BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Film study will be the basis for the formations the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots open Super Bowl LII with on Sunday.
That’s when the chess match begins.
Sunday’s title game will feature two of the top three scoring offenses from the regular season and two of the top five defenses. And that’s saying something considering the early-season struggles the Patriots’ defense endured.
Given two weeks to prepare, New England coach Bill Belichick is a proven master at devising schemes to attack weaknesses and take advantage of favorable matchups. On the other side of the field, Eagles coach Doug Pederson is preparing to be the head coach in his first Super Bowl — seven fewer than Belichick as a head coach (Sunday will be his 11th including years as an assistant coach) — but has already established a reputation for being unpredictable and aggressive on offense.
“It’s hard for a defense to get a grasp on exactly what we’re going to do,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said on Tuesday. “We’re not scaling down (for the Super Bowl) … if anything, we’ve scaled up. It’s a great matchup with two great coaches who are going to throw a lot at you.
Kelce was one of several Eagles to emphasize that they will need to be prepared to make adjustments once the game starts.
Philadelphia finished the regular season third in points scored and seventh in total yards. New England was second and first, respectively.
The Patriots lost wide receiver Julian Edelman to a season-ending knee injury during the preseason, but New England has remained potent with its slew of remaining versatile weapons. Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, James White … the list appears endless.
That versatility keeps coordinator Josh McDaniels’ group unpredictable. Will they spread the ball out and try to take advantage of individual matchups, or try to pound the ball to take the sting out of the Eagles’ strong pass rush?
“They throw a lot at you,” said Eagles safety Rodney McLeod. “It all depends on what they see on film that they like. It’s going to be a chess match at the start, and then we’ll have to adjust and lock in.”
The Eagles are relying heavily on their own film study to understand what each personnel package and formation means in trying to anticipate where the ball will be going.
“You don’t focus on one player, you focus on who is in the game and what they’re trying to do,” said cornerback Jalen Mills.
–The Eagles are staying near the Mall of America, but will be practicing at the University of Minnesota near downtown Minneapolis. While the frenzy of Super Bowl week is old hat to the Patriots, part of Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s job this week is keeping his players focused on the game.
Pederson hasn’t decided whether the team will practice in pads this week, but otherwise said the game-week schedule will remain the same.
“It’s about what we do this week,” he said Tuesday. “How our players block out the distractions and get themselves ready to go. My job is to make sure the guys remain mentally plugged in this week.
Several players voiced their eagerness to get back on the practice field Wednesday.
“We’re doing everything we can to stay focused,” said defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. “It’s going to be great to get back to football.”
Mills said he isn’t concerned about the Super Bowl experience gap between the teams, and expects Philadelphia to come out ready to play Sunday.
“It’s the Eagles vs. the Patriots, it’s the final game of the season,” he said. “You don’t work this hard from April to get to this point and be uptight.”
QUOTEABLE: “I don’t think I’ve seen a big change in him, to be honest. Nick’s one of those guys who is as even-keeled as they come. And I think that’s huge in playing the position.” – Kelce, on how Eagles quarterback Nick Foles handled the transition to being the starter following Carson Wentz’s season-ending knee injury.
–Derek Harper, Field Level Media