The Eagles head to Super Bowl LII as inferior to the powerful Patriots, but Philadelphia has the pieces to get a big surprise in Minneapolis. Possessing a defense loaded with talent and an offense that works its way under a substitute quarterback, Doug Pederson's crew does have a way to victory in the big game.
With a little time to study the All-22 Film coaches and talk for some league coaches, I've found three keys to an Eagles win:
1) The fierce defensive line must terrify Tom Brady .
The recipe to beat the Patriots always revolves around getting the No. 12 in their place. The NFL's top passer is a deadly pocket shooter and is capable of destroying any defense when he has time to pull from his pocket. Brady enters Super Bowl LII with a completion rate of 66.4 percent in the season (including the playoffs), as well as a 103.1 passer rating on the strength of a touchdown to interception ratio of 37: 8. There is a good chance that he receives his third MVP award the night before the Super Bowl.
While we get used to seeing TB12 split the opponents with precise passes, particularly in the short and intermediate range, he has been particularly sharp in January. Brady posted consecutive games with a passer rating of more than 100 in the playoffs over the Titans and Jaguars, accumulating five touchdowns and zero picks in the process. His accuracy remains elite at age 40, and the veteran quarterback has demonstrated the ability to post 300-yard games with or without his No. 1 goal, Rob Gronkowski.
To summarize: if the Eagles are going to have any chance of getting rid of this discomfort, they need to significantly alter Brady's pace in their pocket.
Fortunately for the Eagles, they have the deepest and most talented defensive front in football. The unit has four first-round picks in Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett and Chris Long, and each has a unique set of fast pass skills. Add the disruptive abilities of Tim Jernigan and Vinny Curry, and you'll see how the Eagles throw passing runners like a basketball team using a 10-man rotation for full-court opponents from the tip to the speaker.
Given the Jacksonville Jaguars enjoyed great success in the AFC championship game, especially during the first half. It's easy to see how the Eagles 'D line could significantly affect the game, despite the Patriots' attempts to wear down opponents. a frenetic tempo that eliminates the energy of the pass-rushers during the game.
Looking more closely at Philadelphia's typical tactical approach, I think defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is likely to stick with his four-man attack to attack Brady. According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles recorded a 38.1 percent pressure rate with a four-man fevers, the second highest number in the NFL. In addition, they lead the NFL with 16.9 total pressures per game and had seven players who finished the season with more than 20 pressures (most in the NFL). With Philadelphia's lead in collapsing the pocket through straight plays and twists of a "wide nine" defensive lineup, Patriots' edge blockers (Nate Solder and Cameron Fleming) will face tough confrontations on the island. Not to mention that Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason face the unenviable task of dealing with the number 91 inside. Cox, who has just received his third Pro Bowl assault, is a disruptive force inside. His ability to destroy tents forces opponents to discard their game plans. Against an immobile quarterback like Brady, Cox's inside penetration could destroy the timing of the Patriots on offense.
That said, Brady has the best passer rating in the NFL when he's under pressure this season at 95.5, according to Pro Football Focus. He constantly beat the speed of the pass with his fast pitch and that has made it almost impossible to defend. Given Brady's 55.4 completion rate and the TD-INT 10: 2 ratio when facing heat, according to PFF, the Eagles will have to hastily collapse their pocket or put their hands in the line of scrimmage to take Brady out of their game .
If the avalanche of pass is accompanied by aggressive coverage, punches and leaks in the perimeter, the Philadelphia defense could make life impossible for Brady in his pocket. Now, that does not mean the Eagles will completely close out the future Hall of Fame quarterback for four full quarters, but a fierce defensive effort could be enough to help Philadelphia build an advantage or close a closed game at US Bank Stadium. 19659003] 2) Nick Foles has to get into a rhythm.
It's not a coincidence that the Eagles' offense has shown more pop in the postseason; Pederson used the goodbye on Wild Card Weekend to come up with a plan to help his QB2 get into rhythm. The clever gamer assessed Foles 'performance in the Eagles' last four regular-season games and designed a game plan that is full of screens, fast, RPO (run-pass options) and rhythmic shots. Although Philadelphia used many separate concepts with Carson Wentz at the center, Pederson needed to modify the scheme to help a more immobile quarterback to thrive at the helm. Unlike No. 11, which is capable of executing the zone-read as a double threat athletic capable of turning the corner to quarterbacks, Foles is a traditional passer who is doing his best work from the pocket.
Therefore, the Eagles needed to find a way to emphasize the defense without having a mobile playmaker at the helm. Enter the RPO game and a group of complementary action passes that put defenders in a bind with deception and misdirection. The Eagles RPO scheme will intentionally unblock a defender of the first seven, and the field marshal will be instructed to read his reaction and make the transfer or throw based on his movement. For example, Philadelphia will line up in a 2×2 or 3×1 formation with the runner placed away from the slot. Foles will take the complement, place the ball in the belly of the runner and read the reaction of the weak side linebacker. If the linebacker chases the ball, the No. 9 will take it out and shoot an incline towards a receiver running a one or three step tilt into the void. This is easy money against zone teams, but it is also effective against men when defenders are not disciplined with their eyes.
