With Super Bowl LII set for Sunday, here are three things the New England Patriots will need to do to beat the Philadelphia Eagles to claim the franchise’s sixth Lombardi Trophy:
1. Protect Brady
It’s no secret the Eagles will be up against one of the best offenses in the NFL this Sunday. The Patriots come in ranked second in scoring (28.6 points per game) and passing yards (276.1), and first in total yards per game (394.2.
And as everyone knows, that offense goes through Tom Brady, who is coming off of another possible MVP season after completing 66.3 percent of his passes for 4,577 yards and 32 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. That being said, expect the Eagles to attempt to apply plenty of pressure to a quarterback that has played behind a shaky offensive line this season.
Brady has been sacked 35 times throughout the regular season, meaning it would be the most sacks given up by the Patriots - should they win the Super Bowl - since the 41 they gave up prior to beating the Rams for that first title back in 2002.
The Eagles are good at pressuring opposing quarterbacks. Philadelphia ranked 15th in the league with 38 sacks and has four in two playoff games. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is a deference maker, but the Eagles also rotate their line - consisting of Brandon Graham, rookie Derek Barnett, Timmy Jernigan and former Patriot Chris Long - to keep the group fresh.
But New England’s line has played better as of late. Over the team’s two playoff games this season, the unit has given up three sacks (all against the Jaguars), while giving up eight quarterback hits and five pressures.
If the Patriots win this matchup and give Brady the time he needs, it will most likely result in the franchise’s sixth Lombardi Trophy. If not, it could be a long game for Brady.
2. Limit the Eagles’ run game
The key to the Eagles offense is balance, meaning for the most part, the pass game is only as effective as the run game will allow it to be.
During the regular season, Philadelphia ran the ball 473 times for 2,115 yards, while attempting 574 passes for 3,737 yards. As such, the Eagles have controlled the time of possession compared to their opponents in both regular season (32:41-27:18) and postseason (33:05-26:55)
That means, Philadelphia will look to establish its run game with former Patriot LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement to not only keep quarterback Nick Foles comfortable in the pocket, but keep Tom Brady and the New England offense off the field.
Blount led the team with 766 yards on 166 carries (4.4 yards per carry) with two touchdowns this season. Ajayi ran for 408, one score on 70 carries in seven games after coming over in a trade from the Dolphins, while Clement added another 321 yards and four touchdowns.
The Patriots defense this season has given up 1,836 yards on the ground (4.7 yards per carry) in the regular season, but have been much stingier in the playoffs, giving up just 3.5 yards an attempt, which could pose a problem for Foles and the Eagles, who are averaging a mere 3.3 yards per carry in the postseason.
Foles (77.8 completion percentage, 598 yards, 3 touchdowns in two playoff games this season) operates best when Philadelphia utilizes the run-pass option and taking away the run, will most likely put the quarterback and the Eagles offense for that matter in a situation they don’t want to be in.
3. Keep Gronk on the field
Yes, the Patriots have gotten major contributions from guys such as Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis and Brandin Cooks - their top three receivers this postseason. Amendola has 18 catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns. Lewis has totaled 11 yards on 16 catches, while Cooks has nine catches for 132 yards.
But it is tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is not only a matchup nightmare of opposing teams, but is Tom Brady’s go-to option. Gronkowski is one of, if not the most, productive tight ends in postseason history, averaging 4.9 catches for 71.3 yards and 10 touchdowns in 12 playoff games. This postseason, the 6-foot-6, 250 pounder had seven catches for 102 yards and a score before getting knocked out of the AFC Championship Game with a concussion.
Gronkowski, though, cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol Thursday and is slated to play in the game, a good sign for New England. The Patriots are 9-3 when Gronkowski is on the field in the playoffs. The losses are his playoff debut against the Jets, the Super Bowl XLVI against the Giants and the 2015 ACF Championship Game.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org