It’s time to throw a little Match-up Mania at the de facto American holiday known as Super Bowl XLII. Sure, it’s still more than a week away, but in case the Senior Bowl, Pro Bowl, or checking out Sports Betting Dime’s prop bets for Super Bowl LII doesn’t satisfy your hunger, here’s a breakdown of key elements of the big game.
Tom Brady vs. The Media
I lead with this because this battle may already be lost. The narrative out there is to avoid giving the Patriots any bulletin board material to hype them up any more than a Super Bowl may be inclined to do. This holds especially true for Tom Brady. While there’s plenty of stuff out there that proclaims the Golden Boy Hall of Fame quarterback a celestial being worthy of shrine and worship, there just as many pieces with tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theories about how the NFL and their officials are in league with one another to perpetuate New England as a dynasty built on deceit.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, the fact is if Brady gets eyes on this (or rather has gotten) the battle is over right there. This is a guy who openly wept on camera recounting his disappointment being drafted in the 6th round years after the event having already cemented his destiny for a bust in Canton.
If the intimation is that he couldn’t do it without help, you better bet — he’s gonna work to help you see to the contrary. Of course, the sensible and gracious fans of Philadelphia will in no way contribute to any banter out there to further motivate the opposing field general (Note: Sarcasm)
GRONK vs. The Eagles Defense
Patriot Tight End Rob Gronkowski has proven time and again that he is completely unfair to cover. You try to put a linebacker on him, he’s too fast. You put a safety on him, and he physically abuses them. The dude finds a way to not only get open for first down yardage on a regular basis, he is also an underrated run blocker.
So if you are an Eagles linebacker freshly ear-holed on a previous running play, when the lumbering mass known as Gronk is bearing down on you, the inclination may be to brace for impact. And the instant you do that, that same lumbering mass changes direction with the grace and precision of a Swiss timepiece. The best way to prevent this is to make attention to Gronkowski a team responsibility. Mix and match who lines up across from him situationally. Defensive backs for the open field and linebackers for short yardage and redone looks. The one unifying factor for whoever is assigned is simple. Knock him off his route regardless of whether he’s run blocking or executing a pass pattern.
The Eagles Front vs. The Pats Running Corps
In addition to Gronk as a multi-tiered threat, running backs James White and Dion Lewis must be watched just as closely. As capable as they are in the run game, turning up the turf out of the backfield is where they shine brightest. If a defender gets caught moving forward anticipating a ground attack, the next thing they know they are several steps behind a wheel route flinging their hands up in the desperate hoping that ten stitches on Brady’s hand are enough for him to short the throw for you to bat it down. Spoiler alert — it’s not.
The mission for the Eagles is to have someone in front of a running back at all times to not only control the ability to scamper for yards but to bump them off their timing in the air attack. If you need an example of how to do that, just observe the game vs. the Jags in the AFC Championship.
The Eagles Running Corps vs. the Pats Defense
Another element of interest is Philadelphia’s ball carriers. Jay Ajayi was a member of the Miami Dolphins this time last year. As such, not only has he seen New England on the field in the past, he has had the opportunity to develop an animosity toward Bob Kraft’s franchise one develops as a member of the AFC East Division. But thanks to a trade in the middle of the season, the former Phin dove head first to help the Eagles fly scoring a touchdown in his very first outing wearing green.
Paired with him is former Patriot LeGarrette Blount. After years of smoking defenses using blunt trauma in the trenches to light up the scoreboard, Blount is prepared to show his team what it was they shipped away. With this pairing of backfield big men bashing the rock, who is better qualified to scrounge up ground yards to chew up the clock to keep the Patriots offense off the field?
Nick Foles vs. the Big Opportunity
There’s a commonality in all Patriots Super Bowl appearances — win or lose. The games are all close and could be brought down to a single moment. Both franchises duke it out on the field for three quarters, but the game falls to a single play late in the game. Whether it’s a helmet catch by David Tyree or a freak reception by Julian Edelman off of someone’s foot, there’s a defining moment for teams to decide their fate against New England.
The Jags faced something similar when they had a 10-point lead over the Pats, but then failed to perform offensively. Had Jacksonville turned the fumble recovery by Miles Jack into fourth-quarter points instead of converting zero third downs in the period, we aren’t talking Tom Brady, we’re talking Sacksonville.
If faced with the same situation, can backup quarterback Nick Foles deliver the big throw that Blake Bortles failed to for the Jaguars? Can he help the Eagles fly in the big moment to win Super Bowl XLII if it comes?