Super Bowl LII: Patriots' Bill Belichick vs Eagles' Doug Pederson will be a coaching chess match

Jay Asser 3/02/2018
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Doug Pederson has brought the Eagles to the Super Bowl in his second year at the helm.

As interesting as the player battles on the field will be in Super Bowl LII, the coaching chess match between Bill Belichick and Doug Pederson is expected to be just as fun.

Belichick, of course, always has the edge heading into every game due to his impressive track record during his tenure with the New England Patriots, but Pederson is no slouch and he’s guided the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl despite losing his starting quarterback and MVP candidate, Carson Wentz, before the playoffs.

Let’s break down the coaching battle.

Belichick’s preparation

No one can put together a game plan and prepare for an opponent quite like Belichick. Giving him two weeks to scheme for his Super Bowl opponent is a massive advantage for the Patriots and Belichick will need that time against Philadelphia to figure out how he wants to defend against one of their biggest strengths: RPOs (run-pass options).

The Eagles used RPOs more than anyone in the league this season, while New England had to defend against it the least of any team. Philadelphia are expected to heavily utilise those plays against a Patriots defence that is weakest at the linebacker position.

Lack of athleticism and speed between New England’s linebackers means it will be an even bigger task for Belichick to figure out how to slow the Eagles down.

However, another quality Belichick has in his favour is the ability to adjust mid-game. Even if Philadelphia get off to a fast start and gash the Patriots in the first half, Belichick has proven he can change schemes up on the fly, so the lengthy halftime will be crucial for the Patriots to reformulate their plan of attack after seeing the Eagles first-hand for 30 minutes.

Pederson’s play-calling

Whereas Belichick is more of a defensive guru, Pederson’s strength lies on the other side of the ball. Forget head coaches, few offensive coordinators around the league have as good of a feel when it comes to play-calling as Pederson, whose scheme has put Nick Foles in a position to succeed by amplifying his strengths and covering up his weaknesses.

Against New England, Pederson will hope to control both the pace of the game and time of possession, keeping Tom Brady off the field while his offence moves the chains.

When the Patriots are in their base defence, expect Pederson to dial up plays like RPOs to take advantage of mismatches with linebackers. When New England bring in more defensive backs, expect the Eagles to attack on the ground.

One aspect to watch is how Pederson responds late in the game if the score is somewhat close. The Patriots’ past two Super Bowl wins have been helped by questionable play-calling on the opposite sideline and Belichick has knack for getting his counterpart to screw up at inopportune times.

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Philadelphia Eagles defence can bring the heat and other Super Bowl LII stats

Jay Asser 3/02/2018
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Derek Barnett and Fletcher Cox make up a formidable defensive line for Philadelphia.

Numbers don’t lie. They can be manipulated and contextualised in ways to tell different stories, but there’s no doubting concrete figures.

With the New England Patriots meeting the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII on Sunday, here are 10 numbers to know – ranging from interesting but having little consequence, to significant and potentially game-deciding.

0 – The Patriots have scored zero points combined in the first quarter in all seven of their Super Bowl appearances in the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick era.

1 – Philadelphia are the first team New England will play in the Super Bowl that ranked top five in the NFL in both scoring offence and scoring defence. The Eagles defence also ranked top five this season in points allowed per game, takeaways and yards allowed per game.

3 – New England are a perfect 3-0 in Super Bowls when wearing their road white jerseys. They’re just 2-2 when donning their home blue jerseys. Teams who have worn white in the past 13 Super Bowls are 12-1.

3.7 – The average margin of victory in the seven Super Bowls played by the Patriots since 2002 is a minuscule 3.7 points.

5 – The Eagles have five of the top 25 most disruptive lineman in the league this season, based on disruption rate, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. No other team had more than two players ranked in the top 25.

8 – Only eight quarterbacks in NFL history have led their team to a Super Bowl win. Philadelphia’ Nick Foles will attempt to become the ninth, with his counterpart, Tom Brady, one of the eight to have accomplished the feat.

