Sorting the Playoff Pile: Why counting out the Eagles in Super Bowl is a big mistake
Breaking down why the underdogs are very dangerous against the Patriots
Are you gonna bark all day, little doggy, or are you gonna bite? Mr. Blonde's trash-talking inquiry is applicable to the Eagles, the oddest underdog of the 2018 NFL playoffs, cast into the corner of the NFC and now lashing back out at everyone who discarded their championship hopes. And here we are again, with the Eagles checking in as in Super Bowl LII to the Patriots.
This is nothing new for Philly, and just like the last two weeks, no one should be counting them out against the Pats, for a variety of reasons.
First, the Eagles are well coached. They have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and proved as much in Nick Foles? The backup to Carson Wentz, shrugged off as a weakness by virtually every prognosticator, became a strength in the biggest game of the year for the Eagles, throwing for 352 yards and three touchdowns. He was, quite literally, perfect in the second half.. The Vikings had the best defense in the NFC this season, and they were thoroughly exposed by ...
And those numbers were with the Eagles holding onto a 24-7 lead: Doug Pederson deserves a ton of credit for putting his foot on the gas and snuffing out any hope of the Vikings coming back, and Foles deserves an equal amount of credit for executing. Philly is built on the offensive and defensive lines; Howie Roseman's vision for this club resulted in enough depth that the Eagles could sustain a loss of their MVP quarterback (Wentz), top-tier tackle (Jason Peters) and emerging young middle linebacker (Jordan Hicks) and still secure homefield advantage and storm into the Super Bowl.
What you saw from the Eagles on Sunday was high-level stuff from Pederson, who schemed guys wide open for Foles. The Eagles backup quarterback, who was 2 for 12 on passes over 20 yards in the regular season according to Pro Football Focus, was slinging bombs down the field all game long against one of the best secondaries in football.
Second, the Eagles are loaded with talent. Even after losing those players, Philadelphia has a star wideout in Alshon Jeffery, a star tight end in Zach Ertz, two dangerous downhill runners in LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, one of the best right tackles in football in Lane Johnson, an excellent center in Jason Kelce and a defensive line that is the best in football, with Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett and Chris Long providing wave after wave of pressure for opposing quarterbacks.
Third, that talent is constructed in a way that should be familiar to Patriots fans, and not in a good way. The Eagles bear a striking resemblance to the 2011 Giants team that upended the Pats in Indianapolis. Philly has a ton of pass rushers (check), multiple running backs who can both pound the ball and put up numbers in the pass game (check), a streaky quarterback who can make big throws (check), a diverse set of pass catchers who can take the top off a defense (check), a strong offensive line (check) and an underrated defensive secondary capable of making plays (check). It's not an entirely precise formula here, but when you look at the strength of the second Giants team that beat the Pats and the strength of this Eagles team, it's not hard to draw parallels.
On a text thread with a couple of friends during the Eagles game, we were debating whether not Philly could trade Carson Wentz or if he was losing money on his second contract with every big Foles completion. I think we were joking? I was joking. But Foles has a history of doing some good things, both small and big sample size, in the NFL. He was a third-round pick -- that means something. He once set the record for best touchdown-to-interception ratio for a full NFL season, until Tom Brady broke it in 2016. He owns a tie for the record for most touchdown passes in a single game, with seven. Seven!
Foles could show up to the Super Bowl and roll over like a dog. Or he could do what the rest of the Eagles doing and just keep barking back at everyone who doubts him.
Comeback of the Week
What's there left to say about Tom Brady? Myles Jack might have figured it out, or at least closed the argument for trying to find new things to say about the Patriots quarterback after he led the Pats back from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit.
"It's hard to describe it. On one end, you're like, 'We could have won the game.' On the other end, 'Tom Brady is Tom Brady, and you just got Tom Brady'd again,'" Jack said after the game.
Most of the Jaguars defenders echoed that sentiment; how could you not after seeing what Brady did against the Jags? In the final two minutes of the second quarter, Brady waltzed the Patriots down the field -- with 47 penalty yards thrown in to help -- and led the Pats to a touchdown that cut the Jaguars' lead to 14-10. When he got the ball in that situation, you knew the Patriots were scoring. And the same is held true for the Pats getting the ball back, down 20-17, with less than five minutes remaining.
Put the '85 Bears out there if you want. It doesn't matter. Brady was going to find guys and figure out a way to give the Patriots the lead. He did just that, hanging in the pocket long enough for Danny Amendola, a star in his own right on Sunday, to get open in the back of the end zone and make a Playoff Danny Amendola touchdown catch.
This isn't a "choke" or "gag" by the Jaguars, per se. It's not even the biggest playoff deficit the Patriots have overcome in the last 365 days. But there was no reason Jacksonville couldn't have advanced to the Super Bowl, and they know it.
If you're Jacksonville and you are dominating in terms of time of possession -- the Jaguars would finish with a 35:08-24:52 edge and it was even more skewed going into the fourth quarter -- and you're holding a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and you've got the Patriots in a third-and-18 situation, you need to close the game out. The Jaguars didn't.
Blame the refs if you want. That's kind of fair: the Patriots had a single penalty in that game. One.
All Dion Lewis on a play that was almost unbelievable it was so athletic, and he was whistled down by the refs even though they got the fumble right.about the refs laughing with the Patriots aside, New England got some big pass interference calls in a game where the refs were "letting them play," and the Jaguars did not. Myles Jack stripped
If you want to rule a ball is fumbled, don't blow the play dead. You can go back and review it later. Once the whistle sounds, it's over. NFL refs are terrible about this, and it might have cost the Jaguars.
But the reality is the Jaguars came into the second half with a pretty conservative gameplan. They believed they were better than the Patriots for the first half, and they were right. But they changed what got them the lead. After spending the first half attacking with Blake Bortles on first down, the Jags decided to run Leonard Fournette into the middle of the line on first down over and over again.
The result was short drives late in the game that didn't take any time off the clock and the Patriots getting opportunities to climb back into the game. Give Tom Brady an inch and he'll take a mile.
Flea Flicker(s) of the Week
For whatever reason, we managed to get not one, not two, but three flea-flicker passes from the four teams who played in championship round on Sunday.
Those odds are kind of improbable. Even if you factor in the idea of teams emptying out their playbook near the end of the season, it's impossible to expect three quarters of the teams playing on a given Sunday to bust out the flea flicker.
Which one was best? It's a no-brainer: the Eagles.
Philly was leading 24-7, so a flea flicker was utterly unnecessary. The Eagles' flea flicker resulted in a back-breaking touchdown that ended the game and snuffed out any hope the Vikings had. The Eagles' play was against a really dangerous defense (so was the Patriots, and Brady made a great throw). And the Eagles' play featured Foles throwing a laser for at touchdown pass. Plus, it came in a game after we already saw two happen in the previous game.
Exciting Spousal News Break of the Week
It's not often for an NFL star tight end to have his wife playing in a sporting event at the same time he's trying to win the NFC Championship Game, but that was the case for Zach Ertz on Sunday night, as his wife Julie Ertz was playing in a game for the U.S. Women's soccer team. She was doing her best not to check the score while playing and said she texted with Zach up to the moment they had to stop.
The first thing she did after the game? Find out what happened. And she lost it.
Some reporters grabbed the video and showed it to Ertz in the locker room and he lost it as well.
Philadelphia Is Burning Video(s) of the Week
Philly is going insane right now. There will be hundreds of these videos that pop up at some point. Soak in some of them now.
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