The Eagles looked like a complete football team two Sunday’s ago, when they demolished the Vikings 38-7 in the NFC Championship game. But it wasn’t long before that Eagles fans were dismayed and pessimistic.
After barely hanging on to beat the 6-seeded Falcons with a goalline stand, 15-10, the Eagles were shut out by the Cowboys (though granted with mostly back ups playing) and uneasy with an ugly win over the Raiders in Week 16. Philly’s Championship Week performance was unexpectedly brilliant.
Will this weekend’s Super Bowl see the glowing performance of Nick Foles and his 141.1 quarterback rating? Or will the Patriots be able to feast on Foles the game manager with the hot potato skill players?
Here are the three gravest weaknesses that the Patriots will look to expoit in Super Bowl LII.
Of 53 players on Philly’s roster, just seven have Super Bowl experience. Malcolm Jenkins won the big game with the Saints in 2010, Torrey Smith with the Ravens in 2012 — along with Corey Graham and Dannell Ellerby — and a year later Chris Maragos won with the Seahawks. And then of course former Patriots’ Chris Long and LeGarrette Blount also have titles to their name and will face former teammates Sunday.
“We do have a couple players on this team that have been there as early as last season,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said. “We can lean on those guys and some of the experiences that some of our other players have been to the Super Bowl and all that. But, listen, I trust my leaders of the team. I trust that they will keep this group focused and grounded. It’s an all-hands-on-deck mentality. “
The Eagles are built with a lot of younger players. Foles, the most important Eagle next week, will be playing on the biggest stage in football. Will his nerves resemble Donovan McNabb’s from the last time Philly was in a Super Bowl (with the QB throwing up before the game)?
The Eagles turnover differential of plus-11 is one of the main reasons they are where they are. But they have had some luck on their side. Fumbling the ball 26 times, the Eagles average 1.6 per game, the fifth ost of any NFL team turing the regular season. They coughed the ball up four times against the Falcons in the Divisional Round, losing two of them — each leading to Atlanta’s two scoring drives.
Somehow during the 16-game season, Philadelphia only gave the ball away 11 of those 26 times and their fumble recovery rate of 59 percent was the sixth best in the NFL this season. The Patriots have the second best fumble rate in the league and have lost just four fumbles. The turnover battle will be huge for the Eagles and Patriots and the team with the most takeaways will likely hoist the Lombard Trophy.
3. Special teams
In what is usually an area of strength for the Eagles, special teams have done the Birds few favors this postseason as muffed punts and missed kicks have threatened to derail their efforts.
With Darren Sproles sidelined (their usual punt returned), special teams expert Maragos also on the IR and a rookie kicker (after Caleb Sturgis got hurt in Week 1) the Eagles are not at full strength in special teams. And it has shown, as Jake Elliott missed four extra points during the regular season and one during the postseason. The Eagles have one of the worst kick return averages in the NFL and did not boast one of the league’s 16 return touchdowns this season. They are one of eight teams to have had a punt blocked.
Fielding the ball mistake free and making every kick — as fundamental as it sounds — is key for the Eagles. If the Patriots can force some mistakes on special teams they can help their cause.