Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups that will determine which team emerges victorious.
With a super match-up on tap for Sunday, February 4th in Super Bowl 52 there are too many important match-ups to limit to just five. All of the match-ups are key so we will go through all the match-ups and see which will determine if the Patriots repeat as Super Bowl champions against the Philadelphia Eagles or if Nick Foles and the ferocious Eagles’ defense will pull off the historic upset and vault them to their first Super Bowl.
Eagles’ Offensive Line vs Patriots’ Defensive Line
According to most reports, the Philadelphia Eagles have rolled to the Super Bowl in a large part behind the strong play of their offensive line. With starting quarterback and MVP-candidate Carson Wentz sidelined, the Eagles’ offensive line has allowed for backup quarterback Nick Foles to get comfortable and allow for the offense to get back on track in the playoffs.
Without Wentz, the Eagles had 341 yards of offense–in a close win over a Giants team that had quit already–followed by poor showings against the Raiders (216 yards), the Cowboys (219 yards), and in the Divisional round against the Falcons (334 yards and just 15 points). Philadelphia exploded against Minnesota in the NFC Conference Championship game for 456 yards of offense including 346 yards passing (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).
The offensive line is missing its best player in left tackle Jason Peters who tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee against Washington in October. In his place the Eagles have turned to Halapoulivaati Vaitai, a 2016 fifth-round draft pick out of TCU, to take over at left tackle. Vaitai was not completely inexperienced as he had started six games at right tackle last season. However, Vaitai is clearly the weak link and ProFootballFocus.com graded him with an overall grade of 39.1.
Next to Vaitai is veteran Stefan Wisniewski. Wisniewski stepped in and has been excellent in pass protection–although his run blocking has been just average. He did not even start the season as the starter and stepped in after the Eagles tired or Isaac Seumalu’s turnstile imitation in the first game of the season. Wisniewski and Vaitai on the left side are the reason why the Eagles will run to the right when they need to pick up tough yardage.
The Eagles make up for their weak play on the left side with strong play at the other three spots on the offensive line. Center Jason Kelce, right guard Brandon Brooks, and right tackle Lane Johnson were all among the best at their position this season. This trio is superior run blockers and was a brick wall against pass rushers this season. If the Patriots are planning to attack the Philadelphia offensive line, the left side is the side to do it.
New England Defensive Line
New England was able to pressure Tennessee in the Divisional round once they had built a lead and made the Titans one-dimensional on offense. Against Jacksonville, New England created almost no pressure on the Jaguars until the Patriots began blitzing in the second-half. The Patriots–outside of edge rusher Trey Flowers–lack the dominant edge-rusher or inside pass rusher to disrupt an offense.
The Patriots had 16 different defensive players record a sack in 2017 and then had two or more sacks. On the edge opposite Flowers–who led the team with 6.5 sacks–the Patriots feature rookie fourth-round draft pick Deatrich Wise Jr. (five sacks), undrafted rookie free agent Eric Lee (3.5 sacks) who was plucked off the Bills’ practice squad, and 39-year old veteran James Harrison (two sacks).
On the interior of the defensive line, the Patriots have been stout down the stretch. They held Buffalo to 84 yards on 24 rushing attempts and the Jets to 40 yards on 19 rushing attempts in the last two regular season games. In the playoffs, they allowed the Titans to rush for just 65 yards on 16 rushing attempts and last week the Jaguars’ top-ranked rushing attack to just 101 yards on 32 attempts. That is just 290 yards in four games (72.5 yards per game average) and a paltry 3.19 yards per rushing attempt.
With Alan Branch still sidelined with a knee injury, journeyman Ricky Jean-Francois has teamed with Lawrence Guy and Malcom Brown on the interior to give the Patriots a trio of hefty big-bodies to fill gaps and keep running backs from getting free runs into the secondary. When the Patriots need pressure, undrafted free agent rookie defensive tackle Adam Butler is the designated interior pass rusher.
How the Patriots’ front holds up against the Eagles’ strong offensive line is going to be a big part of the Super Bowl. Fortunately, the Patriots can move edge rushers Trey Flowers and James Harrison to maximize the match-up with Eagles’ left tackle Vaitai. If New England can slow the Eagles’ rushing attack and generate pressure on quarterback Foles, they should have a chance to slow the Philadelphia offense.
–Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01