The Eagles’ talented offense, tough defense is enough to beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII But with Belichick and Brady, they’ll have some surprises too
The Philadelphia Eagles winning 38-7 was a shocking result. Few thought the home underdogs would win, let alone blow out the Minnesota Vikings, even among the most optimistic Philly fans. But that’s what happened. I re-watched the game to see how they did it and whether they have a chance in the big game, Super Bowl LII.
Before the ball is snapped, both teams are looking to gain an advantage. Defenses are trying to confuse the opposing quarterback by disguising their blitzes and coverages. And the offense uses formation shifts, motions and dummy cadences to force the defense to shed its disguise. Determined not to give away their blitzes, the Eagles’ defensive alignment to some of the Vikings’ more unusual formations was unorthodox and confusing. And on the first drive Sunday, they only confused themselves.
Case Keenum connected with a virtually unguarded Kyle Rudolph for the Vikings’ only touchdown of the game because the Eagles’ desire to disguise clashed with an odd Vikings formation. With Keenum in shotgun, the Vikes put one running back to his left in the backfield and the other split wide to the right; both receivers were in the right slot, and the tight end was attached on the left. One cornerback aligned over the wide running back, which suggested a zone, but the opposite corner followed the receivers to the right side, as if they were in man coverage, leaving two linebackers to cover the running back and tight end. Initially, both linebackers covered the back as if they thought the cornerback was still there. The result was an easy touchdown.
A play like that could have caused Eagles coaches to simplify their game plan from then on. But they didn’t, and it paid off. They continued to disguise in unique ways and eliminated the costly errors. In the third quarter, the Vikings aligned a running back wide again, and Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins went out to cover him. Jenkins followed the running back as he shifted into the backfield, signaling that he was in man coverage on the back. Then, at the snap of the ball, Jenkins surprised Keenum and blitzed, pressuring Keenum and forcing an incompletion.
Deception like that will go a long way against New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. But Brady will be much harder to surprise, especially in the second half, assuming that the Eagles would have shown all their best stuff in the first half.
Offensively, the Eagles were unstoppable against the Vikings, and I think they are capable of consistently moving the ball and scoring against a much weaker New England defense. Despite being without their starting quarterback in the NFC Championship Game, the Eagles didn’t appear to dumb down their offensive attack at all. They used a variety of formations and players to attack all areas of the field with runs, passes and run-pass options. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles connected on passes of 30-plus yards to four different receivers (Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith). The Eagles used screens, bootlegs, swing passes and slants to force the Minnesota defense to cover the entire width of the field and tackle in space. And Jay Ajayi, behind the Eagles’ powerful offensive line, averaged more than 4 yards a carry against the second-best run defense in the NFL on Sunday.
By now, everyone knows that part of Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s defensive genius is to take away what his opponents do best and force them to play “left-handed.” But what will he do with a team that is as varied in its offensive attack as the Philadelphia Eagles? I know it is never wise to bet against Brady and Belichick, but I think the Eagles are better. And I think they are going to win.