The Patriots’ defense is correctly in everyone’s crosshairs after Super Bowl 52, but don’t lose sight of the fact that the defense faced a 4th-and-1 with 5:39 left in the game from the Eagles 45-yard line with a 33-32 lead. That’s the game right there.
Trey Flowers bursts through the line but was pushed off course just enough the he couldn’t quite get the quarterback. Instead, Foles made an excellent slide to his left and made a clutch off-balance throw to pick up two yards to Zach Ertz. Conversion. Game-winning touchdown scored seven plays later.
A stop right there and the Patriots are most likely Super Bowl champs and we’re sweeping the defensive shortcomings under the rug just like the Eagles defense, who gave up 600 yards, are doing right now. Both defenses were systematically shredded for most of the game, but one clutch play determines which got blamed for the loss and which got credited for the win.
Philadelphia’s gameplan was a greatest hits of everything the Patriots defense struggled with this season. Bunch sets, toss sweeps, some run-pass options… for an inexperienced front they just had no anticipation for what the Eagles were doing. The second level and edge players were where they wanted to target but they didn’t fear the Patriots pass rush when it came time to take some deep shots as well.
Here’s what stood out to me:
— I don’t want to go too far down the “what if Malcolm Butler had played” rabbit hole but the trickle down effect of his absence was glaring in a couple moments, none moreso than on a third and six in the third quarter where a tackle by Johnson Bademosi gets the Patriots off the field. Instead he fails to wrap up and Nelson Agholor turns it into a 17-yard gain. That’s a tackle Butler consistently makes.
— But if I had to point to the main offenders of this game they’re Elandon Roberts (59 percent), Jordan Richards (21 percent) and Eric Lee (21 percent). Roberts played the most and he had just two solo tackles. That can’t happen for a MLB. He’s got to be the one making the tackles and he was consistently slow to react and couldn’t make any real impactful plays. Lee failed to record a stat in his 16 snaps while Richards was over his head as he’s been all year long. His terrible angle allowed the 55-yarder to Corey Clement at the end of the first half which led to the 4th-down touchdown catch by Foles. Of everyone, this trio was ineffective or hurt the team all game long and are the places where the depth must be improved.
— After weeks of improvement, Kyle Van Noy didn’t have the game the Patriots needed from him. But really they had to rely on him too much already. Overall just the combination of him and Roberts at linebacker had a big target on their backs and they played the game like they were trying to keep up, not dictate.
— Credit to Marquis Flowers for making one of the only plays of the day on defense with his recognition on third down to stay on the edge and make the tackle of Agholor for an 8-yard loss. Really that felt like it was the start of the defense putting together the kind of 4th quarter we’re used to. All season long they were torched in the first half but made the stops late in the second half that allowed Brady to win the game. They got one here, but they came up one short in the end.
— Despite a couple struggles I thought Eric Rowe actually had a pretty good game. Quite a few of Foles’ throws were just so dead-on you just have to tip your hat. Another thing to mention is that Rowe was primarily an outside corner before this year. Lots of analysis out there saying he should’ve been in the slot where he for much of this year, but that’s a new thing that many analysts don’t seem to remember. Last year he’d come on and play the outside while Logan Ryan would shift inside. I think they used Rowe’s size effectively as they could in this game.
— Yes the thought of the usual — Chung–Ertz, Gilmore–Jeffrey, Butler/Rowe — Agholor/Smith is making me sick like everyone else. In a game where one or two plays would’ve sealed it for New England, especially when we’re just talking about making fundamental tackles, it’s haunting to wonder if Butler could’ve made that one play that was missing. But you live by the Belichick you die by the Belichick I suppose.
— It’s always an easy crutch to say they needed more pass rush pressure but it’s a glaring headline in this one. Foles was immediately comfortable as the Patriots sent a fairly rare star corner blitz on the first snap. Just nothing they did physically or schematically ever confused or caused Foles any hesitation and that’s why he made pinpoint throws all game long. Other than James Harrison‘s bull rush there wasn’t much of anything happening up front and it again felt like the whole defensive front was just on their heels the whole game.
