Super Bowl LII: Nick Foles and Philadelphia Eagles offence outduel New England Patriots

Jay Asser 5/02/2018
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Nick Foles carved up New England's defence for 373 yards and three touchdowns through the air.

Super Bowl LII delivered a classic, back-and-forth battle for the biggest shootout in the game’s history.

Ultimately, the Philadelphia Eagles made enough plays to edge the New England Patriots 41-33 for the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory, ending the reign of the defending champions who were seeking their third title in four years and a sixth championship overall.

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles earned MVP honours as he threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns, while also pulling in a receiving score to become the first player ever to both throw and catch a touchdown in Super Bowl history.

Here’s a breakdown of the game and how it was decided:

Defence at a premium

So much for the adage ‘defence wins championships’. Super Bowl LII was ruled by offence as the attacks of both teams were unstoppable for nearly the entire 60 minutes.

Check out the records that were set: Most combined total yardage in any regular season or playoff game with 1,151; most passing yards in a postseason contest by a single player with Tom Brady’s 505; most combined passing yards in a Super Bowl with 874, and most points scored by a losing team in a Super Bowl with New England’s 33. The 74 combined points were one shy of tying the record for total points, set in Super Bowl XXIX.

If there’s one person who can’t be blamed for the Patriots’ loss, it’s Brady. The Patriots quarterback couldn’t have been expected to perform any better as he threw for the aforementioned 505 yards at a clip of 10.5 per attempt, and three touchdowns. Facing a 10-point hole coming out of halftime, Brady and the offence responded with touchdown drives on their first three possessions of the second half.

When Brady truly got into a rhythm, he was picking apart the Eagles’ man coverage with ease. Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski all topped 100 yards receiving, much of which came on chunk plays with Brady taking advantage of double moves to beat Philadelphia’s aggressive secondary downfield. New England never had to punt.

On the other side of the ball, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson did a masterful job of play-calling to keep the Patriots’ defence guessing.

When Philadelphia’s offensive line often had a numbers advantage against New England’s front, the ground game had large holes to run through and finished with 164 yards on 6.07 yards per rush.

The air attack, meanwhile, didn’t feature as many RPOs (run-pass options) as expected, with the Eagles instead having plenty of success out of their mesh/wheel concept, which features shallow crossing routes and the running back angling out of the backfield and down the sidelines. Some of the game’s most important plays came out of this concept, including Corey Clement’s 55-yard gain on a wheel route in the second quarter and tight end Zach Ertz’s drive-extending grab on a shallow cross to convert the fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter.

Foles also attempted 21 play-action passes – the most ever in Super Bowl history – and was 12-of-21 for 118 yards and a touchdown on them, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Both offences were dealing, but the difference was one got a little more help from its defence as Brandon Graham’s strip-sack of Brady in the final minutes provided the key stop.

Patriots’ uncharacteristic mistakes

New England are known for excelling at situational football, but they looked unlike themselves in several crucial moments.

The red zone, along with third and fourth downs, are where games are won and lost. For as poorly as the Patriots’ defence played, they did well to hold the Eagles to two touchdowns on four red zone trips. The real problem, however, was getting off the field on third and fourth downs, which Philadelphia converted 10-of-16 times and on both occasions, respectively.

A number of those third down pick-ups came with New England defenders missing tackles and failing to bring down the ball-carrier before the line to gain.

Malcolm Butler could have likely helped, but the cornerback didn’t play any defensive snaps as he was bizarrely kept sidelined for an undisclosed reason.

In his place, Eric Rowe got the call and struggled for much of the first half against Alshon Jeffery before Stephon Gilmore drew the assignment in the second half and had more success.

The Patriots didn’t fare much better in special teams – where they almost always have an edge – with Stephen Gostkowski missing a 26-yard field goal after a mishandled snap and then shanking an extra point.

Other miscellaneous errors included Brady’s scramble to lose time at the end of the first half and Bill Belichick’s decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the 8-yard line, which resulted in Gostkowski’s miss.

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Super Bowl LII: Nick Foles' touchdown grab and other key plays that spurred Philadelphia Eagles' win

Jay Asser 5/02/2018
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Nick Foles hauls in a touchdown catch on the Eagles' trick play.

In the Philadelphia Eagles’ action-packed 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, there were several standout plays that played a substantial role in determining a wildly entertaining game.

Here are four key plays that proved to be crucial to Philadelphia’s first Super Bowl title.

Trick and treat

Minutes after Tom Brady failed to reel in Danny Amendola’s pass on a Patriots gadget play, the Eagles decided to pull off their own trickery – and this time do it right. On a gutsy fourth-and-goal call near the end of the first half, Philadelphia ran a reverse throwback with tight end Trey Burton tossing a touchdown pass to Nick Foles. The Eagles quarterback did what Brady couldn’t as his safe hands gave his side a 10-point lead off a play called the ‘Philly Special’.

