We’re set for Super Bowl LII, in Minneapolis on February 4; the New England Patriots will play in their tenth Super Bowl…their eighth in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era…against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Philly played in the Super Bowl after the 1980 season when Dick Vermeil’s club fell to the Oakland Raiders, and then again after the 2004 season in Super Bowl XXXIX when they lost to New England, the Patriots’ third championship.
There are a couple of factors that give America hope as the entire country hopes to avoid the insufferable New England fans being able to celebrate tying Pittsburgh with six Super Bowl championships.
Philadelphia will be the underdog, but they were the underdog in both of their home playoff games, too.
With all due respect to Nick Foles, who joined Joe Montana as quarterbacks with back-to-back playoff games with 75% completion percentage games, he needs to manage the Super Bowl. If he can avoid turning the ball over and can keep the chains moving, his team will have a chance.
The 2017 Eagles were third in the NFL in rushing yards per game, at 132.2, and in yards per carry at 4.5. If the Eagles can score first and run the ball like they have all season, they’ll give themselves a chance against the Patriots. The Jaguars could have done that against New England, but got away from that game. Jacksonville had led the NFL in rushing during the season, but for whatever reason didn’t try to pound the opposition into submission when they had a chance. When they had a seven-point lead at halftime, the Jags had run seventeen times in 33 plays for sixty yards, keeping it on the ground 51% of the time. After the half, as their lead dissipated, they ran the ball only fifteen times in forty plays, running 37% of the time even though they had the lead for most of that time. Especially after they went up 20-10 early in the fourth quarter, Jacksonville’s play calling was highly questionable.
They got the ball back on a Danny Amendola fumble with 13:37 left, and I asked Carey Davis if Jacksonville should start bleeding the clock. He told me it was too early. Jacksonville ran Fournette for two yards, then quarterback Blake Bortles threw an incompletion and a seven yard pickup to Allen Hurns. They held the ball for 1:34.
After New England drove for a touchdown to make it 20-17, Jacksonville got the ball back with 8:38 on the clock. Again, they ran Fournette, this time for a yard. Bortles threw on second down again, picking up twenty yards and a first down with a completion to Allen Hurns. After another Fournette one-yard run, Bortles threw incomplete two more times, stopping the clock twice and giving the ball back to New England with 6:21 to go. Even though the Jacksonville defense held on the next Patriot possession, they again went Fournette for minus-1, Bortles incompletion, Bortles incompletion. The possession lasted :55 seconds. New England subsequently drove to the winning touchdown.
The Patriot defense can be run on; they were twentieth in the NFL and allowed 4.7 yards per carry. What the Eagles need to do on offense is keep pounding with the running game, unlike Jacksonville. The Patriot defense can be worn down, and if Doug Pederson and the Eagles staff keep handing off to Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount, they can gouge that New England defense in the fourth quarter.
The Patriot pass defense is terrific, and even with weapons like Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz and Torrey Smith, Nick Foles will be hard pressed to replicate the kind of success he had against Minnesota, even though the Vikings defense was outstanding in 2017.
The Eagles can cause some problems for Brady. They can get pressure up the middle with Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan, and their perimeter defenders like Chris Long, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, and linebackers Michael Kendricks and Nigel Bradham have a chance to contain Dion Lewis and James White. Because the Jacksonville rush defense was so good, the Patriots only handed off to running backs thirteen times. The Eagles will need to frustrate the Patriots in a similar way.
Ultimately, the Patriots can be frustrated and are beatable. The Eagles have many of the same assets that Jacksonville had. The keys are going to be getting a lead, committing to the run, and using proper clock management.
If Philadelphia can do that in a couple of weeks, they can prevent the Patriots from winning their sixth Super Bowl.