The result of the game will forever mar Tom Brady’s masterful Super Bowl LII performance, but Brady was at his best in this one, especially in the second half.
The Eagles, as expected, loaded the middle of the field dropping their linebackers into zones and playing most of the game with a single-high safety to take away Brady’s favorite area of the field.
So what did the NFL’s MVP do? He tore up one of the best defenses in the league on the boundaries without his best outside receiver for most of the game in Brandin Cooks.
In all, Brady was 21-32 for 395 yards, three touchdowns, and a passer rating of 139.5 when throwing outside the numbers in Super Bowl LII. With just seven of his completions coming in the middle of the field.
The Patriots got receivers free on the outside with a variety of Patriot staples such as post/wheel combinations, crossing routes, and out routes from the slot against the Eagles’ zone coverages.
Brady was also unbelievably good when under pressure on Sunday night as he has been all season, finishing nine for 18 for 237 yards and a passer rating of 95.8 when under pressure.
Furthermore, we also saw Brady quicken his release as apart of the game plan to combat the Eagles’ relentless pass rush. Brady’s time to throw of 2.55 seconds was over half a second faster than his season average, and closer to his lightning-fast 2.49-second release in 2016.
Brady became the first player in NFL history to throw for 500-plus yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and lose (regular season or playoffs), and set not just a Super Bowl record, but a playoff record with 505 passing yards.
Although Brady didn’t have a huge day attacking the middle of the field, he was still highly productive throwing to receivers out of the slot.
In particular, wide receiver Danny Amendola was once again a slot machine with 118 of his game-high 152 receiving yards coming from out of the slot. Amendola had four of the Patriots’ five first down receptions on third down on Sunday night and had six first down receptions overall.
If you include the postseason, Amendola’s 2.05 yards per route run out of the slot were the second-most in the NFL among wide receivers that spent a minimum of 50% of their snaps inside trailing only the Chargers’ Keenan Allen (2.11).
Finally, it’s worth noting that Dwayne Allen’s slot percentage is so high because the Pats tight end only played two snaps, and ran one pass route the entire game which happened to come out of the slot.
The Patriots’ offensive line had the most difficult matchup of the game going up against the NFL’s best pass rush, and for the most part, performed well considering they protected Brady enough for him to throw for 505 yards.
The Eagles still pressured Brady on 40% of his drop-backs, which is tied for the third-highest pressure rate for an opposing defense against the Patriots this season, but only sacked Brady once, and the Eagles’ season average for pressure rate was 41% in 2017.
Brady was terrific eluding the rush in the pocket, buying himself enough time to find open receivers downfield.
The Patriots’ interior offensive line was able to give Brady enough space to step up in the pocket, which allowed starting tackles Nate Solder and Cameron Fleming to push the Eagles’ pass rushers by Brady.
The lone sack allowed by right guard Shaq Mason was a costly one, as it led to a fumble that all but sealed the victory for the Eagles.
The Eagles moved edge rusher Brandon Graham inside on Mason on the play, something he did at times this season, but did more frequently in the Super Bowl because of the favorable matchup against the Patriots’ guards in pass protection, and Graham’s speed to power rush was too overwhelming for Mason handle.
Although he was hurried quite a bit, and the sack came at a poor time, Brady was still able to operate, and the Eagles pass rush didn’t dominate the day as many had expected.
PASS RUSH/RUN STOPS
After 18 games of logging pressure stats, this was without a doubt the fewest amount of players that contributed a pressure for the Patriots in a game this season.
In all, the Patriots pressured Nick Foles on 32.6% of his drop-backs, which was still around their season average of 33.6%. However, they weren’t able to record a sack in the game for just the second time this season.
There are a number of factors that contributed to the below average play of the pass rush, but here are a few:
First, the fact that only four Patriot defenders recorded a pressure was in part because they didn’t rotate in rookie pass rushers Deatrich Wise Jr. (six snaps) and Adam Butler (13 snaps) as much as usual. Opting to go with veterans James Harrison and Lawrence Guy.
Second, the Eagles’ offensive schemes involve a lot of misdirection and RPO elements that make it extremely difficult to rush the passer.
