Taylor McCloud — Pats Militia
Despite the dog masks and underdog narrative, the Philadelphia Eagles are a good football team. They’re the #1 seed in the NFC for a reason. There’s no two ways about it. After losing Carson Wentz in Week 14, they didn’t skip a beat. With Nick Foles at the helm, they went 2-1, finishing the regular season at 13-3. In the divisional round of the playoffs, they eked out a 15-10 victory over Atlanta. And in the NFC Championship Game, they brought Minnesota behind the woodshed, beating them 38-7 to punch their ticket to Minnesota.
When I dug through the stats, I hoped I’d find numbers to show that Foles has no shot at beating the Patriots, but I didn’t. Excluding Week 17 against Dallas, a game in which he only threw eleven passes, Foles has completed 92/139 passes for 998 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s not the greatest four-game stretch of all time, but for a backup quarterback, it’s more than enough. And his monster performance against Minnesota was way more than enough. Against the best defense in the NFL, he went 26/33 for 352 yards, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 141.4. Although the chances of duplication are slim, the fact that Foles is capable of going off like that can’t be ignored.
Neither can the weapons surrounding him.
In the backfield, Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount are no joke. They’re both big backs capable of shouldering a considerable load. Neither back put up crazy numbers over the course of the season, but we’re not talking about a whole season. We’re talking about one game, and both players can punch one into the endzone if they need to.
Alshon Jeffery’s pretty good at scoring, too. With nine receiving touchdowns, he finished tied for fourth place in the NFL. He also caught 57 balls for 789 yards which aren’t phenomenal numbers for a top wideout, but were solid enough for the Eagles. Especially with Nelson Agholor, who caught 62 balls for 768 yards and eight touchdowns, across from him and Zach Ertz, who caught 74 balls for 824 yards and eight touchdowns, controlling the middle of the field.
Together, the two running backs and three pass-catchers combine for a solid offensive unit. There are no true worldbeaters on the roster, but each guy does their job well, and in a few games this season, that’s been enough to beat the Patriots.
However, as a fan, my main concern is on the other side of the ball.
Like Jacksonville, Philly features a top-five defense. Their front four, headlined by guys like Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Chris Long is monstrous. Their linebackers, Mychal Kendricks, Dannell Ellerbe and Nigel Bradham are solid across the board. And Jalen Mills, Rodney McLeod, Malcolm Jenkins and Ronald Darby have turned their secondary into a no fly zone.
But talent isn’t what gets the job done. Doing the job gets the job done, and the Eagles have done just that. In the regular season, they finished 4th in yards allowed per game (306.5), 4th in points allowed per game (18.4), 15th in sacks (38.0), 3rd in PBUs (87), 5th in interceptions (19) and have been the best defense all postseason long. They’re not as menacing as the Vikings and they’re not as brash as the Jaguars, but they’re just as solid. Moreso than Carson Wentz, or the resiliency of Nick Foles, the defense is responsible for where the Eagles are. They’ve been balling all season long and I fully expect that trend to continue Sunday.
Luckily, the Patriots are pretty good at handling top-tier defenses.
This season, the Pats played five of the top ten defenses in the NFL. They beat #2 Jacksonville, 24-20. They beat #3 Los Angeles (Chargers), 21-13. They beat #7 Pittsburgh 27-24. They beat #8 Atlanta, 23-7. They beat #10 New Orleans, 36-20. And if you throw in Denver, a top-three defense in terms of yards allowed per game, they beat them 41-16. Add that all up and you’ve got a 5-0 record against top-ten defenses. (6-0 including Denver.) That’s pretty good, if you ask me.
What’s also good for New England is that the Eagles struggle against the no-huddle offense.
#Eagles D vs huddle (vs no-huddle)
Comp%: 58.9% (68.0%)
Yards/Att: 6.0 (8.7)
Passer Rating: 73.8 (106.5)
– NFL Avg: 87.3 (86.1)
QB Pressure Rate: 42.2% (36.0%)
– NFL Avg: 35.1% (30.9%)
Total Yards/Play: 4.83 (7.28)
— Pat Thorman (@Pat_Thorman) January 28, 2018
When running no-huddle, opposing quarterbacks’ completion percentage jumped nine points. Their yards per attempt jumped almost two yards. Their passer rating jumped over thirty points. And offenses running no-huddle jumped from 4.83 yards per play to 7.28 yards per play.
Josh McDaniels is salivating right now. Over the years, he and Brady have mastered the no-huddle. Their uptempo game is the best in the NFL. Just ask Big Cat.
The Patriots going up tempo is terrifying
— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) January 21, 2018
It normally takes a couple of series for the Patriots to dive all the way into the no-huddle, but if they feel they have the chance to draw first blood and actually score in the first quarter of the Super Bowl, that’s what they’ll do. (At least, I hope that’s what they’ll do.)
Now, I know running no-huddle for the entire game isn’t feasible. Guys get tired. Offenses get predictable. Shit happens. At some point, the Patriots will be forced to run their normal offense. I expect the Eagles to try to capitalize on that. I touched on their defensive line earlier, but I want to reiterate, that unit is monstrous. The three players I mentioned are phenomenal football players, but so are the other five guys. (Yes, I said five. The Eagles’ D-line is legitimately eight guys deep.) Everyone from Cox to rookie, Derek Barnett, will be gunning for Tom Brady. And against an offensive line that’s had more than one stinker this year, they might be able to get after him a little bit.
Fortunately, Brady’s been great under pressure this season.
Average NFL passer rating this year: 87.0
Tom Brady's passer rating UNDER PRESSURE this year: 96.6
Brady's passer rating under pressure is 10 points higher than the average NFL QB is on any given down.
And that's actually how you beat him.
Lol. Good luck
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) January 29, 2018
And with guys like James White and Dion Lewis swinging out of the backfield, he’ll be fine. (Speaking of James White, I wrote about why he’s going to have another big Super Bowl. Check it out here.)
So, yeah. The Super Bowl is on the horizon and the Eagles are a good football team. Even though there isn’t as much hype surrounding them, and even though this feels more like a regular season game than a championship, the Philadelphia Eagles are absolutely a good football team. They’re chock full of good football players who are tough as nails. They’ll be ready for the challenge. But I promise you, so will the Patriots.
Follow Taylor McCloud on Twitter @tdmcld
Featured image credit to: David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports