I used to complain about the two week interval between the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl—except now that we’re in the Big One, I find myself enjoying the extra week to savor the moment.
The one thing that still bothers me is the extra time Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniel now have to prepare for us.
I like to use the 57-year-old monkey on my back as the symbol of a lifetime of frustration over the Eagles’ failing to break on through to the modern standard of excellence in the NFL, which is the Lombardi Trophy. But right now, even the monkey is having a good time. It’s fun to live in the optimistic air of possibility. After all, despite what the Vegas oddsmakers say, we ride into the Super Bowl with at least a coin-flip’s chance of coming out on top.
Right now, it’s still a party!
But reality is about to set in.
Here’s the deal— we beat Minnesota for basically two reasons: our Big Uglies on the offensive line and our Big Sexies on the defensive line took over the lines of scrimmage for the major part of the game. And, Minnesota’s offensive game plan was flawed.
By flawed I mean, when you see a tight end crossing the formation pre-snap to pick up an extra block on our defensive end on the opposite side, you know there was something wrong in Minnesota’s entire preparation for our defensive scheme.
Don’t think for a second that New England is going to slack off like that, or to come into the situation as ill-prepared as that.
My biggest concern is how do we guard Gronk? We can put two guys on him, maybe a linebacker or a nickel corner underneath and a safety over top of him—but then that leaves little Danny Amendola free to roam just about anywhere he wants within the vacuum of space left in Gronk’s wake.
People say put max pressure on Brady, but that doesn’t mean anything unless you can actually get your mitts on him. All Tom Terrific needs is a mere two seconds to either sidestep your rush and throw intermediate, or bang-bang-complete a 7-yard forward pass to Dion Lewis, which ends up being as good as a running play, with the added bonus of YAC potential.
This is going to be the toughest defensive challenge the Eagles have faced all year. Just when you think you’re beating Belichick and Brady at checkers, they change the game to chess.
You might take comfort in the thought that the Patriots’ defense is somewhat vulnerable. But that can be a tantalizing mirage. The great thing about Matt Patricia is he makes multiple adjustments during a game and somehow can communicate the flexibility he needs.
For example, Minnesota based their entire game plan against us on the Atlanta tape which suggested that the Eagles and Nick Foles would play conservative, would run dink and dunk stuff mixed in with off-tackle running plays. Logically it made sense, betting that the Eagles and Foles would play “not to lose”.
Credit to Doug Pederson and Frank Reich for crafting an offensive game plan that completely destroyed the “dink and dunk” stereotype. It went vertical. It blew Minnesota’s defensive minds.
Now enter the Evil Empire’s genius strategists—they don’t bite at your previous game tape. I’ve gotta believe Belichick and Patricia are looking at that tape of the Vikings loss to the Eagles and saying to themselves, “The Eagles are going to flip the script.”
I think the Patriots are gearing up for a completely different approach from the Eagles’ offense. I think they’re expecting a reverse psychology kind of thing from Doug Pederson. I think they think Doug is going to go old school on them. I do too. I think Doug is going to try to turn this game into a deliberate slugfest because he believes his running backs and his offensive line and his short passing game can wear out the Patriots over the course of 60 minutes. Not just wear them out, but beat the resilience out of them and burn up the clock. You can call it a neo-conservative approach from Doug, but it would make sense if it can keep the ball out of Brady’s hands for at least an extra 5 minutes, preferably 10 minutes of playing time.
The caveat of course is that the Birds would have to move the chains and consistently build momentum to keep moving the chains…and to keep the football safely off the deck and out of the hands of poachers.
If it played out like that, I think you minimize a lot of Belichick’s strategic options and certainly Brady’s influence upon the outcome. You then would count on your own defense and special teams to simply ride out the storm of desperation thrown up by the Pats. Cover the kick returns, tackle the short stuff, keep the long stuff within arm’s reach and with plenty of help. Minimize spot-of-the-foul penalties…
The Patriots sit as five-point favorites as of Jan. 24, and that spread has been well earned by the New England offense. The Patriots enter the game having scored 2.6 points per offensive drive this season, including the playoffs, giving them the NFL’s No. 1 offense. The Eagles rank No. 5 with 2.2 points per drive for the season, but that drops to 1.7 after isolating the games with backup quarterback Nick Foles under center in relief of Carson Wentz, who went down with an ACL injury in December.
[The Patriots have a glaring weakness. Can Nick Foles and the Eagles exploit it?]
If you go by the book, it makes even more sense for Doug and the Eagles to formulate a game plan that limits New England’s time of possession:
Philadelphia’s defense is allowing 1.4 points per drive in 2017, just a fraction of a point worse than the Jacksonville Jaguars, who led the league. New England’s defense was close behind at No. 6 with 1.6 points allowed per drive. The league average heading into Super Bowl LII is 1.8 points allowed per drive.
|Points per drive||Offense||Defense|
Because the Patriots typically have 11 drives per game, we can estimate that by scoring 2.6 points per drive against an average defense they should score 22.3 points, on average, against a defense as good as Philadelphia’s. The Eagles, by this same method, would be projected to score 17.7 points, giving the Patriots a 4.5-point margin of victory, which is close to the consensus point spread of five points.
Of course there is the reverse-reverse-psychology theory angle on all of this, too, which Doug and the Eagles offense may surprise us (and the Patriots) with— and that would be to say damn the torpedos, full speed ahead, pedal to the metal, swing for a homerun on every other play…
That kind of approach would shock me…but it would also surprise the hell out of the Patriots!
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Opening the EYE Mailbag: