Super Bowl 52. David vs Goliath. Nick Foles vs Tom Brady. To the average NFL viewer, this matchup may seemed skewed in only one way. But beyond the dominance of Bill Belichick and the somehow immortal Tom Brady, the Eagles have a very subtle advantage.
The run-game has been huge for the Eagles this season. After an opening few weeks of aggressive play-calling where the run-game was inconsistent, Doug Pederson made a few tweaks and from that moment on was able to balance the offense. What we so most of the time is close to a 50/50 run/pass ratio, which gives the Birds enough momentum to keep drives alive and win the time of possession battle, while simultaneously taking the weight off of Nick Foles’ shoulders.
On the surface, this alone is a matchup that favors the Eagles. The arrival of Jay Ajayi has added a whole new level of explosiveness through the trenches, an area where the Pats have struggled all year long. Allowing 1,836 yards and a whopping average of 4.7 yards per carry this season, New England’s run defense hasn’t exactly been at its best…but that’s just scratching the surface.
Warren Sharp recently published a fantastic Super Bowl guide that focuses on the analytical side of football that even the likes of Pro Football Focus struggles to put into context.
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Within this guide lies an advantage so great that if executed correctly, could give the Eagles a golden path to their first ever Lombardi Trophy. The Patriots aren’t just bad against the run, but they have been particularly poor when defending 11 personnel. This consists of one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers. The Patriots staggeringly allow a 60% success rate when facing this formation, giving up an average of 6.6 yards per carry.
The Eagles run nearly 60% of their rushing attempts from this look, a 13% increase over the NFL average. Not only that, but Jay Ajayi is averaging a dominating 12.2 yards per carry when running out of the shotgun in this formation. What makes the Eagles so dangerous is that many of their RPO looks also come from the shotgun formation. So if the Patriots start off poorly against the run and are unable to stop the chains moving, the Birds can pull the trigger on an unsuspecting deep shot at any given time. Running the most run-pass options in the league, the Eagles come well prepared for a Patriots defense that struggles to defend these shotgun looks.
The Patriots have this dominating aura around them and nobody has ever really been able to figure out why opponents crumble so often against the Brady Bunch. Their mantra has always been simple. Belichick wants opposing teams to HAVE to beat them. By sticking to their gameplan of attacking the middle of the field and the depth of the sidelines, defenses are either forced to lineup in man-coverage and have their will tested, or sit in zone and let Brady run riot. The Jaguars are a perfect example. Despite storming out to a dominant lead in the AFC Championship game, Jacksonville played in zone coverage for the majority during the second half when Brady was on the field, largely because a pair of ‘rub routes’ burned them in the first. This allowed Brady and the bunch to carve open a previously intimidating secondary and claw their way back into the match and win.
Offensively is exactly the same. The Patriots run a style of defense that almost tempts you into trying something unconventional. If the scoreline isn’t in your favor either, the temptation is ripe. For the Eagles, trusting the process and sticking to running the ball could be the difference between a Super Bowl ring and going home on the edge of greatness.
To show just how lopsided this is, the Patriots allow an impressive 3.3 yards per carry to any personnel grouping that isn’t 11 personnel. But that doesn’t mean the Eagles don’t have a hidden weapon. Enter LeGarrette Blount. When lining up under center, Blount has 29 carries during the regular season for 5.3 yards per carry, nearly an average of 2 yards more than Ajayi in those situations. A bruising downhill runner, Blount could punish his former team in the instances Ajayi isn’t running out of the shotgun.
Its not like the Eagles have been shy about running the ball either…
The Eagles have all the pieces needed to break down the Patriots mystique. If Pederson stays true to his plan, we may finally see the Lombardi Trophy paraded around Broad Street after fans spent decades pining for such an achievement.
Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports