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New England Patriots – Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl LII Key Matchups

Steve Balestrieri
February 2, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

And then there were two. The Patriots and the Eagles rightfully face off for the Super Bowl LII bragging rights for the final game of the 2017 NFL season. The teams are remarkably evenly matched. Each is the #1 seed in their respective conferences. Both were 13-3 in the regular season. Each had a close playoff game and a blowout.

The Eagles had a close win over Atlanta and blew out the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. The Patriots blew out Tennessee and then had a close, come-from-behind win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

During the season the Patriots scored one point more than Philadelphia offensively, 458-457, while the Eagles defense bested New England by a single point defensively 295-296. Even? I don’t know how it gets any closer.

This year’s Super Bowl will be broadcast by NBC on Sunday, February 4, at 6:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on NBC Channel 10. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michelle Tafoya will work from the sidelines... The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (15-3) came back from a 10-point 4th quarter deficit with Tom Brady firing two touchdown passes to Danny Amendola to beat Jacksonville 24-20.

The Eagles (15-3) blew out the Minnesota Vikings 38-7, by scoring 38 unanswered points. Nick Foles threw three touchdowns and the Eagles punched their ticket easily.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Eagles are meeting for just the 14th time. Philadelphia leads the all-time series 7-6. The two teams met once in the Super Bowl already with New England beating Philadelphia 24-21 in SB XXXIX where Deion Branch took home MVP honors with 11 catches for 133 yards.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Eagles Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Philadelphia
The Patriots running game has been extremely effective with Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead as a dynamic 1-2 punch that is effective in the passing game as they are in the running game. Lewis will be the main guy in the running game and he’ll have a tall order this week.

Philadelphia had the #1 rush defense in the league in 2017 allowing only 79.2 yards per game. The big men in the middle, Fletcher Cox, and Timmy Jernigan make it very hard to run inside, especially where the Patriots like to run by stuffing up everything at the point of attack.

In order for the Patriots to be successful, they are going to have to remain balanced. So play-action passing is key here. Josh McDaniels will have to get a bit creative here, mixing in some draws and Jet Sweeps to take advantage of their aggressive pass rush, but this will be some tough sledding this week.

Patriots WRs vs Eagles Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game will tremendously benefit by having Rob Gronkowski cleared for this game. Although he’s been practicing, as of right now (late Weds. night), he still hasn’t cleared concussion protocol.

Tom Brady can spread the ball around with Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and out of the backfield with James White, Lewis and Burkhead. But having Gronkowski out there and healthy makes it all go.

Philly’s pass defense is built around that terrific front four (read seven). They can freely mix things up and substitute. Their subpackage pass rush is especially effective where they move Brandon Graham inside next to Cox and have Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett as edge guys. Protection for Brady will be the key here as the Eagles don’t get tons of sacks but DO get tons of pressure.

One area to watch, Philly will probably play much more man coverage in this game. They played a lot of zone during the season and the Patriots, if Brady has time to throw will attack the linebackers with play action and Ronald Darby on the perimeter. Look for them to take some shots down the field early.

Next up the Philadelphia offense:

Eagles RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Philadelphia

The Eagles have two very good and varied backs in LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi in the running game. Philly is using both in a committee approach and goes with the hot hand They are very effective at running the ball averaging 132.2 yards per game.

The Patriots run defense has been terrific down the stretch and into the playoffs. With Malcom Brown and Kyle Van Noy healthy again as well as the addition of James Harrison, they slowed the running games of both Tennessee and Jacksonville.

The Eagles will want to run to take the pressure off of Nick Foles and give him the option of play action as well. While the Eagles will get their yards on the ground, I look for them to slow down the running game and force Foles to beat them.

Eagles WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England
The Eagles passing game was a question mark after Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL. But Foles has answered his critics with a pair of playoff wins, including a blowout conference championship win where he carved up the NFC’s best defense in Minnesota. The RPO (run-pass option) we’ve all heard about is their bread and butter and Foles has Zach Ertz as the team’s leading receiver at tight end and their go-to guy. But Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith, and Nelson Agholor give them plenty of weapons to throw the ball to.

The Patriots defense has been very good down the stretch and the strength is the secondary with Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler and Eric Rowe at corner. Jonathan Jones who recently went on IR may have been a better matchup with Agholor because of his speed but it will be interesting to see how they line up.

The key for New England is to keep generating pressure with their front four, where coincidentally the Patriots have had 11 sacks in their two playoff games, something no one is mentioning. And relying on their corners to remain in tight coverage. Containing the RPOs (something Jax ran) requires discipline and gap control. The chess match here should be a fascinating one. Watch for Trey Flowers here, he’s primed for a big game. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Special Teams continue to be among the best in the NFL. Stephen Gostkowski had a very solid season and his pooch kickoffs consistently put opponents deep in their own end. Ryan Allen was the underrated difference in the conference championship game, pinning the Jags deep in their own end ….field position here will be key.  Pro-Bowl ST player Matthew Slater on the coverage units.

The Eagles are very solid on Special Teams with kicker Jake Elliott and punter Donnie Jones. The coverage units are very good as well but no one’s STs units have been better than New England’s down the stretch.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Well, here we go… .This one should be a Super Bowl worthy of its name. As we pointed to above, the teams are evenly matched and both, being the #1 seeds have earned the right to be here.

I look for a high scoring game, it may not begin that way, but like the 2003 game with Carolina and New England, I see things heating up. This one will be a back and forth affair. I see Agholor and Amendola having big games for each team. The key for each team will be field position and not be turning the ball over.

