Do the Eagles have more of an advantage going into Super Bowl 52 than they did in Super Bowl 39?

After ripping our hearts out 13 years ago, of course it would be the Patriots again that the Eagles have to defeat to bring home that elusive Lombardi trophy. Many people would love to have faced an easier opponent, but for the Eagles it’s only right that they would have to go through the Patriots so that they could avenge their loss in Super Bowl 39, dethrone the champion and end the dynasty once and for all. As Ric Flair once said, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man”, and I don’t think the city of Philadelphia would have it any other way. Here’s a quick look at which team is the tougher of the 2 Patriots squads.

Quarterback

’04 – Tom Brady

’17 – Tom Brady

That’s right the same guy that broke our hearts in ’04 is STILL HERE doing his thing in 2017. Which one is the better version of Tom though? I would say this version of Tom is hands down the better player. In ’04 he was still a young player and basically just a game manager for the offense. He still turned the ball over a little back then, something that he does very rarely nowadays. In ’04 he had 474 pass attempts, 60.8% completion percentage, 3,692 yards, 28 td’s, 14 int’s and a 92.6 passer rating. Compare that to this season when he attempted 581 passes at a 66.3% completion rate for 4,577 yards, 32 td’s, 8 int’s and 102.8 passer rating. Not to mention he has more experience and confidence now as well.

Better version – ’17

 

Running Back

’04 – Corey Dillon, Kevin Faulk

’17 – Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee

There is a huge difference in the way the New England backfield is deployed now as opposed to back in 2004. Back then, the Patriots used the typical “feature back” system with Corey Dillon churning out 1,600 yards and 12 td’s, to go along with “3rd down back” Kevin Faulk. They leaned heavily on the run back then but now the ball is in Brady’s hand all the time so there’s less emphasis on the run. Their leading rusher (Lewis) led the team with 896 yards. The next highest was Gillislee with 383 yards. The biggest difference now is that they all catch the ball out of the backfield. White, Lewis and Burkhead each had over 30 catches this season with 3 td’s a piece.

It’s such a diverse way to deploy your backs and the Eagles are going to have fits covering them all. As actual runners though, you can shut them down and make the Patriots one dimensional just like Jacksonville did. For that reason, I’m going with the more traditional approach of 2004.

Better Version – ’04

 

Wide Receiver

’04 – Deion Branch, David Givens, David Patten, Troy Brown

’17 – Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Phillip Dorsett

In ’04 the Pats spread the ball around just as they do now. Givens and Patten led the team with a little over 800 yards apiece.  There was nothing special about that ’04 group at all even though Deion Branch looked amazing for 1 game in the Super Bowl. Brandin Cooks is by far the most talented player on the 2 teams. This season he had 1,082 yards and 7 td’s while averaging 16.6 yards per catch. Hogan and Dorsett stretch the field as well and Amendola is a wizard on the underneath routes and pick plays. The ’17 version of this group is much more talented and had much greater big play potential.

Better Version – ’17

 

Tight End

’04 – Daniel Graham, Christian Fauria

’17 – Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen

This one isn’t even close. Graham and Fauria were blocking tight ends who would catch the occasional goal line pass. Gronk is the best player at his position in the league and one of the best offensive weapons in football, not to mention, Brady’s security blanket. Huge advantage for the ’19 team.

Better Version – ’17

 

Offensive Line 

’04 – Matt Light, Joe Andruzzi, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, Brandon Gorin

’17 – Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Cameron Fleming

Has Brady ever really had a great line? No, and it doesn’t matter either. This is the only team in the NFL that the offensive line doesn’t seen to matter because Brady gets the ball out so quickly. Brady was sacked only 26 times back in ’04 compared to only 35 this season. Neither is a big sack total for a season. Dan Koppen and Matt Light later went on to a Pro Bowl appearance each but neither of these groups is much to write home about.