10 – This will be the 10th Super Bowl appearance by the Patriots, which is the most in the NFL. Pittsburgh, Dallas and Denver are tied for second-most with eight.

73.8 – Philadelphia’s defence allow a passer rating of 73.8 when opposing offences huddle, compared to 106.5 when offences go no-huddle.

101.7 – Nick Foles has been excellent on third downs this season, completing 27-of-46 passes for 320 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 101.7.

207 – The Eagles’ offence ran 207 RPOs (run-pass options) this season, gaining 981 yards on those plays, according to Pro Football Focus. The league average for RPOs run was 66, while New England faced the fewest RPOs of any team with 39.

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Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia exits will hurt New England Patriots

Jay Asser 3/02/2018
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Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia have been part of a strong coaching staff.

Regardless of how Super Bowl LII plays out, it will be the end of an era for the New England Patriots.

No, this isn’t the definitive end of the line for a Patriots dynasty which has spanned nearly two decades. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick aren’t going anywhere, so neither is New England’s status as perennial title contender.

But Minnesota will be the last stop for the best coaching staff in the league, as Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia will preside over their final game together before parting ways.

After forming a dynamic duo with Brady and helping shape a dominant offence, McDaniels will head for Indianapolis for his second crack at a head coaching job. Patricia, meanwhile, has parlayed his defensive coordinator position into the head coaching gig in Detroit. Both have learned and developed under the tutelage of Belichick and both are poised to succeed outside of his shadow.

For the Patriots, however, their departure will leave a sizeable void on the sidelines, not too dissimilar to the coaching exodus back in 2005. The parallels to that year are remarkable: New England again face the Philadelphia Eagles as they go for their third title in four years, with both their offensive and defensive coordinator set to leave, like Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel did in 2005.

Absence felt

Maybe it was just a coincidence, but after Weis and Crennel chose to follow their ambitions, the Patriots didn’t lift the Lombardi Trophy again for another decade. Neither had sustained success in their new surroundings, so it’s fair to wonder how much cause and effect was at work for the Patriots’ title drought.

Belichick is the greatest football coach ever, but his coaching tree hasn’t been so fruitful, at least not when the branches have broken off. Even after Weis and Crennel, former defensive coordinator Eric Mangini flamed out as head coach of the New York Jets, while McDaniels lasted only two seasons in charge of the Denver Broncos in his first go-around.

It does feel like the Patriots are built the same way on the field and on the sidelines. The players around Brady continue to change, but as long as he’s there, Super Bowl appearances are a regularity. Ditto for Belichick, who seemingly has the ability to mold young coaches into rising stars.

However, that doesn’t mean the journey hasn’t been rocky at times, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the loss of McDaniels and Patricia translates into a bit of a drop-off for New England going forward. After all, Belichick has enjoyed six years of stability with both of them flanking him. Some adjustment is inevitable.

Shoes to fill

Their replacements are unknown as of now, but if history is any indication, Belichick will likely promote from within to preserve the Patriots Way.

The most obvious candidates appear to be Chad O’Shea on offence and Brian Flores on defence. O’Shea is currently the receivers coach and the red zone coordinator, so he’s well-versed in what McDaniels has already established. Flores is the linebackers coach and even interviewed for the Arizona Cardinals’ head coaching vacancy.

It’s also possible Belichick wears multiple hats next season, as he’s done before, and takes on play-calling duties on either side of the ball. But considering Belichick’s likely desire to leave the Patriots in a position where they can sustain success after he’s gone, it makes more sense to hand over some of the reins now and allow the next coordinators to gain experience.

The price for that may be growing pains, at least in the short term. Offensively, what happens if Brady finally begins to show his age and starts to decline? And will the same defensive adjustments that have seen the unit turn it around towards the end of the season the past few years be applied without Patricia?

These are first-world problems that for every other team in the league, would be far down the list of pressing questions. When you’re a dynasty though, these types of cracks can eventually splinter the entire foundation.

There will be an entire offseason to worry about that and Super Bowl LII could be another moment of pure bliss if it ends in Belichick, McDaniels and Patricia hugging it out again. But eventually, all good things must come to an end.

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