The Rear View Mirror – Super Bowl LII

The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41-33 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The game was an offensive explosion, with the teams combining for 1,151 yards, 54 first downs and only a single punt between them. After the game, quarterback Tom Brady would say about the Philadelphia defense, "Yes, they made one play." That play – a Brandon Graham strip sack – resulted in a Derek Barnett fumble recovery with 2:16 remaining in the contest, essentially ending the Patriots’ opportunity for another Super Bowl victory.

Brandon Graham (55) beats Shaq Mason (69) before making the game’s winning play

Photograph by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Nine Observations from the Super Bowl…

1. The Patriots defensive plan coming into the game was to match the Eagles with a three-safety, two-cornerback defense. Corners Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe usually played outside receivers Alshon Jeffery (three catches and 73 yards on eight targets) and Torrey Smith (five catches and 49 yards on nine targets), often leaving safety Pat Chung as the slot defender on receiver Nelson Agholor (nine catches and 84 yards on 11 targets).

2. A coaching decision had Malcolm Butler dressed but kept the cornerback out of the defense for the whole game. That had a trickledown effect as special teamers Johnson Bademosi (15% of snaps) and Jordan Richards (21%) played more than one would have expected.

3. Playing out of that nickel defense the Patriots’ run defense was shaky. The team allow backs LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi a combined 147 rushing yards (6.4 yards per attempt). That rushing average is double their regular season numbers.

4. Corey Clement didn’t get much on the ground (eight yards on three carries), but the quick running back led the Eagles with 100 receiving yards. Clement’s beautiful, back of the end zone, 55-yard touchdown catch would most likely had been ruled an incomplete pass during the regular season.

5. In pass coverage, New England’s linebackers struggled with running backs and tight end Zach Ertz (seven catches and 67 yards on eight targets). Ertz made the fourth-and-one reception with five minutes remaining in the 4th quarter to keep Philadelphia’s comeback drive alive. A few minutes later Ertz would score a touchdown on a slant pattern in which safety Devin McCourty appears confused at the snap.

Tom Brady’s heroics almost brought his team back from a rough first half (again)

Photograph by Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

6. Tom Brady threw for a Super Bowl record 505 yards, completing 28 of 48 with no interceptions and three second-half touchdowns. During the season the Patriots’ offense averaged 4.5 plays over 20 yards per game and in the Super Bowl they connected on 11 such “Big Plays”.

7. New England might not have needed all the second-half fire power if they had gotten more than three points in their first three offensive drives. Their first drive went 67 yards, but stalled deep in Philadelphia territory, resulting in a field goal. The second drive went 74 yards but was snuffed out with a Brandin Cooks jet sweep on third down that went nowhere. A poor snap on the ensuing field goal led to a miss. On the third drive, offensive coach Josh McDaniels called for a third-and-five trick play and Danny Amendola’s pass back to a wide-open Tom Brady running up the right sideline was a little too long. That miss was followed by a questionable fourth-down heave to Rob Gronkowski that landed out of bounds.

8. Running back James White got free for a 26-yard touchdown run in the 2nd quarter. Other than that, New England averaged less than four yards per carry. The offensive line also gave up a season-high nine (9) quarterback hits to the Eagles. On paper, the Eagles had a talent advantage on the defensive line, and it played out that way in the game.

Malcolm Jenkins (27) led his team to the field and then to victory

Photograph by Matt Slocum and published by The Washington Times

9. Safety Malcolm Jenkins looked like the Eagles’ best defender much of the night. When called on, he successfully covered running back James White (only two catches on six targets). He also knocked Brandin Cooks out of the game when the receiver inexplicitly ran in a circle after a wide-open, 23 yard reception.

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