Better Version – ’04

 

Defensive End 

’04 – Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Jarvis Green

’17 – Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Eric Lee

In 2004 the Patriots used a 3-4 alignment so the assignments for the defensive ends were much different. Even so, the ’04 team had better pedigree in first round picks Seymour and Warren and were equally adept at stopping the run. The ’17 ends are young players who are still coming into their own. Flowers has shown the most upside of the group and he led the team with 6.5 sacks.

Better Version – ’04

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Defensive Tackle

’04 – Vince Wilfork, Keith Traylor

’17 – Malcolm Brown, Lawrence Guy, Alan Branch, Ricky Jean-Francois

Again, in ’04 it was a different scheme but Wilfork and Traylor were a load to handle at Nose Tackle. There were times they would play together and you simply couldn’t run on them. They held Westbrook to under 3 ypc in the Super Bowl. This years group of solid players and crafty veterans doesn’t hold up.

Better Version – ’04

 

Outside Linebacker/Edge Rusher

’04 – Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Roosevelt Colvin, Tully Banta-Cain

’17 – Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, James Harrison, Marquis Flowers

MicGinest, Vrable and Colvin all came up with big plays for this Patriots defense. This year’s group doesn’t have that same play-making ability. McGinest is a Patriot legend and Vrabel simply made big plays. Van Noy has shown range to cover down the field as well as rush the passer. He stays on the field for all 3 downs. They mostly play with just Van Noy and Roberts and use a 3 safety look to cover backs and tight ends since Dont’a Hightower went down. Harrison is being worked in in pass rush situations.

Better Version – ’04

 

Inside Linebacker

’04 – Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Roman Phifer

’17 – David Harris

David Harris is the only true MLB on the Pats roster currently although he doesn’t play that much. Van Noy plays the middle when Harrison comes on the field. Bruschi is another legend in New England for his penchant for the big play.  He was incredibly smart and was always in the right position. Johnson and Phifer were steady reliable vets at the time.

Better Version – ’04

 

Cornerback

’04 – Asante Samuel, Randall Gay, Dexter Reid, Je’Rod Cherry

’17 – Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Johnson Bademosi

The ’04 group would look much more formidable had Ty Law played in the game. A young Asante Samuel was not quite the ball hawk he would later become. Malcom Butler is the Super Bowl hero of a couple years ago. He has since taken that moment and used it as a springboard to become a high end starter in this league. This off-season they paired him with another highly talented corner in Gilmore. It took a few weeks to get the chemistry down but right now this is one of the best duo’s in the league. Rowe, as we know, is a long rangy athlete who can match up with multiple positions and Bademosi helps in the slot. The 2017 group is much more formidable and will present a great challenge for Nick Foles who will be throwing into some tight windows.

Better Version – ’17

 

Safety 

’04 – Rodney Harrison, Eugene Wilson

’17 – Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung

Back in ’04 the Patriots played a more traditional safety set with Harrison in the box and Wilson patrolling center field. Now their safeties are much more versatile. They play a lot of 3 safety sets where McCourty or Chung will come down and cover slot TE’s or RB’s. Because of their versatility, they are able to disguise coverages very well.  Harrison was a good player, but this group as a whole is much better.

Better Version – ’17

Specialists

’04 – Adam Vinatieri, Josh Miller, Troy Brown, Bethel Johnson

’17 – Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis

Vinatieri was so clutch for those old Patriots teams. Also, how many times did Troy Brown bail them out with a huge punt return!? Right now however, Gostkowski is just as reliable and the combination of Lewis on kicks and Amendola on punts is just as dynamic.

Better Version – ’17

 

Coaching

’04 – Belichick

’17 – Belichick

Tough choice here. I’m going to go with the older/wiser/more cunning version of Belichick.  He’s just as smart but a little more grizzled this time around. A little more “I don’t give a shit” this time. He knows whats he’s after and he won’t settle for less.

Better Version – ’17

 

Well, 13 years later and the Patriots are still just as dominant as they were then. The team has been able to adapt to the changing NFL and never even had a down year in the process. Some areas of the team are stronger and some are not as strong but the narrative has stayed the same and that’s that the Patriots will find a way to win. It’s going to be a tall task on Super Bowl Sunday.

 

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