The Philadelphia Eagles were never given much of a chance after Carson Wentz suffered a season-ending knee injury in Los Angeles on Dec. 10.
The first No. 1 seed to be tabbed as home underdogs (twice), Doug Pederson, Nick Foles and the Eagles embraced that role — quite literally — on the way to a pair of impressive playoff wins against the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings. Philadelphia will look to beat the odds a third time on Sunday against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
The Patriots are currently 4.5-point favourites, a line that has dropped since Championship Weekend wrapped up, indicating bettors are putting plenty of money on the Eagles. And they have good reason to.
Here’s why the dark-horse Eagles will stun the football world for the third time these playoffs and beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
1. The Pederson Plan
Nick Foles deserves heaps of credit for the success he’s had in Philadelphia’s two post-season games. He’s remained calm and collected in high-pressure situations, displayed quality decision making and shocked everyone with an elite performance against the Vikings’ top-ranked defence.
But none of what Foles has accomplished in these playoffs is possible without the game planning of Doug Pederson and his offensive coaching staff. The Eagles have been well prepared for each game, and the offence’s execution has been near-perfect.
Philadelphia featured certain looks consistently against Atlanta and Minnesota — the run-pass option (RPO) and a deadly screen game, for example, both which take the pressure off Foles — but overall Philadelphia attacked very differently in each game. Against Atlanta, the Eagles relied on the run game and short, quick passes, many from that RPO formation. Versus Minnesota, it became clear early that Pederson wanted to take shots against the best pass defence in football. And it worked to perfection.
“He’s fearless,” Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo recently told The Athletic of Doug Pederson. “Fearless. I’ve learned a lot from Doug. He is a fearless play-caller. He stays on the attack and he’s a creative play-caller, but he’s fearless. And he is not afraid to step on the gas. He is by far the best play-caller I’ve been around.”
Doug Pederson has been able to offset Wentz's injury by expanding the playbook and giving Foles easier throws to execute. The OL is the best in the league, so it's a perfect match for the bubble screen. pic.twitter.com/qQJRIUMKxZ
— Jonathan Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) January 31, 2018
How Pederson and the Eagles are planning to attack New England’s defence is anyone’s guess, but the Patriots are far from perfect on that side of the football and you can bet Philadelphia’s offence will be prepared come Sunday evening.
2. The Five Guys Up Front
Outside of maybe Wentz, the five guys in the trenches have been Philadelphia’s most dangerous offensive weapon all season long and they’ve been at their best in the playoffs.
Even after losing nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters to injury in October, the Eagles’ offensive line has been one of the top units in football, featuring two All-Pros in centre Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson. Brandon Brooks and Stefen Wisniewski have been first-rate at guard, while Peters’s replacement Halapoulivaati Vaitai (aka, Big V) has shown vast improvement protecting Foles’s blindside with his best game of the season against the Vikings last week.
Shot 10 – I was wowed by the blocks made on the backside all day in the run game. Whether it was Vaitai working with Wisniewski, Brooks working with Lane, or either tackle working with a TE, there was a ton of movement at the poa to help give the RBs room to work inside #Eagles pic.twitter.com/09WwS25M9q
— Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) January 23, 2018
These five guys have been crucial to the success of Foles in the post-season.The Eagles have given up just two sacks and nine QB hits in two playoff games, better than any team that has played more than one post-season game. And the offensive line’s value in both RPO plays and on screen passes — as mentioned above, staples of this Foles-led offence — is immeasurable.
The Patriots have racked up 11 sacks in two playoff games (eight came against the Titans), and ranked seventh in the regular season with 42. But the Eagles offensive line silenced Minnesota’s menacing defensive front two weeks ago in the NFC title game, and arguably have the upper hand against New England’s unheralded pass rushers on Sunday.
3. The Pressure’s on Brady
If history tells us anything about throwing off Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, it’s getting him under pressure and keeping him there. The New York Giants twice proved how valuable a dominant defensive front can be against the Patriots.
And this defensive front is the cream of the Eagles’ crop.
Philadelphia’s No. 4-ranked defence has drawn its strength all season long from one of the NFL’s deepest front fours, highlighted by Fletcher Cox along with Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Timmy Jernigan, Chris Long, Derek Barnett and Beau Allen.
It’s that depth that has proven so valuable in these playoffs. Against Atlanta, both Long and rookie Barnett made game-changing plays with Barnett, the Eagles’ 2017 first-round pick, registering a sack-fumble that helped turn the NFC Championship game in Philadelphia’s favour.
The Giants gave Brady so much trouble in 2007 and 2011 by getting inside pressure from the likes of Justin Tuck, a specialty Cox, Jernigan and Graham (who plays defensive end but sometimes slides inside) have displayed this season.
New England has one of the league’s most underrated offensive lines, so getting pressure will be no walk in the park. But the Eagles’ versatility up front gives them a distinct advantage heading into Sunday’s game, and if (when) they get constant pressure it’ll be a long game for Brady.
And if the Eagles do pull off the upset and win their first-ever Super Bowl, we have a pretty good idea of how they’re going to celebrate…