Mixing equal parts patience and confidence, with a sprinkle of belief, the Philadelphia Eagles managed to move past the cloud of doubt that would hinder most teams. Now, there is only one more obstacle between them and glory.
Opposing Tom Brady and the experienced Patriots is undoubtedly the toughest challenge the Eagles will face this season, but they have already overcome the seemingly untraversable. As a result, the Philadelphia Eagles are my pick to lift the Lombardi Trophy on the night of Feb. 4, in a closely-fought contest.
Standing tall in the pocket, Carson Wentz did exactly what the Philadelphia Eagles’ had learned to expect of him, delivering his 33rd touchdown pass of the season to Alshon Jeffery on fourth-and-goal while breaking the Eagles’ franchise record for such passes that stood for 56 years.
Everything was well and good for the city of Philadelphia until their beloved franchise quarterback gingerly limped off the field, towel over his head. The City of Brotherly Love faced the fact that Wentz would miss the remainder of the season, with three games left. Wentz suffered structural damage in his knee, tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament.
Stepping into arguably the biggest game of the Eagles’ 2017-18 regular season campaign to date, quarterback Nick Foles exuded confidence from the get-go. Although he “netted just 42 yards on six completions” after entering the contest, Foles came through “when he really needed to make a throw while trying to kill the clock in the final two minutes, [finding] Nelson Agholor for a nine-yard completion on third-and-eight.” Directly after the game, and without batting an eye, the former University of Arizona signal-caller declared, “I’m absolutely ready.” Just as Foles’ career year serves as an outlier to his otherwise inconsistent production, however, Eagles fans and coaches alike would not have been questioned for expecting a further regression to the mean of “cement-shoes Nick Foles’” production.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson refused to accept this negativity. Likewise, Pederson exhibited unwavering confidence following the loss of his team’s undisputed leader and superstar in Wentz. Citing the various other injuries his team had overcome over the course of the season, Pederson pleaded that the fans not lose faith. He continued “people thought our chances were gone by the wayside when [All-Pro left tackle and team captain] Jason Peters went down, [and] when [veteran running back and return specialist] Darren Sproles went down too.” The coach urged fans and ultimately his players that the end goal of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Minneapolis remained intact. Needless to say, the Eagles players needed little motivation to keep the train rolling.
Despite the unbreakable confidence and self-belief within the Eagles locker room, the media failed to respect the Eagles’ fourth-ranked total defense, top-ranked rush defense, and third-ranked rushing offense, as determined by their stellar 132.2 yards on the ground per game. Perhaps more importantly, however, those outside the Eagles camp underestimated the genius of Pederson. Going into the NFC Divisional Round game against the streaking Falcons as “the first 1-seed underdog in divisional-round history because Nick Foles is their starting quarterback” on the back of five quarters of poor offensive football in which Foles threw for a combined 202 yards with two interceptions and one touchdown, Pederson inevitably realized the need to tailor the offense to Foles’ strengths. Undoubtedly, the bye week at the Eagles’ disposal was instrumental in the development and effective implementation of this new offensive game plan.
Relying heavily on dump-offs, check-downs and run-pass options against the Falcons, Foles’ statline of 246 yards in the air with no touchdowns and arguably more importantly no turnovers was enough to put the Philadelphia defense in a position to win the team the game. They won as Jalen Mills batted the pigskin away from superstar receiver Julio Jones in the end zone in the most important play of both teams’ seasons and the Eagles came away with a gutsy 15-10 victory, dog masks and all. With this passing yardage statistic against the Falcons largely padded by yards after the catch by his receivers and running backs, most notably Jay Ajayi and Alshon Jeffery, as evidenced by Foles being “officially 0-for-2 on passes of more than 20 air yards.” Pederson must have realized the necessity of making more aggressive decisions and throwing the ball downfield against the top-ranked Minnesota defense in the NFC Championship against the Vikings.
In tune with his aggressive decision-making all season, Pederson was ready to “[do] away with the restrictions” put on Foles in his previous four starts. Showing absolute confidence in his quarterback, Pederson kept Minnesota off-balance with the combination of the Eagles power running game with Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount and long passes down the field from Foles, highlighted by 53- and 41- yard touchdown strikes to Jeffrey and Torrey Smith, respectively. This offensive production against the usually overbearing Vikings defense, along with the three turnovers forced by the Eagles own defensive unit, sealed the Eagles blowout 38-7 win and subsequent flight to Minneapolis for the Super Bowl.
The Apollo Creed to their Rocky, the feisty, underdog Eagles should not fear the incumbent world champion New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Despite their improvements of late, averaging 16 points against per game in their last five contests (including the regular season and playoffs), the Patriots’ capacity to give up yards on defense is encouraging for the Eagles. Yielding the fourth most yards against per game in the regular season, the Patriots were topped only by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts, all of whom suffered through undesirable sixteen game-long punishments. Despite this, however, the Patriots are in the top five in the National Football League in minimizing points against. This rare trend may trouble the Patriots in the Super Bowl pressure cooker.