Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top 5 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 New England 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.
Patriots’ Wide Receivers/Tight Ends vs Eagles’ Secondary
Quarterback Tom Brady at age 40 is having one of his best postseasons in his long, distinguished career. For only the second time in his 36 playoff games has he had consecutive games with a quarterback rating over 100.0 (the other time was the AFC Championship and Super Bowl 49 after the 2014 season.) One part of that equation is the numerous weapons he is surrounded by this season.
A healthy Rob Gronkowski is the starting point for the New England offense. That New England won a Super Bowl last season and came back from a ten-point fourth quarter deficit in the AFC Championship game against Jacksonville without the biggest match-up headache in the NFL is a testament to the depth of playmakers in New England.
However, having Gronkowski back from concussion protocol for the Super Bowl is a huge boost to the New England offense. Gronkowski led the Patriots 1,084 yards on 69 receptions (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted) and the Patriots usually struggle when he is out of the lineup. Add in the offense not having last season’s leading receiver Julian Edelman all season, and the Patriots’ success on offense this season (first in the NFL in yards and second in points scored during the regular season) has been a team effort.
To combat Gronkowski, the Eagles will probably have every member of their secondary checking him at some point during the Super Bowl. With their Cover-1 and Cover-3 schemes both the linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks will be responsible for checking the New England tight end. However, when Philadelphia is in man-coverage it will be safety Malcolm Jenkins drawing the assignment.
Jenkins had a pick-six in 2015 when the Patriots faced-off with Philadelphia. New England was without Gronkowski for that match-up and Gronkowski was also out injured in 2013 when the Patriots defeated Jenkins and the New Orleans Saints (The infamous Scott Zolak “Unicorns! Show Ponies! Where’s the Beef?” call) in Jenkins’ last season with the Saints. Jenkins is a safety in the Devin McCourty mode as he has cornerback experience, but anyone trying to check Gronkowski one-on-one is at a disadvantage.
Brandin Cooks is coming off his third consecutive 1,000 yard receiving season as he had 65 receptions for 1,082 yards with seven touchdowns in his first season in New England. In the AFC Championship game he burnt A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey for six receptions for 100 yards and two huge pass interference penalties for another 60 yards that do not show up on the stat sheet. Opposite Cooks on the outside is Chris Hogan who is healthy after missing almost all of the second half of the season with a shoulder injury.
The Eagles will counter with former Buffalo Bills cornerback Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills. The Patriots will be able to dictate match-ups as Darby plays exclusively on the left side and and Mills stays on the right. Darby–who was in Buffalo before being traded to the Eagles–is aggressive and will gamble to make an interception. How they play Cooks will be interesting as Cooks had a big cushion after getting open deep a couple of times against Jacksonville.
Slot receiver Danny Amendola has stepped up his game in the playoffs for New England and has given the offense the horizontal aspect it has been missing without Edelman. Amendola has continued his strong postseason play with 18 receptions for 196 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee and Jacksonville. He came up big in 2014 against Baltimore in the Divisional round comeback (five receptions for 81 yards and two touchdowns) and was huge in the Super Bowl coming up with eight catches for 78 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta. In 12 postseason games in New England, he has six touchdowns and 49 catches for 557 yards.
The Eagles counter with former Saints, Chargers, and Colts cornerback Patrick Robinson. Robinson was the Saints’ first-round draft pick in 2010 but never played up to that level. Injuries seemingly derailed his career leaving him stuck in a journeyman role. Robinson rebounded with an excellent season but if he does have a weakness it is allowing yards after the catch in the slot as ProFootballFocus.com tracked him giving up 318 of his 582 receiving yards allowed after the catch.
The Eagles use Robinson when defending three-receiver sets. If the Patriots go with a two tight end look they can force the Eagles to keep Robinson off the field as the Eagles will use the “big nickel” package by bringing in Corey Graham. This is similar to the Patriots bringing in Duron Harmon as the third safety against two tight end sets. The Eagles using some of the same wrinkles as the Patriots on defense is no surprise with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz having got his start in the NFL with Bill Belichick’s stacked Cleveland Browns coaching staff.
The return to health of Gronkowski should be a big boost to the Patriots passing attack in the Super Bowl. However, wide receivers Amendola, Cooks, and Hogan will need to win individual battles to get separation quickly and allow Brady to get the ball out quickly against the Eagles’ ferocious front four.