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These are the plays the Eagles need to run to win the Super Bowl

Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz opens the playbook to show us how the Eagles could pull off the upset this weekend.

It’s here! On Sunday we will get to watch Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis between the New England Patriots — who are looking for their sixth title for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady — and the Philadelphia Eagles, looking for their first title in their franchise’s third Super Bowl appearance. On paper, this Super Bowl sets up to be a fantastic matchup.

This won’t be your usual game preview, where we break down position by position. I actually think this matchup is pretty simple.

The Eagles are more talented than the Patriots. They have the better lines. But — and this is a big but — the the Patriots have Brady and the Eagles have Nick Foles.

That’s where the Patriots will always have the edge. No matter the deficit, whether New England is down 28-3 (sorry Atlanta) or down 10 in the fourth quarter (sorry again, Atlanta) they are never out of the game. So I can’t pick against the Patriots. But if the Eagles get their usual from their team, plus average from Foles with no turnovers, the game will be close.

Remember, the Belichick-era Patriots have won Super Bowls by six points, four points, and three points three times, while losing two Super Bowls by three and four. The game will be close.

In this preview, I’m going to focus on adjustments we might see in this game.

We know the general thought process when facing Tom Brady, and I’m sure the Jim Schwartz-led Eagles’ defense will try doing it: Get pressure up the middle and force Brady into seeing ghosts (pressure from players he assumes are coming), like he does in the GIF below. If you notice, there isn’t much pressure to start the down, yet you can still see Brady looking around to see if there are guys coming to hit him.

So the Eagles will attack the Patriots’ protection, and they have to stay aggressive. They will use man coverage, because that tends to make routes be a tad longer, and also because Brady eats up zone coverage. I think that matchup is fairly straightforward.

A more intriguing matchup is the one between the Patriots’ defense and the Eagles’ offense. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson has done an outstanding job with formations, personnel, and finding ways to make plays with Foles, who stepped into the QB job when Carson Wentz went down with an injury earlier this season. That will have to continue this Sunday against Belichick.

Complicating things for Pederson, however, is the fact that Belichick has had two weeks to prepare, and they know the Patriots will have something up their sleeves to counter the Eagles’ high-powered offense.

Despite an extremely slow start, since Week 5 the Patriots’ defense has been excellent. Since then, they lead all NFL defenses in PPG and sacks, and are 10th in passer rating, and they will attack some of the tendencies of the Eagles.

The Eagles’ offensive line has been outstanding this season, and they were again last Sunday. Two of their strengths are getting free up to the second level and executing blocks, which you can all find here in my Eagles X’s and O’s run-game video. Notice the center Jason Kelce and right guard Brandon Brooks.

One of the Eagles’ favorite concepts is pin/pull because it “cuts” the defense, which gives the running back defined reads. It also takes away the work of a double team fighting through a down lineman to the linebacker, and puts the Eagles’ OL into favorable positions to block linebackers.

And here’s more of a traditional pin/pull concept vs. the Giants.

How does New England stop all this? Well, they cover up the interior linemen with bodies.

When the center is covered, he’s not pulling. Covering the interior linemen with defensive tackles also eliminates some run schemes. The Eagles would be forced to run zone, or a pin/pull concept without the center pulling. In either of these schemes, getting Kelce up to the second level would be tougher. He’d have to fight through a zero nose, and then the backside blocks would be difficult.

It would make sense that the Patriots would play a bear front (five D-linemen covering up the OL), because it would typically lead to man coverage, which is something the Patriots would do. The Patriots aren’t going to fear the Eagles’ WRs, and they will try shutting down the Eagles’ run game. Lastly, man coverage can disrupt the timing of their pass routes. I like it as an option for the Patriots.

Modest gains on run plays turn into monster gains when wide receivers block well. And the Eagles have rookie Mack Hollins, who’s an excellent run blocker. On Blount’s touchdown against the Vikings, notice how Hollins, No. 10, blocks the down safety in the hole. If Hollins gives a half effort or whiffs, this play is a no gain. Instead, it’s a touchdown.

And here’s another example where Hollins is being used as a blocker.

Here’s the only thing: If I know this, then the Patriots know this. So I LOVE the idea of the Eagles using these concepts as set ups for play-action passing. They can use the first block to get the Patriots’ defense to bite, which could be an easy way to score points in the red zone. That’s not an easy thing to do, either: Since Week 5, the Patriots are third in the league in TDs allowed in the red zone.

The Eagles can also use that fly sweep action for this concept. They just have to make sure that Hollins runs his route near the numbers to stay away from the free safety.

Lastly, we have all seen how Foles has succeeded with the run-pass option (RPO) concept, which is something I suggested they use because Foles had great success with that concept under Chip Kelly. That success has carried over to this season. In an RPO, the quarterback is either reading a defensive end, a linebacker, or a box count. If there’s too many in the box, throw the ball behind the defender.

In this example, it’s a box count, which is mostly what the Eagles do. Vikings’ safety Harrison Smith is down, so Foles throws the slant behind him.

If you’re a Patriots fan, you’re probably hoping this paragraph is me explaining how they’re going to stop this. But here’s the problem: I don’t know how New England will stop this scheme. The only way to try to stop it is to stop the run game first. If there’s no threat of the run game, there’s no threat of the “play action” off the run action. I’m excited to see how this goes down.

So, with all that being said ... my final score prediction is 24-23 New England, and a sixth Super Bowl for Belichick and Brady. If the Eagles won, it wouldn’t surprise me at all, but I can’t pick against Brady when he’s playing against Foles. I hope the Eagles prove me wrong. I’ve enjoyed watching them play this season.

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