And third, the Patriots’ defensive front got pushed around against both the run and pass by a terrific Eagle offensive line, which has been among the league’s best all season. In particular, the right side of the Eagles’ offensive line, right tackle Lane Johnson and right guard Brandon Brooks, as well as center Jason Kelce, were terrific throughout.
On the ground, despite four run stops apiece for Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy, the Eagles averaged 6.1 yards per rush, which was the most allowed by the Patriots defense since Week 13.
The Eagles and head coach Doug Pederson deserve all the credit they have received for doing their homework and attacking the weaknesses in the Patriots defense. One of those weaknesses has been defending running plays when the offense is in 11-personnel, or three wide receiver sets, especially when the quarterback is in shotgun.
The Patriots typically defend these looks with five or six defensive backs on the field due to their lack of trustworthy linebackers in coverage, which leaves them lighter along the defensive front.
In fact, the Patriots allowed an average of 6.7 yards per carry on shotgun runs out of 11-personnel, and 4.9 yards per carry out of 11-personnel under center in the 18 games prior to the Super Bowl. The Eagles ran the ball out of 11-personnel on 70% of their rushing attempts and averaged 6.0 yards per carry on Sunday night, according to Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis.
Pederson knew exactly how to attack the Patriots defense and did a terrific job implementing that game plan.
Stating the obvious, it was a rough day all around for the Patriots defense. And the most perplexing decisions from Bill Belichick and his staff came in the Patriots’ secondary.
At this point, everyone knows that the Patriots benched starting cornerback Malcolm Butler out of nowhere the day of the Super Bowl, and it’s fare to say Butler’s absence was a huge win for the Eagles.
Much to Patriots fans dismay, the Pats decided to install a four-safety package involving backup safety Jordan Richards who was in the game because of the trickle-down effect of Butler’s absence.
Without a solid third cornerback option, the Patriots turned to safety Patrick Chung as their nickel corner. Chung played as a slot corner on 36% of his snaps this season, which is the highest of any position he has played. But he mostly covers tight ends not wide receivers and was forced to play a season-high 43 snaps as a slot corner in the Super Bowl.
Typically, with Butler playing outside corner, Eric Rowe would cover the receiver in the slot while Chung would play the hybrid linebacker role in the Patriots’ dime packages as Richards was on Sunday night.
In just 11 snaps in coverage, Richards allowed a team-high 81 yards into his coverage, as the Patriots opted to have him cover Eagles tight end, Zach Ertz, while Patrick Chung mostly saw Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor.
The Patriots eventually turned to cornerback Johnson Bademosi in dime defense, but the damage was already done, and Bademosi missed a key tackle on a third down play in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles did a tremendous job attacking the vulnerabilities in the middle of the Patriots defense, especially in the first half. Pederson got Foles into the game by attacking the short-middle and Foles’ throwing side (right side) of the field, and in the end, 281 of Foles’ 373 yards came targeting receivers over the middle or to his right (75%).
It was a perfect storm for the Patriots defense as Foles feels most comfortable throwing in those directions and it directly attacked the weaknesses the Patriots had at linebacker and slot corner. Foles threw for 192 yards and a touchdown targeting the short-middle and short-right areas of the field alone (short = passes of 0-10 air yards).
And then there was the decision to put their $65 million corner Stephon Gilmore on Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith instead of the much more dangerous Alshon Jeffery in the first half.
That left Eric Rowe on Jeffery and he allowed 51 of his 79 yards in coverage to Jeffrey in the first two quarters of the game, including an incredible touchdown catch by Jeffery in the first quarter.
The Patriots at least corrected that mistake in the second half and had Gilmore shadow Jeffery for the remainder of the game, and Nick Foles targeted Jeffery three times with Gilmore in coverage, and all three passes fell incomplete.
Gilmore, by the way, was terrific and well worth his price tag throughout the playoffs.
In Super Bowl LII, Gilmore allowed just 19 yards into his coverage and had almost as many pass breakups (two) as receptions allowed (three). In the playoffs, Gilmore allowed just 103 yards and a passer rating of 65.4 into his coverage in the Patriots’ three-game run and finished the season with a 89.6 grade from PFF, tied for sixth-highest among all cornerbacks.
However, the decision to bench Malcolm Butler and to put Rowe on Jeffery in the first half more than likely cost the Patriots a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
(h/t Pro Football Focus: https://www.profootballfocus.com/products/elite#edge)