Advantage - Eagles
February 2, 2018
By Tony Mejia
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If nothing else, if they find themselves down a 10-spot early and Tom Brady’s glove-wearing has seemingly given him magical powers, the Eagles won’t question their resolve.
The third team in franchise history to reach a Super Bowl can become the first to leave one a champion if they’re as resilient on Sunday as they’ve proven to be the past few months.
There wasn’t a lot of adversity throughout the season as Carson Wentz carved up defenses. The worst thing that happened, losing future Hall of Fame left tackle Jason Peters, did provide a major obstacle they still have to clear one last time. There wasn’t much losing to get over.
Kansas City defeated Philly in Week 2 and was the only team who had done so until December rolled around. The Eagles’ fell in Seattle, but Wentz performed great the next week to knock off the Rams. Unfortunately, he also tore his ACL, putting the Eagles in a position where they were likely to be swallowed up by adversity.
Despite ugly games to end the season, including a Week 17’s shutout loss where Nate Sudfeld wrapped up, Philadelphia never allowed Wentz’s injury to derail a season that came out of nowhere to wind up being among the best in franchise history.
The Eagles are an underdog for the fourth straight week and overcame being knocked down early by Atlanta, then survived a last-second bullet thrown from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones that would’ve proved most everyone right.
The Eagles weren’t supposed to survive having to ride Nick Foles after losing Wentz, but they’ve put him on their shoulders and made homefield advantage hold up. To be fair, he hasn’t been too heavy a burden. Foles came through with a three-touchdown night in the NFC Championship, helping them rally from a 7-0 deficit and ultimately closing out a run of 38 consecutive points through the air.
With Wentz at the helm, given what we’ve seen from the spread this week, Super Bowl LII might have been a pick’em. The Foles-Brady mismatch is the reason most that wind up laying points with New England will do so, but the quarterbacks obviously don’t face one another. Standing in Brady’s way is an Eagles defense that has done the team’s heavy lifting over the past few weeks.
"The Eagles have allowed just 17 points in a pair of playoff wins while allowing just 33 points over the last four games combined as this defense isn’t getting the respect it deserves as a historically great unit that has a great shot to emerge as the Super Bowl champions. Philadelphia has allowed just 15.1 points per game over the last 11 games going back to Week 8 as well." said VegasInsider.com handicapper Joe Nelson. "Stopping Tom Brady is a very difficult task but Philadelphia allowed just 6.5 yards per pass attempt in the regular season, only trailing Minnesota and Jacksonville in the season numbers."
"Counting the playoffs the Eagles have 21 interceptions this season and over the past three games including two postseason wins the Eagles have allowed just 5.3 yards per pass attempt. Those games came against Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan, and Case Keenum, and while none of those players has Tom Brady’s legacy they ranked #4, #5, and #2 in Total QBR this season, with Brady #3 as the Eagles defense has dominated three of the league’s best quarterbacks in the past three games."
Jim Schwartz has once again proven he’s a brilliant defensive coordinator. His group has surrendered nine second-half points over the last four games, including none this postseason. It’s ultimately up to the defense to keep Brady from denying Philadelphia a Super Bowl for the second consecutive decade.
The Patriots completed a repeat they’re seeking here 13 years ago thanks more to the four turnovers their defense caused than Brady’s two TD passes. If the Eagles are going to be successful, they’ve got to get into the backfield and rattle a quarterback that has already won five rings.
Philadelphia has an elite playmaker up front in Fletcher Cox and multiple options to deal with Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has been cleared to play and will therefore be the focal point in the passing game.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins is likely to be the most effective option and would be a smart longshot to bet for Super Bowl MVP since a big game shutting down Gronk would be a major theme that would draw major notice. He also owns a 99-yard interception return for a score against Brady and comes into this one knowing his ability to hang with New England’s main weapon will likely be the difference here.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson can certainly help his defense by shortening the game via his prolific rushing attack. Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement will all get touches behind an offensive line that has been able to survive the loss of Peters thanks to Lane Johnson moving over and thriving. With Jason Kelce and guard Brandon Brooks thriving inside, the Eagles should be able to move the ball and move the chains like they want to in order to control time of possession.
To that end, even when Wentz was still in the mix, the defense began to take over and set the tone. The under is 6-3 in Philly’s last nine games and only lost in the NFC Championship game because it got so out of hand since the Vikings managed just seven points. Yes, Foles will have to deal with a defensive game plan Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia have put together to ensure he never gets comfortable, but so long as he avoids being confused into turnovers, the Eagles will have an opportunity to gain revenge for Super Bowl XXXIX.
Pederson had just played his final professional season back in ’04, so this is an entirely different brain trust the Eagles come in with to face Bill Belichick and his staff with. Current coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia were both on that ’04 New England staff in lesser roles and appear poised to each land head coaching roles, in Detroit and Indianapolis, respectively.
If this line gets back up above 4.5, the Eagles will be the heaviest underdog they’ve been all season. Philadelphia went 3-2 straight up and ATS when catching points. It is already accustomed to winning when few believe. It has already proven capable of overcoming injuries that seemed insurmountable, doing so impressively enough that it has drawn true believers. Special teams, an area where New England has typically excelled, could also be an area where the Eagles can make inroads.
"Expect the kicking game to be a factor in this game with an indoor setting and with defenses that excelled at getting 3rd down stops. Philadelphia stopped foes on more than 67 percent of 3rd down tries in the regular season," Nelson said. "While Stephen Gostkowski has been a proven postseason performer, 16 of his 37 field goal makes in the regular season came from 29 or fewer yards. He also missed a field goal in the playoff win against Tennessee. Jake Elliott hasn’t been on this stage but he has a big leg, making 18 of 20 kicks this season from 40 or more yards including a big 53-yard kick before halftime in the divisional win over Atlanta."
At the risk of sounding like Al Pacino's Tony D'Amato character in Any Given Sunday, the Eagles have a chance to grab inches around them through a number of phases of the game. Most important, if Jenkins, Cox and linebackers Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham and Dannell Ellerbe play to their potential, the Eagles defense will give New England plenty of resistance.
Offensively, the rushing attack must handle their business and Foles needs to continue to avoid miscues and keep defenses honest, but Philadelphia has a chance to celebrate finally breaking through and making history with its first Super Bowl triumph.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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