Obviously so much of the attention was paid to the offensive performance in the Eagles’ Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots, and for good reason. Going by the numbers, it was not a pretty performance for the defense, a unit that allowed over 600 yards of total offense from Tom Brady and the Pats, who scored more points than any Super Bowl loser in history. Brady was the first quarterback in NFL history to lose a game with more than 500 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions (regular season or playoffs).
It was a back-and-forth battle between both offenses on the field that day, and Brady was feeling it. The veteran quarterback was extremely accurate in this game and they did a really good job of knowing where to attack the Eagles defense. Some of their tactics were things we covered in our preview of the big game, but they were able to move the ball in a lot of different ways. Sometimes, their mismatch players like Rob Gronkowski and James White were just able to win in space. Other times, they were able to use creative route concepts to get players open in space, particularly when they knew the Eagles were going to be in zone coverage. The Patriots are a tough offense to stop, and that was clear watching them in this game.
All that being said, the Eagles defense did come up with several key spots in critical situations, particularly in the red zone. It may seem silly to say that it was important to not let the Patriots reach the end zone EVERY time they had the football, but in this game? You bet it was important! Here’s the drive chart:
- First Quarter - 7:55 Remaining - 62 Yards Gained - Field Goal
- Second Quarter - 14:13 Remaining- 74 Yards Gained - Missed Field Goal
- Second Quarter - 13:11 Remaining - 28 Yards Gained - Turnover On Downs
- Second Quarter - 8:48 Remaining - 48 Yards Gained - Field Goal
- Second Quarter - 5:01 Remaining - 90 Yards Gained - Touchdown
- Second Quarter - 0:34 Remaining - 48 Yards Gained - End Of Half
- Third Quarter - 15:00 Remaining - 75 Yards Gained - Touchdown
- Third Quarter - 7:18 Remaining - 75 Yards Gained - Touchdown
- Fourth Quarter - 14:09 Remaining - 75 Yards Gained - Touchdown
- Fourth Quarter - 2:21 Remaining - 3 Yards Gained - Fumble
- Fourth Quarter - 1:05 Remaining - 40 Yards Gained - End Of Game
On the first four drives, the Patriots only put up six points, and that was extremely important. Let’s look at the key stops in the first two drives.
Shot 1 - This game was obviously a track meet and it was not the prettiest performance by the #Eagles defense, but they held the #Patriots to 6 points on the first four possessions, which was critical to the final outcome. Here's how the opening drive ended pic.twitter.com/mBhLtUGuxX — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) February 15, 2018
Shot 2 - Second drive ended on a missed field goal ... which wouldn't have happened if not for a huge open-field tackle by Rodney McLeod ... which wouldn't have been short of the sticks had it not been for the initial push by Chris Long up front #Eagles pic.twitter.com/uxPZAwhGaR — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) February 15, 2018
On those three plays (two in the first clip, and one more in the second), you see a couple of different Eagles come up big in key situations. Again, were the plays considered crucial at the time? Absolutely not. In a game like this one though, you never know how much individual reps will matter towards the final outcome, and had any of these drives ended in touchdowns instead of field goal attempts, this game would have had a much different feel for the final drive. Now let’s take a look at how the next two possessions ended.
Shot 3 - The next two drives end thanks to big plays up front on the d-line. Brandon Graham hits Brady's arm as he releases a downfield throw on fourth down and Chris Long disrupts a third down screen to force a field goal #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/Kk7CvRc3gi — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) February 15, 2018
These plays don’t show up in the stat sheet, but Brandon Graham’s pressure on Brady on fourth down helped force the incompletion that gave the Eagles the ball, and Chris Long’s pressure upfield helped disrupt the third down screen pass on the ensuing drive.
The pass rush caught some flak for not getting home often in this game, and while that may be true in terms of sacks, the pressure was certainly there throughout the night. Tom Brady was hit early and often in this game, and the pass rush was able to get home on a handful of plays to impact the veteran quarterback in a negative way, even if it didn’t always seem that way...
Shot 4 - Tom Brady was hit early and often in this game and the pass rush was effective throughout the night, even if it didn't always seem that way... #Eagles pic.twitter.com/xFcZhkqIvk — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) February 15, 2018
This play was vintage New England, as they used an Empty formation to confirm that the Eagles were in zone coverage. Brady changed the play to a great zone beater, the ‘Post Wheel’ route combination, and beat the coverage. Ronald Darby stuck with the post route, and Patrick Robinson was playing his responsibility underneath. No one ran with Danny Amendola, and he was WIDE open. Fortunately, the rush pushes Brady off his spot, and he’s unable to get this pass out the way he wants to, resulting in an underthrown ball that ‘limits’ the play to just a 50-yard gain on third-and-long.
It wasn’t all ‘hurries’ and ‘close calls’ for the defensive line though, because when it mattered most the front four was able to get home for one of the biggest plays of the game.
Shot 5 - The defensive play of the game came from the #Eagles go-to subpackage front from the 2017 season, with Derek Barnett and Chris Long outside and Brandon Graham inside with Fletcher Cox. #Patriots slide to Cox, leaving Graham 1-on-1 with a guard, and he wins for a sack FF pic.twitter.com/mm1CrpYvkt — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) February 15, 2018
Graham had a feeling that the Patriots would be sliding away from him and towards Fletcher Cox (they had done so for a majority of the night), so he had to find a way to win one-on-one. Graham won with a quick ‘hand swipe’ move to the outside, attacked Brady’s throwing hand, and got the ball on the ground for a strip sack. The rookie, Derek Barnett, came up with it, and the Eagles would go on to kick a field goal to cement the final score.
The Patriots would get the ball back with just over a minute left, and the defensive line was again up to the challenge. Despite the fact that they’ve seen a HEAVY dose of passes from Brady and the New England offense in the second half to try and wear them down, watch the energy from the defensive line on these plays, as they come up large on the final drive to secure the win for the Eagles.
Shot 6 - The first three plays of the final drive were all stopped by the #Eagles defensive line getting to Brady with just four. Sacks weren't there all night, but disruption was consistent #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/POPCSsTih3 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) February 15, 2018
Shot 7 - Even on the final play, Brady couldn't fully get into this throw against a three-man rush. Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox both got to Brady. #Eagles pic.twitter.com/gHJarkCSwC — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) February 15, 2018
Was it a pretty game for this Eagles defense? Of course not. A lot went wrong for a group that had been flat-out dominant in the previous four games, particularly in the playoffs. That’s what made this team so special in 2018, though. When one group had a bad day, the opposite unit stepped up and was ready to carry the load. The offense ended the regular season a bit flat, and the defense was there to pick them up. On this night, the defense did enough to help bring home the team’s first ever Lombardi Trophy.