What a night of football! Offense, some defense (let’s be real — barely any defense), missed kicks, a legend in Tom Brady having a legendary night and losing, a backup in Nick Foles winning the MVP, and a big set of cojones on Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.
First and foremost, congrats to the Philadelphia Eagles. They have been a favorite team of mine to cover this season because they play the game the right way. I hate that cliché line, but it’s accurate. They block and tackle extremely well. They don’t beat themselves. They are well coached. They didn’t complain when they lost their future Hall of Fame left tackle, their MVP and franchise QB, their starting MLB, RB, and best special teams player. They just plugged in the next man, coached that player up, and kept chugging along. Howie Roseman, the Eagles’ executive VP of football operations, deserves credit for having the depth on the team to withstand the injuries.
I hope Pederson gets the credit he deserves for guiding this offense throughout the season and, most importantly, his work getting Foles up to speed. He continually put Foles and the offense in winnable situations, whether it was with RPOs (run-pass options), which I thought was something the Eagles needed to do with Foles, or the play-action passes on third down, or having dialed up third-down routes to get guys open vs. man coverage. The Eagles were always winning. Yes, of course, credit goes to Foles, but I hope Pederson gets his due as well.
Pederson stayed aggressive all postseason, right up until end of the Super Bowl, when there were plenty of times he could have made the safe play. He didn’t settle. And while it’s possible he learned from Andy Reid on the perils of being conservative at times, Pederson knew that points are always a premium against the Patriots.
It seems so simple, but what sets coaches apart is having a plan and sticking with it (The MMQB’s Peter King reported that Pederson knew that Foles trick play was going to be dialed up ahead of time in that situation), which is exactly what has made Pederson so impressive to me. He knew that he was going for it, and was prepared with the perfect play. Coaches save a play for this situation, and it’s often a play you’ve practiced for months and haven’t run yet. That was true here, with the Eagles sitting on this play for weeks. It was brilliantly executed and the Eagles got their six points. All told, the Eagles were 2 for 2 on fourth down in the Super Bowl, and 20 for 29 on fourth down all season. They were always prepared for any situation. That’s a result of a great head coach.
Eagles O-line … bravo. These big hog mollies dominated the game — I’m not sure Foles got a hand laid on him. He was able to step up and deliver passes on target and there were massive holes in the run game. The Eagles averaged 6.1 yards a carry, and did it with the Patriots doing exactly what I thought they would: putting a body over Kelce. It didn’t matter. The best unit on the Eagles’ team stepped up in the biggest game of the season.
The second best unit for the Eagles was quiet most of the game, but came alive to seal the win. The Eagles’ D-line was mostly held at bay by the Pats’ O-line, but the longest-tenured Eagles defensive lineman, Brandon Graham, moved inside to beat the Pats’ best offensive lineman Shaq Mason for a strip sack to win the game. I trained with Graham one offseason outside of Detroit — he’s a great guy, and busts his ass in training. Glad to see him make the big play.
The Eagles won this game with a formula I didn’t expect. They didn’t touch Brady for most of the game: Brady threw for 505 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. He was the better quarterback, even though he was throwing to mostly open WRs. The Patriots also added 113 rushing yards and finished with 8.5 yards per play. That should’ve led to a loss for the Eagles and Brady winning his sixth Super Bowl. But it didn’t, because of Graham and Foles.
The Patriots had a sloppy first half. They were in the right place most of the time, had the right play calls up, but just didn’t execute. The ball was thrown behind a guy, the back didn’t get out on the screen, etc … They had chances to score more points in the first half, and didn’t, and it hurt them in the end.
What happened with the benching of Malcolm Butler? Butler has played around 98 percent of the Patriots’ snaps this season, then was benched for the biggest game of the season. I don’t quite get it, even if Belichick keeps saying it was an on-the-field decision. There’s zero chance it was for on-the-field play. I’m very interested to see what story comes out about this odd situation. We’ve seen some on social media, including ex-Patriots players mentioning a toxic locker room. We’ll find out if this is just noise, or if we are about to see the Patriots’ dynasty start crumbling.
The thing is, Brady was able to hide a lot of Patriots’ defensive deficiencies very well this season. Yes, the Patriots led the league in scoring defense since Week 5, but they were often working from terrific field position thanks to Brady, and are the classic bend-but-don’t-break defense. The Eagles broke them last night.
How’d they do it? By taking advantage of what a defense like that gives them. Bend-but-don’t-break defenses can’t rush the passer on a consistent basis, check. They don’t move well at linebacker and can’t cover the field, check. Both of those don’t matter as much in the red zone because the field shortens. The QB tends to not drop as deep in the red zone because the passes come out sooner with the smaller windows. Pass rushers have an easier path to the quarterback. Also, when your defense is playing from ahead, you get to dictate the tempo on defense. Brady will be back, and I think he’ll continue to be brilliant, but with the departure of defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, and what’s looking like an exit for Butler, the Patriots will need a major overhaul on defense.
The officials get shit on 24/7, but they were good last night. Zach Ertz took three steps, then dove into the end zone, and the easy call stands. The Corey Clement play was close, but I’m not sure there was enough evidence to overturn it. I’d rather the officials err on the side of allowing points instead of taking them away, and I wonder if the league office told them the same heading into this weekend.
The issue again is consistency. It looked like the Eagles had only six players on the line of scrimmage for the trick play, but Alshon Jeffery confirmed he asked the line judge if he was on the line, and the official said yes. So that’s not a foul. There were no holds called on either line, which is both a function of their technique and officials allowing physical play. Overall, a good effort from the zebras.
RPO, RPO, RPO … the favorite phrase of the telecast. However, it was often used incorrectly. I will be putting together a little piece this week on the difference between RPO and a play-action pass.
Quick look ahead to 2018 now: We get Carson Wentz, Aaron Rodgers, and Deshaun Watson back from injury. Alex Smith is in Washington, and there will possibly a new QB in Jacksonville ... which will make them a favorite to repeat as AFC South champions. Jimmy Garoppolo will get a big contract from the 49ers and a full offseason. Jared Goff will get another year in Sean McVay’s system. We will have a possible six QBs taken in the first round. Oh, and we still don’t know where Kirk Cousins ends up. And with all of that, Vegas still has the Patriots as the favorites to win Super Bowl 53! Ha — some things never change.