Here's a key matchup to watch in the Week 12 game between the Patriots and Eagles:
Patriots' defense and special teams vs. Eagles WR-PR DeSean Jackson
Jackson is one of the league's most electric players, on offense and in the return game. He has not scored a punt-return touchdown this season, but he does have a 51-yard return.
Starting with special teams, P Zoltan Mesko has to do a good job directionally punting toward the sideline to keep Jackson from having a lot of room in which to run. The Patriots' coverage teams struggled against Chiefs PR Javier Arenas in Week 11, as he scampered for 71 yards on four returns, with a long of 26 yards.
In the receiving game, the Patriots' secondary can't let Jackson beat them deep. If Devin McCourty is healthy, he will likely get the assignment of Jackson, as McCourty is the team's fastest corner. Look for S Sterling Moore, who played corner in college, to help over the top on Jackson, who averages 16.9 yards a catch.
"He's a very explosive player. He can go anywhere — he can hit it up the middle, he has the speed to go outside, very elusive," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Friday. "It's kind of the same thing offensively; they get him the ball on things like reverses and tear screens, which are a problem. He's got his normal routes and then he's got deep routes. He can beat you deep and he can beat you on a normal over-route or in-route. Then there are a lot of catch-and-run plays or reverse plays where they just put the ball in his hands and let him go; those are like punt returns, too. He's very dangerous; you can't give him much space."
The Patriots have to know at all times where Jackson is on the field. Jeremy Maclin is doubtful, and the Eagles will want to get Jackson the ball in space against a weak Patriots secondary. LB Tracy White and the Patriots' coverage teams have to keep Jackson from breaking a punt return, as that can be a game-changing play. Keeping Jackson in check in both aspects of the game will be key for New England.