The Eagles will also use a variety of RPO bubble screens to take advantage of undisciplined defenders and soft coverage on the perimeter. If Foles comes to the line and sees a perimeter advantage on numbers, he will throw the bubble screen to the designated receiver and depend on his creator to pick up additional yards in the open field. Based on the production of Foles running RPOs – according to Pro Football Focus, he has completed an amazing 93.8 percent of his RPO pass attempts this season – the Eagles should continue with this approach to help him find his pace as a passer. .  If these concepts are familiar to you when it comes to Foles, it's because they are directly drawn from Chip Kelly's playbook that helped No. 9 play as a MVP candidate in 2013. You remember that year, right? It's the season in which Foles posted a dazzling touchdown-to-interception ratio of 27: 2 to go along with a 119.2 passer rating, scoring the NFC East title of the Eagles.
With Pederson also slipping Kelly's mesh concept (a pair of short crosses) routes designed to cross at approximately 5 yards with another receiver placed approximately 12 yards above the ball to create a "triangular" reading for the quarterback. field), the Eagles have put Foles on an offense that plays with his virtues as a pace passer. Do not believe me? Just look at the numbers in this postseason. In the last two games, Foles has completed 49 of his 63 passes (77.8 percent) for 598 yards and three touchdowns. But here is an important distinction that I noticed in the Next Gen Stats passing the cards of the two Foles postseason games: Thirty-nine of their completions (of 45 attempts) have come in shots aimed at 10 yards or less from the line of hitting. With Foles also completing 16 of his 17 shots behind the scrimmage line on fast screens (WR) or slow (RB screen), the Eagles' passing game is efficient and effective with the veteran QB2 in charge.
Against New England's heavy effort, the Eagles can continue to use those concepts to exploit some perimeter clashes. While studying the AFC Championship Game, the Jaguars succeeded in using a variety of RPOs (bubble screens) and underneath the routes of bunker alignments. In addition, Jacksonville was able to take the ball to the runners on the optional routes and designated checkdowns. Given the similarities between the Eagles 'offensive structure and the Jags' approach, Pederson and his team can count on a similar plan to help Foles succeed against a defense that will use male coverage for most of the game.
3) Win special teams battle.
New England receives many accolades for its "complementary soccer" approach, and it is valid: the defending Super Bowl champions routinely win because they dominate the kicking game on the way to the battle of the field position. The Patriots are willing to play ping-pong with their punt and kickoff teams, earning additional yards routinely and finally scoring points from a favorable field position.
What do I want to say? Basically, the Pats excel in covering kickoffs and punts, and their excellent play in those areas forces the teams to drive along the field. Given the odds of orchestrating long runs against a solid defense, New England's ability to routinely nab its opponents inside the 10-yard line is a big advantage.
Think about it this way: The Patriots were fighting Jacksonville for most of the AFC game for the title, but their ability to control the field position in the second half eventually led to scoring opportunities. For example, the Patriots' final touchdown campaign began at the Jags 30 following the 20-yard punt return of Danny Amendola. While Amendola's comeback stands out in the minds of most observers, the scoring opportunity was originally set by Ryan Allen's 35-yard punt that was caught justly by the Jags at his own 10-yard line. In fact, Allen immobilized Jacksonville at the 10-yard line or deeper three times, which is a great advantage for the defense.
Allen's effectiveness extends beyond his ability to score opponents within 20 – he's also one of the best kick-starters that allow his coverage units to corral returnees quickly after capture. Allen has delivered just 105 yards of point-for-year return, which ranks behind Chris Jones of Dallas (75 yards) and Rigoberto Sanchez (80 yards) of Indianapolis among the kickers with more than 50 attempts.
The Eagles must counteract a great effort in the return game. Kenjon Barner has been an effective return for Philadelphia, but he has three fumbles this season. The safety of the suspicious ball is definitely a concern against a team that is famous for exploiting the errors in the kicking game. If Barner does not kick cleanly or takes care of the ball, he could prepare the offensive Patriots monster with an inopportune error.
On the other hand, the Eagles' punt coverage units are among the best in football. Donnie Jones is an expert in directional kicks in "coffin corner" kicks, as evidenced by his five punts inside the 20-yard line during the playoffs. He is capable of firing high-arc shots that force force catches or allow the coverage team to quickly corral the one returning after capture. The Eagles kick return unit yielded 171 yards on Jones kicks during the regular season, which was ranked in the top third of the league.
If the game is reduced to the field goals, the Eagles have one of the longest – Jake Elliott's Season Dates. The rookie connected 83.9 percent of his field goal attempts, including 89.4 percent of his shots from more than 40 yards (12 of 13 from 40-49 yards, 5 of 6 from 50 or more). With a 61-yard winning boot on the résumé, the Eagles enter the Super Bowl knowing they are in a position to score as long as they reach the 40-yard Patriots. That's a big advantage in a game that could require more than 30 points from the winning team.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks .