By Michael Lanterman
As the coaching trio of Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, and Patricia prepare to make their final run together in Super Bowl LII, another coaching staff prepares to take on an empire. The 2000’s have been dominated by the era of Emperor Belichick and his apprentice Tom Brady with Brady leading his team to five Super Bowl victories in eight appearances, with the eighth coming up this weekend as the Eagles and Patriots prepare to face off at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. As Eagles’ head coach Doug Pederson plans his playbook for the gods of the NFL, there are several questions that we, the fans and analysts, have regarding the Eagles’ capability to stop the gods of the NFL.
- Can the Eagles front seven get after Brady and force him into making mistakes against a stingy secondary?
Simply put the Eagles boast one of if not the best front sevens in the NFL. A feared defensive line led by Pro Bowler Fletcher Cox, the revitalized career of Chris Long, rookie pass rusher Derek Barnett, and 9.5 sacks from defensive end Brandon Graham will be tasked with stopping the greatest quarterback of all time. When asked how to beat Tom Brady, most players and coaches respond with the same answer: pressure him, make him uncomfortable, and make him flee the pocket. This shouldn’t be a problem with the Eagles’ defensive line opening holes for linebackers Mychal Kendricks, Dannell Ellerbe, and Nigel Bradham. The real question is, can this front seven generate enough pressure to force Brady into commiting costly turnovers? He will already have his hands full trying to throw into a secondary made up of the likes of Pro-Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins and shut down corners Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby. Overall, this Eagles’ D is stout, but do they have enough to stop Tom Brady and the Patriots from marching to their sixth Super Bowl victory?
Update: Defensive end Brandon Graham came up with an impressive strip sack that was recovered by rookie end Derek Barnett, in the final minutes of the game. The play was the Patriots first turnover of the game and led to a 46 yard field goal by rookie kicker Jake Elliott, the play that essentially iced the 41-33 victory for the Eagles.
- Will Nick Foles carry over the success found in the conference championship into the biggest game of the year?
Eagles fans had a reason to worry heading into the playoffs. They had lost starting quarterback Carson Wentz to a torn ACL in the middle of an MVP-caliber year. Backup Nick Foles responded with a 237 yard, four touchdown performance against the Giants, only to follow with two straight lackluster games against the Raiders and Cowboys to finish the season. Then, the team had to rely on its ferocious defense just to get them out of the divisional round against a pesky Falcons team. Heading into the AFC Championship against a top-five Vikings defense, there was a major cause for concern. But Foles summoned his former starter form and threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-7 dismantling of the undermatched Vikings. The only question here is if Nick Foles can replicate this performance against the Patriots. If not, this Eagles defense will be tasked with holding a high-scoring New England offense in check if they hope to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Philadelphia.
Update: Nick Foles threw for 373 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception in the victory, en route to winning Super Bowl MVP honors.
- What will the Eagles run game play against a vastly improved, Dan Patricia-led New England defense.
Through the first four weeks of the NFL, many believed that the New England dynasty was coming to an end. The Patriots sat tied with the Jets for second place with a 2-2 record, trailing the 3-1 Bills for first place in the AFC East. Their defense was giving up an average of 468 yards and 32 points per game. The bottom line was that this was a bottom ten defense. Patricia and Belichick, two great defensive minds, went to work after a disappointing start to the season and finished the season 11-1 with a top-five ranked defense for the remainder of the season. On the other side of the field, the Eagles looked to upgrade as well, but on the offensive side. They traded for Dolphins star running back Jay Ajayi after week eight to upgrade a running game that lacked a true number one option with backs Legarrette Blount and Corey Clement as the only options. Since then, the Eagles have boasted a solid one-two punch with Ajayi and Blount, and Clement serving as a receiving threat out of the backfield. The question is what kind of production can be expected from this trio against a newly dominant Patriots defense? Will they be able to alleviate pressure off the shoulders of Nick Foles or will the signal caller be forced into throwing 40+ passes in order to keep his team in the game?
Update: Former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown on fourteen carries, while Jay Ajayi added 57 yards on nine carries. As a unit, the Eagles running backs were able to pound the rock consistently racking up 164 total yards. Receiving back Corey Clement was a nightmare for the Patriots defense as well, adding 100 receiving yards and a touchdown on four receptions.