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The Eagles’ Offense Needed To Be Virtually Flawless. And It Was.

In Super Bowl LII on Sunday night, the New England Patriots racked up 613 yards, the most ever for a team in the Super Bowl. Tom Brady threw for 505 yards, which was the most by a quarterback in playoff history. The Patriots didn’t punt once in the entire game. It was a masterclass in offensive execution, and it was all for naught.

The Philadelphia Eagles’ 41-33 win over New England will be rightly remembered for the triumph of backup quarterback Nick Foles over a Super Bowl legend. But perhaps more remarkable was that the Eagles needed to be virtually flawless on offense to keep pace with New England, and they succeeded.

Defensive coordinators Matt Patricia and Jim Schwartz, who both received heavy head-coaching buzz this hiring cycle, watched helplessly on the sidelines as the offenses combined for 1,151 yards. Forget Super Bowl records or even playoff records, that’s most total yards in any game in NFL history.

Between Foles’ downfield passing and the inside/outside power-running combo of LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, the Eagles piled up 538 (hey, FiveThirtyEight!) total yards themselves and were able to counter the league’s most prolific offense each time it landed a punch. After averaging just 5.3 yards per pass attempt across six regular-season appearances1 and three starts in relief of starter Carson Wentz, Foles burned the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship for 352 yards at a 10.7 yards-per-attempt clip. Whatever changed in Foles — or whatever magic spell head coach Doug Pederson cast — was still in force Sunday when Foles threw for 373 yards against the Patriots defense, averaging 8.7 yards per attempt. He also showed a willingness to test the Patriots defense downfield, connecting on 11 of 19 throws of 10 air yards or more.

After the teams traded red-zone stops on the first two drives, Blount set the tone with a bruising 36-yard run. On the very next play, Foles went for the jugular with a 34-yard touchdown strike to receiver Alshon Jeffery. It was one of five passes — and two scores — where Foles connected for 20 more yards. To put his development this past month in perspective, he only had three such passes in the regular season.

The effectiveness of the Eagles’ run game set the table for Foles’s downfield feast. Repeated zone runs and outside stretches kept the Pats defense honest — and running horizontally — while Foles attacked vertically. Four Eagles combined to gain 164 yards on 27 carries, averaging 6.1 yards per attempt, while Foles completed 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards and a 88.6 Raw QBR. Pederson’s creativity shows up in the box score; five Eagles had at least seven touches — and two others had at least 70 yards, a receiving touchdown or both. Yes, that includes Foles:

Pederson’s balance and aggression broke the Patriots’ bend-but-don’t-break defense. As expected, the Patriots still made halftime adjustments; the Eagles averaged over 2 yards more per play in the first half than in the second half. But they were still devastating on third and fourth down, keeping drives alive by converting 12 of 18 tries. Per ESPN Stats & Information Group, Foles was practically perfect in conversion situations, posting an 11.4 yards-per-attempt average, two touchdowns and 99.9 Raw QBR on 15 attempts.

Yet it was a sloppily played game. Mistakes — including three missed first-half kicks, two failed two-point conversions, Brady’s dropped QB throwback and a host of blown coverages — took some of the shine off what was otherwise a sterling offensive performance by both teams.

Besides his dropped pass on the option — which, to be fair, was not a good throw from Danny Amendola — it’s hard to put any blame on Brady, who put up his best statistical effort in eight Super Bowls. In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group, he became the first quarterback in NFL history to lose any game while posting 500+ passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. No Super Bowl-losing quarterback has played better.

Yet Brady raised the ire of the entire footballing internet after the game, when he was quoted as saying the Eagles made “one good play”:

As the full context of the quote reveals, though, Brady was spot-on: Brandon Graham’s fourth-quarter strip sack of Brady was the only consequential defensive play of the game, and it came at the perfect time to short-circuit Brady’s now-routine postseason heroics. Fittingly, it was also the only sack by either team in the game, which tied a Super Bowl low mark.

Pederson has to be credited for his amazing coaching performance, winning it all after completely remaking his offense to suit his backup quarterback. The same is true of general manager Howie Roseman, who not only survived his power struggle with deposed head coach Chip Kelly but also won the Super Bowl two years later.

But most of the credit should go to Foles, who deservedly won the Super Bowl MVP award after getting jerked around by Kelly, the Eagles and the rest of the NFL. Despite contemplating retirement after being cut by the Rams in 2016, Foles stayed humble and hungry and returned the team that drafted him in 2012.

His patience, and theirs, resulted in a Super Bowl payoff for a fan base that desperately needed a championship.

CORRECTION (Feb. 5, 2017, 2:25 p.m.): A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of Eagles who had fewer than seven touches but who had at least 70 yards or a receiving touchdown — it was two, not three.

Footnotes

  1. Not counting an appearance in Week 8, when he entered the game with a minute left so that he could kneel twice and run out the clock.

Ty Schalter is a husband, father and terrible bass player who uses words and numbers to analyze football. His work has been featured at VICE, SiriusXM and elsewhere.

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