The Patriots went 4-2 in those games, averaging a 29.2-19.8 score, while the Eagles went 5-1, averaging a 26.5-19.5 score. The Patriots didn’t turn the ball over in any of those games and earned a turnover margin of +8, while the Eagles turned the ball over eight times and managed a turnover margin of +3.
Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reached out to the head coaches of the Chargers and Panthers to gain insight on how the two teams approached their games against the Patriots and what they considered to be the keys of the game.
1. Keep Tom Brady off the field
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn and Panthers head coach Ron Rivera agree that the best way to beat the Patriots is to prevent Tom Brady from being on the field because eventually he’s going to score points.
“Defensively, we had to be really good on third down, we had to win third down,” Rivera said. “That was a huge emphasis going into the game, because you didn’t want to give Tom Brady extra snaps. We had to limit his chances. And we had to run the ball successfully, and if not that, our short passing game had to be there so we could complete passes to keep the clock going.
“We know what Tom is,” Rivera added, “and especially in the fourth quarter. The dude is phenomenal.”
The Eagles have shown an ability to control the clock thanks to their outstanding offensive line, so they’re certainly capable of achieving this first point.
2. Pressure Tom Brady up the middle
This is no surprise as this has been considered the cornerstone of any game plan to defeat the Patriots. Anthony Lynn believes Fletcher Cox will need a big game against the Patriots quality interior line and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles moved him across from Joe Thuney to generate the most pressure.
The idea is that Brady is extremely comfortable moving up in the pocket to evade pressure from the edge, but he can get flustered when the pressure comes up the middle. But more importantly, pressure up the middle with linebackers can prevent the running backs from leaking to the outside as receivers since they have to stay inside to help block, eliminating one of Brady’s safety blankets.
3. Add some wrinkles in high leverage situations
Both coaches admit that Belichick knows every single tendency for every single team in important situations- third down, red zone, two minute, fourth quarter- and that means opposing teams need to add a few wrinkles to catch him off guard.
Just a few wins during these high leverage scenarios can tip the scale of the game in favor of Philadelphia.
None of these suggestions are really surprises, but then again the “blueprint” to beating the Patriots has been widely available. It’s just a matter of whether or not teams can execute that blueprint and more often than not they fail to stick to the plan for the full 60 minute game, while the Patriots always execute their plan.
“[The Patriots] don’t always bring in the most talented athletes, but they bring in an athlete that fits their system, an athlete that’s tough, a smart athlete that’s not gonna make too many dumb decisions,” Lynn explained. “If you can match that for four quarters, your chances are good. I can’t tell with how many times I’ve played against this team, you lose the game because you beat yourself. They don’t necessarily beat you, you beat yourself.
“And they will allow you to do that. Coach Belichick has always been game-plan specific, but there have been times against us where he’d play certain coverages that would allow us to move the ball on the ground and through the air, but it feels like he knows that you get too many opportunities, you’re gonna screw it up. They count on that. They actually count on you screwing it up.”
The Patriots win by making fewer mistakes than the other team and their entire defensive game plan is predicated on the fact that teams can’t string together 10 or more consecutive plays without making a mistake that ends the drive.
Lynn and Rivera didn’t really give many points on how to beat the Eagles, which is kind of how this game is being framed. It’s about whether or not the Eagles can defeat the Patriots and what they have to do to achieve victory. If the Patriots are able to execute their game plan, then they’re just expected to win.
The only point they offered was that Eagles quarterback Nick Foles struggles to improvise when the play breaks down, so the Patriots should pressure him and force him to hold on to the football and maybe make a mistake.
And if the Patriots are able to rattle Foles, then the assumption is that New England should win fairly easily.