But in a close game like this, I don’t ever bet against Tom Brady and I think he gets it done once again with a late score to bring home Super Bowl victory number six. Cue up the Duck Boats Marty, there will be a parade next week. Patriots 31-28

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

NFL Combine, Patriots Have Plenty of Options at Edge Rusher

Steve Balestrieri
March 6, 2017 at 5:37 am ET

 The NFL is a passing league and the quarterbacks are the driving force in it. Some of the most important players on each team are the quarterbacks and those players trying to sack them.

The Patriots will have some work to do to replenish their players on the edge in 2017. Prior to the 2016 season, they traded away Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals. And now Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard are free agents and neither is likely to return. That leaves them with Trey Flowers who shined down the stretch for the team and steady, reliable veteran Rob Ninkovich, who is closer to the end of his run than the beginning.

But the good news is, despite free agency starting this week, the NFL Draft will be chock full of talented edge rushers. There are several players available that may be of interest to the Patriots as either a defensive end or as an outside linebacker. We’ll list a few here, some have already been linked to the Patriots.

While Miles Garrett is far above everyone else with his combine showing, forget about him coming to New England. His performance solidified what we already knew, he’s going to be the #1 pick and is heading to the Cleveland Browns. Ditto for Solomon Thomas from Stanford and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett. They should all be gone before New England is on the clock. And Malik McDowell who had a very good day at the Combine on Sunday? I think the Patriots pass on him, he doesn’t seem like their type of player with his lack of effort at times at MSU.

So. who may be around for the Pats to select? Here are some intriguing players to do some thinking about:

Taco Charlton from Michigan is an athletic big man at 6’6, 277-pounds and can play on the outside or kick in to be an interior pass rusher. He had 9.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss for a stout Michigan defense in 2016 and would be a great fit for what the Patriots love to do.

“I play a little bit of every position, inside, outside. I’ve played heavy, I’ve played light,” Charlton said at the Combine. “Look at my pass-rush moves, I’ve done a little of everything. My arsenal is wide, I can stab, I can bull, I can spin, I can speed rush. So, the arsenal I have and the combination of all the positions I’ve played: three-tech, four-tech, five-tech, weak-side end, all of those things kind of add up to separate me a little bit.”

Charlton is still filling out his massive frame and has possibly not even scratched the surface on his potential. Has the prototypical size, length, athleticism, to be a dominant pass rusher in the league.

Carl Lawson from Auburn looks the part as an edge rusher in the NFL. He’s 6’2, 253-pounds with a chiseled upper body and had the most bench presses for defensive linemen at the Combine with 35. He also had the fastest time in the 20-Yard Shuttle Run with a time of 4:19. The shuttle run measures lateral quickness and agility.

Lawson had issues with injuries in 2014-15 but he put it together for War Eagles this past season. He logged 13.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. He has very good power off the edge and is aggressive.

With his injury history, Lawson may drop into the 2nd round which would be a nice pickup for a team looking for an explosive edge rusher.

Charles Harris from Missouri is a hybrid edge rusher who can be a DE/OLB at the next level. He ran a 1.65 split which is a good indicator of burst and explosion at the line. Harris is 6’2, 253, and has excellent agility and footwork.

He was arguably the smoothest dropping into coverage and changing direction at the Combine on Sunday. Missouri has a history of producing very good edge rushers and Harris in 2015-16 showed what he can do. With 30.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks in those two seasons, Harris is another intriguing prospect.

He’s versatile can play defensive end on either side or stand up as an outside linebacker. Harris plays with a high motor and is very athletic.

Kansas State’s Jordan Willis had a tremendous showing at the Combine and seemed to put to rest the concerns that he was too stiff and sluggish to be an effective edge rusher. Willis finished second among defensive linemen only to Myles Garrett in the vertical jump with a leap of 39 inches. He finished second to Hasson Reddick in the 40-yard dash at 4.53 seconds. He won the all-important (especially to the Patriots), three-cone drill at 6.85 seconds and tied for third in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.28 seconds.

When looking at his game tape Willis appeared to be a nice complimentary sub-rusher. But with his dedication to improving himself this spring, he’s shown that with some more time in a strength and conditioning program, and his impressive showing in the agility drills, he could become an impact pass rusher.

His 10-yard split, which measures explosion off the snap at 1.54 was better than Jadaveon Clowney, Bruce Irvin, and Ziggy Ansah, via Mike Loyko NEPatriotsDraft.com. He really helped his own case on Sunday.

Haason Reddick from Temple is truly a jack of all trades, he walked on at Temple as a defensive back, bulked up and moved to defensive end, and now will probably play linebacker in the NFL. He’s got the straight-line speed, he ran a 4.52 in the 40 on Sunday.

He dropped into coverage for the first time at the Senior Bowl and turned scouts’ heads with how seasoned he appeared in coverage.  He may play outside or inside linebacker in the NFL or possibly both. He could be an inside backer on early downs and slow outside as an edge rusher on passing downs.

“Some want me at outside linebacker. Some want me inside. Some are willing to let me play both: inside on first and second down, and outside on third down.”

“I’m hoping to do both. I’m looking to take on a challenge. I want to dominate two positions.” He’s another guy that’s been linked to the Patriots and it is easy to see why.

One dark horse player to take a second look at is Trey Hendrickson from Florida Atlantic. He’s another hybrid DE/OLB who turned some heads at the Shrine Game. He ran very well with a 4.65 time in the 40 with a blistering 1.59 10-yard split.

He’s got good size at 6’4, 266 and showed his agility with a 4:20 time in the 20-yard shuttle and a top time of 11:43 in the 60-yard shuttle. He seems like a Patriots type of player, with nine sacks, 15 tackles for loss and four blocked kicks in 2016.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.