When you look at matchups like the Patriots and the Eagles, it is important to decipher who has the advantage up front, and typically the team with the better combination of strong offensive line play and front seven defensive play wins the game. The Eagles have shown that they are built to win even without their starting quarterback, and that is a testament to their talent up front.
The Patriots have dealt with injuries all season, and after losing Marcus Cannon from their offensive line, and then losing Dont’a Hightower (and Alan Branch for most of the year) from their front seven, they’ve plugged in street free agents to make it work. They’ve made it work so well that they went from last in the league in points allowed over the first month to fifth overall to end the year, an incredible statistical jump.
But here is the question- who has the advantage up front in the Super Bowl, or does either team truly have an edge? Let’s examine the matchup.
PATRIOTS FRONT SEVEN VS. EAGLES OFFENSIVE LINE
When one looks at the Eagles overall record, they would think that the offensive line is very talented, but when you take a deep dive into the numbers, they’re actually just an average group. Football Outsiders does a good job of tracking and grading the offensive lines every year, and they have the Eagles ranked 22nd in run blocking, which is an interesting rank when you consider that Philadelphia was 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards in 2017. Football Outsiders has a terrific breakdown that explains what the Eagles running game essentially is- finesse. Philadelphia is ranked 16th in “power”, which is basically short yardage, between the tackles-type runs. They’re also ranked 21st in “stuffed”, which means they are not the type of run blockers that come out and punch you in the face.
Philadelphia does excel blocking at the second level, which means they have talented backs and linemen that are athletic enough to stay in the play and get down the field to spring big plays. They’re ranked 4th in second level blocking, and 3rd in open field blocking, another testament to the athleticism of their offensive line. In order to get to the second level, you have to penetrate the first, and that is where the Patriots may have an advantage if they plan on slowing down the impressive Philadelphia running attack.
New England has been inconsistent defending the run in 2017, finishing 20th in total rushing yards allowed. If they didn’t beat up on certain teams, there is a chance they are dead last because teams wouldn’t be playing catch-up. Keep in mind that they had injury issues in their front seven, and the guys who were out- specifically Alan Branch- will be back for the Super Bowl. Malcom Brown was also injured, but he will be back on Sunday.
So what it comes down to is the line of scrimmage; can the Patriots stop the Eagles from getting to the next level where they do damage? I believe that they can because they’ve shown they can get it done when everyone is healthy, especially with the addition of James Harrison to set the edge. That could be the deciding factor in the game Sunday.
EAGLES FRONT SEVEN VS. PATRIOTS OFFENSIVE LINE
The Eagles had the NFL’s best-run defense in 2017, but they’ll be facing a tough test with this matchup against a New England running game that has been dangerous, especially since Dion Lewis took over as the feature back. As good as the Eagles have been against the run, the Patriots offensive line hasn’t been some slouch this year. According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots had the #1 ranked run-blocking offensive line in 2017, but they’ve done it a little differently than their opponent.
The Patriots are ranked 14th in power, 3rd in stuffed, 2nd in second-level (similar to the Eagles), and 20th in open-field, which is a surprise with Dion Lewis getting most of the carries. The Eagles allowed just 1,267 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, which amounts to 79.2 yards allowed per game on the ground. The Patriots finished 10th in rushing in 2017, and they got better every game. They ran for 1,889 yards and 16 touchdowns, so obviously, something has to give.
Can the Eagles deal with the strong offensive line of New England, or will they succumb to the always-improving offensive line that Dante Scarnecchia puts together every season? It is a great question, and with the talent Philadelphia has, they absolutely have the ability to pull it off, but sometimes ability loses out to strong game planning and adjustments, so I guess we’ll all have to wait until Sunday at 6:30 to see how this plays out.
This is a very interesting matchup because both teams run the ball well, and the Eagles top-ranked run defense poses a threat to a Patriots running game that has been very good, especially over the last two months. The Patriots don’t have a highly ranked run defense like the Eagles, but anyone who has watched this team knows that when they have all their defensive linemen healthy, they are extremely hard to run on. Something has to give…or maybe the passing game will just take over the game.
–Chris Simoneau is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @chris_simoneau