on Wednesday, saying “Their front is a very dominant front. They’re the best pass rushing front in the league by, I’d say, quite a bit, with good depth. So, they can roll those guys out of there pretty comfortably and bring in other guys that are just as explosive, dangerous. They have a great combination of power and speed in the pass rush front.”

How will the Pats offset the Eagles’ pass rush and try to take them out of their rhythm?

That will be left up to Pats’ offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. But O’Brien and the Pats have problems, particularly on the offensive line, where starting right guard Mike Onwenu, left guard Cole Strange and left tackle Trent Brown were all listed as questionable. That is troubling news for Jones, who will be facing the formidable Eagles’ front that became the first team in NFL history with four players with 10-plus sacks in a season in 2022 (Haason Reddick 16, Josh Sweat 11, Javon Hargrave 11, Brandon Graham 11). Hargrave left for San Francisco in free agency, though the Eagles have more than an amble replacement in No. 9 overall pick Jalen Carter.

The Eagles’ additional plus is having long-time former Patriots’ assistant coach Matt Patricia on their defensive staff. Patricia worked closely with Jones in the past.

“He was vital in terms of giving us some intel on really all their players, right?” Eagles’ defensive coordinator Sean Desai said about Patricia this week. “He was there for a bunch of years and obviously last year on the offensive side of the ball. So, he’s been great in terms of providing information on what he thinks they do well and where we can maybe take advantage of some matchups. [Patriots QB] Mac [Jones] is a tremendous player and he’s been playing at high level for a long time through college and the NFL, so it’ll be a good challenge for us.”

As for Jones’ strengths, “I think he has a good pocket feel and good pocket presence,” Desai said. “I think he can push the ball down field when he needs to. He is willing to take his shots and he’s accurate on the outside of the numbers, and he’s aware to get the ball out quick when he needs to. He seems to know and read coverages well enough to get the ball out where the ball needs to go. That’s really what you want your quarterback to be able to do.”

Last season, Jones was sacked 34 times in only 14 games, the 11th highest amount in the NFL.

Reddick underwent surgery to repair ligament damage in his right thumb on Aug. 17 and says he will be available to play in the opener, while rookie linebacker Nolan Smith practiced on Wednesday coming off a shoulder injury.

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written features for,,,, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, and his breaking story on Carson Wentz for PhillyVoice on January 21, 2019. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

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