Sunday, January 28, 2018

Patriots Super Bowl 52 Preview

One week to go until the big game, and I have a confession to make: I haven't seen the Eagles play this year. Life circumstances and time constraints make this the first time I'll publish a preview of the Super Bowl without at least seeing the opponent in the NFC Championship Game. So please take what you are about to read with a grain -- make that two grains -- of salt.

The Bison In The Room

Philadelphia's starting quarterback in the Super Bowl won't be the guy who started the season, former North Dakota State University star Carson Wentz ("Go Bisons!"). Wentz was on his way to a possible MVP when he was injured against the LA Rams and placed on season-ending injured reserve. So it'll be Nick Foles at the helm on Sunday.

It's been four seasons since Foles' breakout campaign in 2013 (27 touchdowns, 2 interceptions). And the results haven't been great since then: 58.8% completions, 6.43 yards per attempt, 28 TDs, 22 INTs, a 78.1 QB rating, and a 13-10 record (including 2-1 this year). He is a streaky player, who thrives when things are going well and tightens up when they go poorly.

He can throw short but loves to throw long. Against the Patriots, he would be well-advised to keep the ball in the short zones, attacking the Patriots linebackers in pass coverage. The Eagles have two excellent tight ends and at least one receiver who are very good in the short zones. They don't throw much to their running backs; but they have the players to exploit the Pats weakness at linebacker.

The Pats secondary is much more talented and their safeties could feast on the long ball if Foles can't stick with short routes. So he must remain disciplined to give the Eagles a shot.

Can The Eagles Stop The G.O.A.T.?

Philadelphia had the ninth-best passing defense in the league, as measured by giving up just a 79.5 QB rating to all quarterbacks they faced this year. But they didn't face anyone having a year close to what Tom Brady had in 2017.

To answer the question of whether Philly can slow down Brady, consider the AFC Championship Game. Jacksonville led the league by allowing just a 68.5 QB rating by their combined opponents this year. And Brady torched them for a 108.4 rating, a higher rating than Jacksonville had given up in any regular-season game this year.

So it's nice that the Eagles have a good pass defense. But if Rob Gronkowski returns from concussion protocol, the Patriots have plenty of weapons to put the hurt on the Philly defense. Just ask Jacksonville.

Offensive Efficiency Dead Heat

If you think the Patriots are vastly superior to the Eagles on the offensive side, you might want to think again. Here are the two teams game statistics compared from the regular season.
  • Points Scored: Patriots 458, Eagles 457
  • Plays From Scrimmage: Eagles 1,073, Patriots 1,070
  • Third-down Conversions: Eagles 42%, Patriots 41%
  • Fourth-down Conversions: Eagles 65%, Patriots 62%
It is true that many of these stats were put up by Wentz, not Foles. But still pretty amazing to see such a close race between the two teams.

Coaching Mismatch A Lot More Than Experience

It's pretty easy to look at the head coaches and see a huge disparity. Philadelphia's Doug Pederson has coached two playoff games, and in fairness, he won them both (the last two weeks). Bill Belichick has coached 38 playoff games and won 28 of them.

Everyone knows Belichick will leave no stone unturned in his preparation and that he will not panic under any circumstances in the game. No one really knows what Pederson will do before or during the game on Sunday.

But the additional mismatch is the coordinators. Pats DC Matt Patricia and OC Josh McDaniels are reportedly gone after the season, taking head coaching jobs with the Lions and Colts, respectively. So neither of them has any reason to leave any bullets unfired in this game. If they have an exotic blitz or a special offensive play, they might as well use it in this game -- because next year they will be gone.

Interestingly, this is the exact situation as the last time the Pats and Eagles played in the Super Bowl. Back then it was Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis leaving after the big game. And both came up with masterful gameplans and stellar adjustments to changing game situations. (Trivia question: name the coaches who replaced Weis and Crennel at their respective positions for the 2005 season. Answer below.)

Quick Hits:

A) Gronkowski participated in practice today and appears on schedule to return for the Super Bowl.

B) The Patriots will likely test the Philly kickoff return game. The Pats kicked it inside the five yard-line against most teams, whereas the Eagles had the fewest kickoff returns in the league this year (18).

C) The thinking seems to be that Philly needs to get pressure with their front four; but that won't be easy. The Eagles had a middling pass rush this year, getting 38 sacks on the season, tied for 15th in the NFL.

D) The Eagles did have a stout run defense though, giving up an average of 3.8 yards per carry (tied for 6th in the league). Meanwhile the Pats gave up 4.7ypc, second-worst in the league.

Statistical Oddity: Under Belichick, the Patriots have played 15 teams in the playoffs that they had not faced in that regular season. They are 15-0 in those games. 15-0! (Credit to, sorry for the repeat for those on Twitter and Facebook.)

Water-cooler Wisdom: "The team might think of this as a business trip, but I'm nervous as hell!"

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 15-3 & 2-0!

PPS. Trivia answer:
In 2005, Eric Mangini replaced Crennel as defensive coordinator. But no offensive coordinator was named -- I know, trick question :P

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