New England Patriots

Eagles' elite pass rush presents huge challenge for Patriots in Week 1

New England's offensive line faces an enormous test right off the bat.

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The offensive line is the biggest weakness on the New England Patriots roster, and unfortunately for head coach Bill Belichick's side, its Week 1 opponent is the NFL team best equipped to expose this flaw.

The Eagles pass rush is, put simply, elite.

Philly led the league with 70 sacks last season, which was 15 more than the second-place Kansas City Chiefs. To put that in historical perspective, it was tied for the third-most ever in a single season. The 2022 Eagles also were the first team with more than 60 sacks in a season since the 2006 San Diego Chargers finished with 61.

The Eagles had four players tally 10-plus sacks in 2022, led by linebacker Haason Reddick's 16.

"Reaching 70.0 sacks wasn’t a goal of ours. It’s extremely hard to do," Reddick recently told Justin Melo of Bleeding Green Nation. "That’s why it hadn’t been done in a while. That shows you how hard that is to do. We know everybody is expecting us to do crazy numbers. They want us to do something similar. In our room, we talk about being a dominant defense. That’s what we want to maintain. We want to be a dominant defensive front at the end of the day.

"That’s what allowed us to achieve 70 sacks. I won’t sit here and say 70 sacks is our goal. Our goal is to remain dominant in all phases. We want to go out there and impose our will. We want to dominate opposing offenses. That goal hasn’t changed."

Only one of the Eagles' top five players in sacks from last season didn't return for 2023. Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave left in free agency to sign with the San Francisco 49ers.

But the Eagles replaced Hargrave with first-round draft pick Jalen Carter -- one of the best players from the star-laden University of Georgia defense that's won back-to-back national titles. ESPN recently asked league execs to give their awards predictions, and Carter got the most votes for Defensive Player of the Year. If the preseason was any indication, Carter should fit in just fine in Philly.

The Eagles have it all -- athleticism, speed, power, size, experience, you name it -- in their front seven. Blocking these guys will be an enormous challenge for the Patriots offensive line -- a group that struggled mightily at times throughout training camp and preseason.

The Patriots have yet to field their starting offensive line together this summer.

Left tackle Trent Brown and center David Andrews should be ready to go. Michael Onwenu had offseason ankle surgery and only returned to practice two weeks ago. Left guard Cole Strange wasn't a full participant in practice for most of camp. There's no one set in stone at right tackle, although rookie Sidy Sow probably is the favorite to begin the season in that spot after veteran Riley Reiff was placed on injured reserve Monday and will miss at least the first four games. Neither Reiff or Sow inspire a ton of confidence at right tackle.

Even if the Patriots do have their ideal starting offensive line (or close to it) ready for Week 1, they will not have had much time together in practice, which may cause some timing and communication issues.

The Patriots have more talent and depth at running back, wide receiver and tight end than they did entering Week 1 last season. Mac Jones also looks much more comfortable with new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien running the show. But none of these things will matter if Jones doesn't have enough time to throw the football and/or the running backs don't have good enough lanes to run through.

The Patriots added a couple offensive tackles -- Vederian Lowe from the Vikings and Tyrone Wheatley Jr. from the Browns -- in late August.

It was pretty much an admission that their depth at tackle was not where it needed to be.

Everyone has been wondering whether the offensive line's issues over the summer would linger into the regular season. We'll find out pretty quickly on Sept. 10, because the Eagles will expose the Patriots' o-line in a massive way if that group isn't ready to go.

Albert Breer and Tom E. Curran react to the Patriots carrying 11 offensive linemen to start the season and criticize Bill Belichick for failing to properly invest in impact players at the position group entering the season.
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