The Super Bowl is nearly upon us. Excitement levels are through the roof and anticipation is at an all-time high. Will this year have the most remarkable fairytale ending imaginable? For that to happen, the Eagles will need to focus on five key areas.
This sounds like an obvious one, but the Eagles have become notorious for giving up huge chunks of yardage over the middle. Whether it’s mesh routes, ‘pick’ plays or simply just deep shots to challenge a single-safety, the Birds defense has been prone to giving up big plays.
Rob Gronkowski is easily the Patriots’ most intimidating deep-threat, averaging a whopping 15.7 yards per reception in what was to be his fourth 1,000 yard campaign. Containing Gronkowski on those dreaded slants and intimidate concepts is one thing, but keeping him from running rampant on deep passes is something else entirely. Tom Brady has a 135 passer rating when throwing to Gronk deep down the right hash and if the secondary is unable to stop him getting separation, it could be a tough day at the offense for the Jim Schwartz defense.
The Eagles haven’t faced many ‘deep-threat’ tight ends this year. Kyle Rudolph is far more effective on shorter routes and was held honest by the Eagles D, but Travis Kelce notched up 103 yards against this defense back in week 2. The Eagles will have to bring their A-game to stop one of the league’s very best.
I wrote an entire article on this yesterday, so here’s a brief snippet explaining why this could be the biggest advantage that the Eagles have coming into Super Bowl 52.
“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.”
In a coaching chess match, this may well be ‘Check-Mate’.
Trust the process:
The Eagles have the best rushing defense in the league and have been incredibly productive on the ground all season long. Like the Jags, they have the perfect formula to beat New England. A balanced offense, an elite pass-rush and a secondary that glues the defense together. Unlike the Jaguars and the Falcons in the Super Bowl before them, the Eagles cannot afford to get scared off track.
Doug Pederson has done a brilliant play-calling job all season long, as has Jim Schwartz on the other side of the ball. So long as the Eagles continue to be consistent in moving the chains and adapting the ‘bend but don’t break mentality’, then they have every chance of winning this game. It sound simple, but teams get scared off a little too easily when the Patriots are in town and if Doug Pederson can rise to the occasion and not deviate from his gameplan even the slightest inch, the Eagles have all the pieces needed to at least halt the Patriots on both sides of the ball.
Spread the ball around offensively:
What Nick Foles did amazingly against one of the league’s top defenses was spread the ball around. The plays were varied, and Foles kept the defense honest, enabling seven different receivers to touch the ball. In the win over Atlanta, Foles was just as impressive, with eight receivers catching a pass from the sixth-year quarterback. If the Eagles signal-caller can keep all weapons equally lethal in the Pats eyes, then the Birds’ should be able to move the chains at will against a defense that has struggled all season long.
The Patriots may have seen a sudden improvement, but it could be argued that their recent defensive success comes down to a stunningly weak schedule at the backend of the season. Philadelphia has an offense with the potential to cause just as much havoc as Kansas City did in week one and if they can spread the ball around instead of forcing traffic through predictable lanes, this should be a thriller.
Stop the run:
The Patriots aren’t an incredibly heavy running team, but they do utilize their backs as receivers often. Screens, swings and getting to the outside have all become staples in an offense designed to take the weight off of Brady’s shoulders…though he still ends up carrying the team. If the Eagles run defense can smother Dion Lewis and company in the way it completely shut down the Vikings backfield and the Falcons before that, then New England will HAVE to rely on Tom Brady. Not that that’s a disadvantage, but the longer he has to throw, the more time that the most tenacious defense the team have faced since Buffalo.
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports