1. Defensive Line vs Tom Brady
You’ve heard it already, but I’m gonna say it again: the key to beating the Patriots is getting pressure without blitzing.
New England is 5-0 in Super Bowls where Brady is pressured on less than 40% of passing downs, and in the two Super Bowls they lost Brady was pressured well above that 40% mark. The Eagles, behind the deepest line in the league, had a pressure rate of 41%. See where this is going?
Each player in Schwartz rotation are capable of crashing the pocket on any given down, and this season they’ve had no problem doing that without blitz help. This is by far the most obvious path to victory for the Birds – wreak havoc up front and muddy the pocket for Brady. I hesitate to say our biggest strength is also New England’s “kryptonite” but it’s certainly close.
This particular matchup has been highly publicized and for good reason, whichever side wins this struggle will likely win the Super Bowl.
2. Malcolm Jenkins vs Rob Gronkowski
While the Patriot offense is routinely referred to as a “system” offense in a derogatory manner, it’s more a complement. Rather than being built around a specific talent or skillset it’s based on isolating mismatches and finding the open man. The “system” is what allows them to seamlessly plug and play any player around Brady and still move the ball.
With that said, when the Patriots surround Brady with a legitimate weapon their offense reaches a new gear. We saw them break records with Randy Moss and for the past few seasons Rob Gronkowski has been that same x-factor.
Most teams lack a single defender who matches up physically with Gronk but that’s not the case with the Birds – who’ll use Malcolm Jenkins to on him for most of the game.
Jenkins spends more time in man coverage than most safeties. Whenever the Birds face a receiver with size and physicality in the slot (a la Gronk) they opt for him instead of moving around the top corner or employing our traditional nickel. The Eagles are well equipped to defend him with the position naturally paired against tight ends. Beyond that, Jenkins possesses better coverage skills than most safeties because of his vast experience in the slot.
I’m not saying that he’ll shut him down or anything, I’m simply asserting that he’s capable of keeping him in check. Jenkins neutralizes the Pats ability to use Gronk as the key that unlocks the rest of the offense, and that’s important. Out of any individual assignment this is by far the toughest. Not only is it the toughest, but it’s the most crucial. While stopping Gronk doesn’t necessarily mean stopping the Patriots, it’s a definitive perquisite.
3. Philly offensive Line vs New England front-7
Unlike the first two matchups, I don’t view this as a push – the Eagles have a clear advantage here. All season their offensive line has been discussed as one of the best in football, if not the best.
Behind All-Pro’s Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce the ground game has been our bread-and-better (even with a healthy Wentz), and they should be able to create holes against a mediocre Patriot front seven. While their d-line is capable of holding its own, their linebacker group is terrible – and that’s not an exaggeration. Ever since losing Dont’a Hightower to a season-ending injury this defense has been exposed at that position.
I don’t see any scenario in which Philly can’t run the ball on New England. The question is can they make it a bloodbath?
I’ll throw two clichés at you: 1) a running game is a quarterback’s best friend 2) sometimes the best defense is good offense.
Translated to this matchup: 1) the better we run the ball, the less risk-averse throws Nick Foles has to make 2) the better we run the ball, the longer Tom Brady has to stand on the sideline (where it’s a lot harder to score).
It’s not that I don’t trust Nick Foles or our defense. But the more effective our running game is, the less the game will be in the hands of these two quarterbacks – and let’s be real, the less the game comes down to Foles vs Brady, the better.
If you’re keeping track at home, that means the Birds need to win both sides the line of scrimmage and eliminate the opposing teams’ biggest offensive weapon (Gronk) – a pretty cookie-cutter blueprint for winning a football game, and one that Belicheck himself would likely endorse.
The suggestion that the Eagles need to do anything extracurricular to beat the Patriots is flat out wrong. Forget that it’s the Super Bowl and forget that it’s Tom Brady – the winning football that they’ve played all season is still winning football on Sunday. If the Birds can focus on owning the three matchups detailed above then there’s no reason to think they won’t be raising the Lombardi Trophy.