It may be going up later than I had hoped, but the Super Bowl amateur adventures in film post is one of my favourites to write all year as it allows me to hold on to football for a week longer. For Super Bowl LII I wanted to take a look at the Patriots’ offensive line going up against the Philadelphia Eagle’s defensive line.
The first thing I have to say is that there was naturally a bit of mission creep when looking at the coaching tape as when looking at pass protections you have to also include any tight ends or running backs who end up blocking and for the Eagles I have to include any blitzing players.
The reason I wanted to highlight this is one of the firth things that leapt of the tape was just how good a blocker Rob Gronkowski is. Now I’ve heard plenty of people laud him as possibly the best tight end to play depending on how the rest of his career goes, but it is one thing to hear that Gronk is a good blocker and another to see how key he was in certain protection schemes. I am not claiming to be an expert, but there were plenty of snaps where it was Gronkowski’s job to stay in and block the defensive end or come inside on run plays to clear a linebacker out and he did this very effectively. This then could allow the Patriots double both interior linemen of the Eagles four man front which helped contain Brandon Graham when he moved inside to rush alongside Fletcher Cox.
In this game the Patriots did a number of things with their line. Yes they would run block as unit left or right, or they would pull right guard Shaq Mason or get Mason and left guard Joe Thurney up into the second level of the defence. There were also screen plays where centre David Andrews joined either or both guards to get downfield and spring the player catching the ball for good gains. However, whilst the Patriots mixed up their protection and how they blocked for the run, one feature that stay consistent through most of this game was Nate Solder being left to block his defender one on one in pass protection. Yes occasionally Rob Gronkowski or a running back would hit the end of their way out for a route, but Solder got virtually no help as this was the way that the Patriots could have the numbers to double defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and/or any other of the Eagles’ defensive line, except their right end who was Solder’s responsibility. There were only a couple of times that this caused a problem with one being the fourth and ten that Tom Brady converted in the Patriots’ final drive where Solder got to Fletcher Cox, who was running a stunt with defensive end Vinny Curry, but Solder was pushed back virtually into Tom Brady who still managed get the throw off and complete the pass for a first down just before Chris Long tackled Brady having got round right tackle Cameron Flemming. I remember one other play where Solder was straight beaten by an end but as the statistics tell us, the Patriots were able to move the ball well for large parts of this game, and Solder played a big part in enabling the pass protection schemes to work.
So what did happen to the Eagle’s vaunted pass rush? Well the answer is more complicated than just that the Patriots offence took care of them. Seldom does one player or one group of players dominate a game as much as we might think, and whilst the Patriots did play well there were still occasions where the Eagle’s line interrupted plays. It is hard to say the Eagle’s defence played well when they gave up over five hundred yards passing yards but more of that was due to their opposition than poor play.
The Eagles depth at defensive line was one of their strengths this season and certainly you could certainly see that at play in this game as not only was there a good mix of players, but they lined up on at various places along there four man front. There were plenty of times when Brandon Graham would move in from defensive end to rush as a second defensive tackle alongside Fletcher Cox so the Eagles could get another pass rushing end into the game. The only sack of the game was Graham’s play that ended the Patiots’ tenth drive, which basically sealed the game and Graham was rushing inside on this play with Chris Long outside him. I, like a lot of people, had the feeling that with 2:21 on the clock and Brady getting the ball that the Patriots were about to march down the field and win the game. However, whilst this crucial sack was the only one of the game, the Eagles did hit Brady another nine times and were able to affect throws even if they couldn’t get to him. In fact one of the reasons that the Eagles didn’t get more pressure was because Brady was so quick at getting the ball out and several times it was the timing of Brady’s throw as much as the blocking in front of him that defeated the Eagles pressure.
Overall this was a really interesting game to watch on coaching tape with the Patriots moving the ball but not having it all their own way and ultimately the Eagles won out with their defence able to make just enough plays that when coupled with their stellar offensive performance.
I’m going to take a few weeks off as I head into the offseason with some plans to do some reading, research for next season, and to get a second book published. I will be okay without football for a while but I’m sure the itch to write and blog will return and it will be a long time before there are games to watch again. However, this game will live in our minds for a long time, no small thanks to the performance of both teams and if the Eagle’s legacy is that teams are more aggressive with their play calling and approach that would be no bad thing.
It will as ever, be a long offseason.