How the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots match up in Super Bowl LII:
Eagles run offense vs. Patriots run defense
The Eagles have three backs — Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement — and use them all. Blount has an NFL-best 10 touchdowns in the postseason since 2013. He’s dangerous if he can get to the second level but doesn’t do a great job slipping through tight holes at the line of scrimmage. Ajayi is a complete back, and Clement, an undrafted rookie, has been a pleasant surprise. New England’s run defense was respectable in the AFC championship game, holding Leonard Fournette to 3.2 yards per carry. Former Pittsburgh star James Harrison has been a good addition to a run defense that has some stout stoppers in Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown and Trey Flowers.
Eagles pass offense vs. Patriots pass defense
One strength of the Eagles is there’s no essential target. They use screens and slants quite a bit. Although they don’t have a receiver who gets great separation, Zach Ertz wins in tight coverage. Nelson Agholor is reliable in the slot. Alshon Jeffery led the team with nine touchdown catches, and Torrey Smith is the best deep threat. The Patriots have a good veteran secondary led by corners Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore. That unit could have an issue with Philadelphia’s speed.
Patriots run offense vs. Eagles run defense
New England’s offensive line is going to have a difficult time with Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan. In the AFC championship game, Patriots right guard Shaq Mason got manhandled by Marcell Dareus, and New England had to double-team the Jacksonville defensive tackle in the second half. This is a major area of strength for the Eagles, who led the league against the run (although part of that was opponents passing more when behind). Philadelphia has seven defensive linemen who can all play, and there isn’t a lot of drop-off in that rotation. Cox is a superstar. They are at their best when they’re not in base defense.
Patriots pass offense vs. Eagles pass defense
Tom Brady has plenty of weapons with Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Dion Lewis and James White out of the backfield, and speedster Brandin Cooks. The Eagles give up a lot of yards but get picks and don’t give up many points. When they’re facing a dominant receiver, they try to play behind them and protect the end zone. That’s what they did with Julio Jones. Opposite Ronald Darby is corner Jalen Mills, who’s a Seahawks-type corner, very physical and grabby. Patrick Robinson has been tremendous as a slot corner and had a 50-yard pick-six against the Vikings.
The Eagles don’t get a lot of big returns, especially since Darren Sproles got hurt. Punter Donnie Jones is a seasoned pro, and kicker Jake Elliott is a rookie who has struggled from midrange. Philadelphia is solid in coverage but misses the leadership of captain Chris Maragos, lost to a knee injury. New England punter Ryan Allen had a great day against Jacksonville, repeatedly pinning the Jaguars deep in their territory. Stephen Gostkowski has been great on kickoffs, hitting those sand wedges high and right on the goal line, coaxing returns and trusting the coverage unit. He hit field goals of 63 (high altitude, in Mexico City) and 58 this season.
With Philadelphia coordinators Frank Reich and Jim Schwartz on one side, and New England’s Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniels on the other, you could say this game features six current or future head coaches. (Reich will get the call at some point.) Patricia is great with in-game adjustments. The Patriots have forced only one turnover in the last six games, though. The story line will be the upstart Doug Pederson vs. Bill Belichick, and Belichick vs. history. Should his team beat the Eagles, Belichick would have six rings as a head coach and eight total. At least his thumbs would be unencumbered.
Philadelphia wins the battle of the trenches on offense and defense. The Eagles are better than Jacksonville, which gave the Patriots a scare in the AFC title game. The issue is Tom Brady. He is so clutch, especially in tight games, that it’s risky to bet against him. Belichick is going to try to rest the game on the shoulders of Nick Foles and make him win it. Foles needs to have a B-plus or better game. If Fletcher Cox can crush the pocket and the Eagles can force some turnovers, there will be a big celebration in Philadelphia.
EAGLES 27, PATRIOTS 24
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