Super Bowl 52 Matchups: The game within the game.
It’s the last week in January and that means Super Bowl Sunday is upon us. All the talk and debates across the Nation will be about the bigger names like the QBs playing in this game and deservedly so. One QB is arguably the greatest of all time and the other has exceeded all expectations since taking over as QB for the NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles. Nick Foles has been borderline great this post season displaying great decision making and uncharacteristic pinpoint accuracy. Now Nick Foles and the Eagles face their biggest test. We can talk all day about what makes the Patriots organization great from top to bottom, but the execution on the field all starts with QB Tom Brady. The eagles will have to figure out how to keep Brady and the Patriots offense off the field while attacking Bill Belichick’s bend but don’t break defense.
That’s two feats that clearly have been hard to slow down for almost close to 2 decades now, but the Eagles have a front 5 full of beef certainly capable of trying. This group is as talented and as deep as they come and is probably the best offensive line a Belicheck coached defense has had to face in a Super Bowl since the 2004 Eagles team, led by Tra Thomas and John Runyan. Pro Football Focus (PFF) graded this group as the best unit in the regular season and that was with LT Halapoulivaati Vaitai getting a final grade of 39.1, after replacing 3-time First Team All Pro Jason Peters who had an 86.4 grade before tearing his ACL and MCL in his right knee week 7 against the Redskins.
When evaluating Vaitai on film you can immediately see he struggles with balance and inconsistent technique when getting into his pass set. With 9 sacks given up on the season, Vaitai will struggle when the edge rusher is able to get into his chest and he doesn’t have a strong enough base to set and create leverage to prevent the rusher from pushing him into the lap of the QB. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots will matchup James Harrison more often on Vaitai’s side on pass rushing opportunities.
Harrison does a phenomenal job with his brute strength, great technique, and hand usage to bull rush his matchup in route to pressuring the QB. But this may be the only way the Patriots front 7 can give this offensive line fits. Vaitai, along with rest of the group’s greatest strength is that they are tremendous in the run game. Led by Center Jason Kelce, PFF’s highest graded offensive lineman overall at a 93.2, this group excels in the zone blocking scheme, specifically the outside zone, where they use their great athleticism to create wide open running lanes for the running backs.
Kelce was one of my favorite offensive lineman to watch on film. His elite blend of agility and strength allows Kelce to get in space and use his quickness in strength to slow defenders down as well as get into the second level and execute clean blocks on the linebackers. When asked to go on a pull assignment Kelce can quickly snap the ball and get off his stance and meet the force defender play side and create space for the running bock with great blocks. He looks like a fiery competitor on film and it is fun to watch. With the rest of the crew, LG Stefen Wisniewski (72.5 PFF grade), and the excellent right side that consist of RT Lane Johnson (83.9) and RG Brandon Brooks (88.7), the Eagles must really focus on slowing the game down and executing their run game with this excellent group.
I expect Belicheck and the Patriots defense to stack the box immediately with SS Pat Chung providing help in the run game. The Patriots defensive strength is in the secondary and in run defense, led by DE Trey Flowers along with Harrison setting the edge against the run. Flowers and Vaitai’s matchup should also be an excellent one. As previously stated Vaitai’s biggest strength is in the run game moving forward, where he can use his massive frame and run blocking technique to his advantage. Flowers is excellent in using his lower body to set the edge, but also uses hands well to disengage from blocks and displays excellent instincts when needing to make a tackle on the ball carrier.
The Patriots front 7 will have undoubtedly have their hands full with the Eagles offensive line moving sideline to sideline. As for the Eagles offensive line, they will play the biggest role for the Eagles in keeping Brady off the field and increasing the Eagles chances to win this game, this unit will have to be near perfect in executing Coach Doug Pederson’s excellent zone blocking scheme to grind away at the clock.