Yes, the New England Patriots have reached the Superbowl… again. In Tom Brady’s 17 years with the team, the Patriots have only failed to reach the playoffs twice. More importantly, since Brady was drafted, the Patriots have reached the Superbowl 7 times and won 5 of them. In other words, the Patriots and Tom Brady have been DOMINANT for the entirety of the the 2nd millennium. The Patriots are walking into Superbowl LII with a record of 13-3 and the number 1 seed in the AFC.
Looking back to the past year, many fans thought that the Patriots were done after the Week 1 42-27 loss to the Alex Smith led Kansas City Chiefs. Tom Brady, now 40 years old, was said to be reaching the end of his career and a rift was apparently growing between Brady, Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft. After a week 4 loss to the Carolina Panthers, many analysts wondered when the Pats were ready to use their young QB Jimmy Garoppolo, much like the Green Bay Packers started Aaron Rodgers as Brett Farve got old. But Brady continued to make heads turn as he led the Patriots to 8 straight wins until losing to the Miami Dolphins on a Monday night in December. With 3 games to go the Buffalo Bills still had a chance at the AFC East crown, and the Pats had to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers who were sitting a game ahead. But New England was able to win the next 3 games and secure the top seed in the AFC, beating the Bills, Steelers and the Jets. In the playoffs, the Pats blew past the Tennessee Titans and survived an upset against the Jacksonville Jaguars, putting them on a crash course against the Philadelphia Eagles in Minneapolis for Superbowl LII.
The Patriots ranked 3rd in Passing TDs, 6th in Rushing TD’s and 2nd in points scored. On the season, Brady passed for 4,577 yards, 32 TDs and 8 interceptions while completing 66 percent of his passes. Over half of Brady’s yards came from Gronk (69 catches, nice…) and Brandin Cooks. The two combined for 2,166 yards and 15 TDs. New England gained 1,889 yards on the ground for a total of 16 TD while averaging 4.2 yards a carry and 118.1 yards a game. Statistically, the Patriots are one of the best offensive teams in the NFL. HOWEVER, they are playing one the best teams defensively, especially on the ground. The Eagles have the best defense against the rush, allowing only 79.2 yards a game. The Eagles have a stout defense that forces turnovers on 15.5% of offensive drives, which ranks them 3rd in the NFL and allows scoring on just a quarter of offensive drives, ranking them 2nd. The Patriots will also have a hard time getting first down against the Eagle’s defense which ranks in the top 10. Now, Brady and Belichick know how to get it done on offense, so I will give the the Patriots a slight advantage now, but they will have to have a strong passing attack to overcome the league’s best rushing defense. More tomorrow on how the Eagles plan to prepare defensively.
The Run-Pass-Option. Philadelphia coach, Doug Pederson and OC Frank Reich have a succeeded well in the RPO, which New England will have to defend well in order to win. According to a study by Pro Football Focus, Nick Foles has completed 93.8% of his RPO passes, compared to 61.5% of non-RPO passes. The Patriots defense ranks 5th worst in the NFL against the RPO, allowing 5.6 yards a play. Two weeks ago against the Jaguars, the Pats were left exposed.
Will be interesting to see how the Pats gameplan for the Eagles RPOs. Jaguars shredded them with same RPO 4 times in first half last week pic.twitter.com/gYJWIPYIjj
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) January 30, 2018
Now the Eagles don’t have the same strength running the ball like Leonard Fournette, but they did run the ball for 2,115 yards and 9 TDs behind LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, ranking 3rd in the NFL. The Pats also struggle with coverage in the zone, which would be necessary to stop the RPO. Also, the Pats would need to play a man defense to cover Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery, who are massive receivers, especially in the redzone. The two have 16 TD’s inside the 20 yard line, and rank 3rd and 4th in the league. A man coverage would cause enough stress on the Patriots linebackers that Blount and Ajayi would be able to make plays up front. The Philadelphia RPO really puts the Patriots at a no-win situation since they play a man defense 51% of the time, a league high. And they would have to, to keep the ball away from Ertz and Jeffery.
Offensively, the Pats have a well-oiled machine, led by Tom Brady. Year of after year, the Pats rank among the best offensive teams in the NFL. But match up issues on defense will plague New England in the Superbowl. If the Eagles can stop Brady early, the Pats don’t stand a chance.
Tomorrow lets see how the Eagles stand statistically.
Stats taken from Pro-Football-Reference.