As the old saying goes, “defense wins championships” and if the Patriots are going to win it all again, it will be because New England’s up-and-down unit on that side of the ball is able to rise to the occasion and slow down an Eagles offense that ranked second in the league in scoring and just destroyed the league’s top defense.
The 2017 campaign started rough for the Patriots defense with the Kansas City Chiefs running riot at Gillette Stadium. The Chiefs rolled for 42 points and a staggering 537 yards of total offense. Over the first four weeks of the season, the Pats went 2-2 and surrendered an average of 32 points per contest.
From there, the defense that’s long had a reputation for bending without breaking and did just that.
The Patriots allowed an NFL best 14 points per game in their last 12 matchups. During that span, opponents scored over 20 points only twice, and New England lost just once. By the time the dust settled, the Patriots had given up the fourth-most yardage in the NFL but the fifth-fewest points—just 18.5 per game.
The Patriots are facing a tall task defensively in Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium.
There’s been a lot of handwringing over the ability of Eagles backup Nick Foles, but if the NFC Championship Game is any indication, he has it figured out. The Eagles exploded for 456 yards and 31 offensive points against a Minnesota Vikings defense that ranked first in both yards and points allowed in the regular season.
To start, New England will have to tame the two-headed monster of LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi.
By viewing tapes, it’s clear that Philadelphia likes to run the ball and keep control of the clock. The team’s ground-and-pound attack is really the centerpiece of Doug Pederson’s game plan as the Eagles finished the regular season ranked third in rushing offense. Philadelphia bludgeons opponents with a diverse rushing attack that hits between the tackles and on the edges from a variety of power and spread formations.
That’s why the Patriots must make a concerted effort to take away Philadelphia’s rushing attack in a Foles-led offense. Sure, the veteran showed the football world he could win a game as a playmaker in the NFC title bout, but the pressure of pulling that off again — in the Super Bowl, no less — could force him out of his comfort zone, especially if the ground game isn’t working. Another key to having success would be to rush on the right side of the line. The fact that Foles throws right-handed and can’t throw the ball as accurately while on the run to his left.
The secondary will have to keep a close eye on Zach Ertz and Torrey Smith who can cause some damage in the air. One thing that they excelled in this season is play action by faking a hand-off to one of the backs and chucking the ball deep. New England finished the season ranked 20th in run defense and will have to bulk up in the trenches. This is a defense that still thrives despite losing Pro Bowl linebacker Dont’a Hightower for the season.
In the previous two tilts, New England held Jacksonville Jaguars star Leonard Fournette to just 76 yards on 24 carries. Fournette’s biggest gain was for 14 yards. Aside from a 12-yard gain, T.J. Yeldon was limited to just 13 yards on four carries. In the AFC divisional playoff game, the Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry rushed for just 28 yards on 12 carries. Keeping the running game in check and controlling the ball will lead to success for New England.