Foles drops a dime to Clement

Of all the beautiful throws Foles uncorked, his 22-yard connection with running back Corey Clement may have been the best. With the Eagles facing a third-and-6, Foles spotted Clement in a favourable match-up with New England linebacker Marquise Flowers and sent a perfect pass before safety Devin McCourty could get over to help. Clement appeared to bobble the ball just a tiny bit, but the scoring play held up on review and extended Philadelphia’s lead to 29-19.

Zach attack on do-or-die

This was a play most coaches wouldn’t even attempt, given the situation: fourth-and-1 from your own 45-yard line with 5:39 left in the contest and a red-hot Tom Brady waiting to get the ball back on the other side. And yet, Doug Pederson didn’t flinch and called for one of the Eagles’ bread-and-butter plays, a mesh concept, which resulted in Foles finding Zach Ertz on a shallow cross to keep alive a drive that the tight end would later finish off for a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Graham finally gets to Brady

Philadelphia only managed to sack Brady once, but they sure made it count. Just when it seemed like Brady and the Patriots might pull off another remarkable comeback, Brandon Graham squashed any chance of late heroics by strip-sacking the quarterback with just over two minutes remaining. The Eagles recovered the fumble and the turnover would lead to a field goal that gave Philadelphia a more comfortable eight-point lead, which New England couldn’t overcome in the final minute.

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Super Bowl LII: Doug Pederson played to win and it earned the Philadelphia Eagles a title

Jay Asser 5/02/2018
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Doug Pederson won a title in his second year as head coach of the Eagles.

Facing the defending champions, against the greatest quarterback and coach of all-time, on the grandest stage in American sports, the Philadelphia Eagles didn’t blink once.

No, the New England Patriots didn’t lose Super Bowl LII – the Eagles went out and won it. Philadelphia outcoached and outplayed the five-time champions as Doug Pederson and Nick Foles looked like they had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

After coming through as underdogs twice on their home field in the divisional round and NFC Championship Game, there was no reason for the Eagles to play scared now. And they didn’t for a single second – not in the beginning of the game when they finally got under the bright lights or at the end when the pressure was at its highest.

The Patriots’ past two Super Bowl wins were, in part, helped by coaching malfunctions on the opposite sideline. Had a play or two gone differently, Pederson could have just as easily become another cautionary tale.

But the Philadelphia head coach wasn’t worried about protecting himself from blame. Instead of playing it safe or going the conventional route – as so many Patriots’ opponents have done, only to end up buried in the graveyard of fallen foes – Pederson never took his foot off the gas pedal and went toe-to-toe with Bill Belichick.

When you’re facing New England, you can’t wait for them to beat themselves. You have to take the game to them and find ways to even the odds by stealing possessions and swinging moments in your favour. Pederson did just that by putting his trust in his players to come through in pivotal moments and they in turn rewarded that faith.

How many coaches would have had the guts for it on fourth down at their own 45-yard line with over five minutes left, trailing by a point, and risk giving a short field to a red-hot Tom Brady? Calling that decision ballsy is an understatement. If the Eagles didn’t pick up the first down, there’s a strong chance we’re talking about a sixth title for New England. If they had punted, however, we could be doing the same.

You have to judge coaching decisions like these not on their results, but the thought process behind it. And Pederson deserves credit for never changing his aggressive mindset. He remained consistent from the opening kick-off until the final seconds ticked off.

That fourth-down call may have been the most essential, but there were several moments throughout the game where Pederson simply went for it. Instead of settling for three points at the goal line in the second quarter, the coach broke out a reverse throwback to Foles, of all people, in the end zone. Despite watching the Patriots fail on that exact play just minutes earlier when Danny Amendola’s pass slipped through the hands of Brady, Pederson dialled it up anyways on fourth down and the result was a double-digit lead.

Even the decision that nearly ended up looking terrible in hindsight – going for the two-point conversion on their second touchdown to make up for the missed extra point earlier – was sound in its thinking, despite failing. Pederson figured if you’re facing Brady and the Patriots, there’s every chance you’re going to need all the points you can get. And again, he didn’t alter his approach even though his first bold move fell short.

Of course, the other side to Pederson’s brilliant play-calling was how much trust he placed in his back-up quarterback.

Foles isn’t Carson Wentz, and yet Pederson called 43 pass plays despite his running attack gashing the Patriots for 164 yards on over six yards per carry. Putting the ball in Foles’ hands kept New England’s defence off-balance and the type of passing plays called both empowered Foles and put him in position to succeed.

There’s a reason why Foles became just the ninth back-up quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl. When the most important player on the field isn’t one of your best players, it takes heightened coaching and supreme team management to pull of what Philadelphia just did.

Pederson’s coaching job for the entire season, but particularly after Wentz went down with a torn ACL in Week 14, deserves to be eulogised and earn its place among some of the greatest the sport has seen.

The Eagles aren’t even done celebrating their first Super Bowl triumph, but considering how well the franchise is set up going forward with Pederson at the helm and Wentz under centre, it’s fair to wonder if this is the start of something bigger.

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