— After Flowers and Malcom Brown upfront, I’d look to remake the entire front seven. It’d be nice to say we’ll just welcome Dont’a Hightower back but can we really ever count on him to be there for a full season now? It would be a surprise to say the least. I don’t know how they’ll evolve schematically, but I think the obvious takeaway is to improve the athleticism of the front seven players who stand up. Derek Rivers could be an interesting player in that regard. I’m not even a Shea McClellin fan and this defense has me longing for someone who can run on that second level.
What was clear this season is that the NFL is evolving and after their top-line linebackers were lost, the backups just didn’t have the ability to deal with offenses that weren’t straight-forward attacks. The Eagles perfectly embodied everything the Pats struggled with and that’s why they looked unstoppable for nearly the entire game. When you don’t have front seven talent who can disrupt and dictate it doesn’t matter how good your secondary is.
In a nutshell, this game boiled down to third and fourth downs, because the Pats forced plenty of them, they just saved their worst work for the most critical downs. Check out the damage below. Eight third down plays that went for 14 yards or more is just terrible terrible defense.
|Eagles||Patriots||2||1:46||3||3||PHI 37||15-12||Nick Foles pass complete short right to Corey Clement for 55 yards (tackle by Patrick Chung)||55|
|Eagles||Patriots||2||5:55||3||4||PHI 31||15-6||Jay Ajayi right tackle for 26 yards (tackle by James Harrison)||26|
|Eagles||Patriots||3||7:25||3||6||NWE 22||28-19||Nick Foles pass complete deep left to Corey Clement for 22 yards, touchdown||22|
|Eagles||Patriots||2||10:30||3||7||PHI 38||9-3||Nick Foles pass complete short middle to Zach Ertz for 19 yards (tackle by Jordan Richards)||19|
|Eagles||Patriots||1||13:37||3||4||PHI 32||0-0||Nick Foles pass complete short left to Alshon Jeffery for 17 yards (tackle by Eric Rowe)||17|
|Eagles||Patriots||3||11:27||3||6||PHI 19||22-19||Nick Foles pass complete short left to Nelson Agholor for 17 yards (tackle by Patrick Chung)||17|
|Eagles||Patriots||1||12:30||3||12||PHI 47||0-0||Nick Foles pass complete short middle to Torrey Smith for 15 yards (tackle by Eric Rowe)||15|
|Eagles||Patriots||3||8:57||3||1||NWE 40||22-19||Nick Foles pass complete short right to Zach Ertz for 14 yards (tackle by Jordan Richards)||14|
|Eagles||Patriots||4||2:25||3||7||NWE 11||38-33||Nick Foles pass complete short left to Zach Ertz for 11 yards, touchdown||11|
|Eagles||Patriots||4||8:35||3||6||PHI 29||32-33||Nick Foles pass complete short middle to Zach Ertz for 7 yards (tackle by Stephon Gilmore)||7|
|Eagles||Patriots||4||5:39||4||1||PHI 45||32-33||Nick Foles pass complete short left to Zach Ertz for 2 yards (tackle by Duron Harmon)||2|
|Eagles||Patriots||2||0:38||4||1||NWE 1||21-12||Trey Burton pass complete short right to Nick Foles for 1 yard, touchdown||1|
|Eagles||Patriots||4||1:56||3||5||NWE 26||38-33||LeGarrette Blount right tackle for -1 yards (tackle by Adam Butler and Malcom Brown)||-1|
|Eagles||Patriots||4||15:00||3||3||NWE 16||29-26||Nick Foles pass complete short right to Nelson Agholor for -8 yards (tackle by Marquis Flowers)||-8|
|Eagles||Patriots||1||8:03||3||7||NWE 7||0-0||Nick Foles pass incomplete short left intended for Alshon Jeffery (defended by Eric Rowe)|
|Eagles||Patriots||2||13:23||3||8||PHI 22||9-3||Nick Foles pass incomplete short right intended for Zach Ertz (defended by Devin McCourty)|
|Eagles||Patriots||2||0:41||3||1||NWE 1||15-12||Nick Foles pass incomplete short left intended for Alshon Jeffery (defended by Stephon Gilmore)|
|Eagles||Patriots||4||6:26||3||1||PHI 45||32-33||Nick Foles pass complete short left to Torrey Smith for no gain|