The New England Patriots found a way to dispatch the Jacksonville Jaguars and their elite pass defense in the AFC Championship Game, but it doesn’t get any easier for Tom Brady and company in the Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles have a dominant pass rush and they’re outstanding at defending the run without any glaring personnel weaknesses to exploit. I spoke with Brandon Lee Gowton of BleedingGreenNation.com to get insight on how teams have been able to succeed against the Eagles this season and there are some clear paths for production.
1. What is the most successful way teams have attacked the Philadelphia secondary?It’s no secret (especially since I already saw an article on Pats Pulpit about it) that the Eagles had their worst defensive games of the season against the New York Giants, which doesn’t make a ton of sense since the Giants sucked in 2017.
The reason why the Giants had success, though, is because Eli Manning was able to get the ball out quick. Doing that neutralized the Eagles’ pass rush and exposed the secondary. Philadelphia especially struggled to defend the slant route. The Giants kept getting seven yards a pop. Eventually, missed tackles would lead to bigger gains. And then the Giants used the slants to set up double moves on sluggo routes. Philly’s corners have a penchant for being aggressive and that can burn them on such plays.
Now, it should be noted that the Eagles won both of those games against the Giants. So it’s not like it was a totally fool-proof plan by New York. The problem with trying to dink-and-dunk down the field all game long is that there are going to be some mistakes made. Maybe there’s a fumble, or someone runs the wrong route. Maybe a ball gets tipped and there’s an interception, just like what happened with Eli Manning.
But yeah, if I was trying to attack the Eagles’ defense, I’d try to get the ball out quick. Once the quick passing game is established, then it’s time to take some deep shots. Philly’s secondary isn’t trash but they can be had if the pass rush isn’t helping them.
2. How are the Eagles linebackers in coverage and how will they try to cover the Patriots running backs and tight ends?
The Eagles mainly use two linebackers: Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks. Bradham is actually really good in coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, the 28-year-old backer ranks second in coverage snaps/target, coverage snaps/reception, and yards allowed/coverage snap. You can turn on the Eagles-Panthers game to see Bradham at his best. He was able to handle covering Ed Dickson and Christian McCaffrey at various points in the game. He’ll obviously be tested by the Patriots’ billion running backs in this matchup, but I like his chances.
Mychal Kendricks is a different story. The 2012 second-round pick is having a strong year, no doubt, but he’s not known for being great in coverage. I wouldn’t say he’s been a disaster in that area this year, but we’ve seen him struggle in this regard in the past. So I don’t feel awesome about it, but I’m not totally panicking about his chances either.
Dannell Ellerbe is the Eagles’ starting middle linebacker in base defense, which they don’t use very often. He could be a liability if the Patriots get him matched up in a bad spot.
As far as covering Gronk goes, I imagine Malcolm Jenkins will draw that matchup. Jenkins is obviously a safety but he’s played a quasi-linebacker role since Jordan Hicks went down with a season-ending injury. (Speaking of Hicks, he’s a stud in coverage. Too bad the Eagles don’t have him for this game). Jenkins is at his best matched up against bigger players. It’s the small, shifty guys that give him problems. Gronk and Jenkins should have some good battles.
3. Can you name an Eagles player on defense that most fans might not know, but should have a huge impact in the Super Bowl?
On defense, I’m going with Patrick Robinson. He only signed for a veteran minimum deal in free agency and really struggled in training camp. But then he turned it around out of nowhere to become a really important part of this Eagles defense. P-Rob had been real solid in the slot. He interception against the Vikings was the turning point of the NFC Championship Game. If the Patriots look to go to a quick passing game, P-Rob is a guy who could jump a route or break up some passes to disrupt the Patriots’ offense.