PHOTO: Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens (81) runs off the field with wide receiver Freddie Mitchell (84) during the first quarter of a preseason game against the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Mass., Friday night, Aug. 13, 2004. Owens had three receptions for a total of 14 yards in his first game as an Eagle. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
It Could Happen: Five Ways for the Eagles to Win
By John MacKenna
Do you remember what happened to the untouchable Rams? Their receivers got roughed up by a hard-hitting defensive secondary; the St. Louis defense was shredded by a cool-headed, quick-thinking quarterback; and the final nail was hammered home by one of the game's best clutch kickers.
Who's to say that the Patriots can't self-destruct the same way? Why does everyone in New England seem so confident that their team will whip the Eagles on Sunday? Couldn't the Patriots fall victim to complacency or overconfidence the way other successful teams have? With all the praise being thrown their way these days, couldn't the Patriots get a little full of themselves?
It's not even like the Patriots would have to play terribly to lose. The Eagles are an excellent team. When the Patriots had a 12-2 in late December, the Eagles were one game better at 13-1. (The Eagles then lost two games while allowing their starters to coast so that they'd be rested up for the games that really matter.)
In their two playoff games this year, the Eagles have outscored their opponents by a combined 30 points, 54-24. McNabb did not throw a pick in either game. In the NFC Championship game, the Philadelphia defense held the NFL's top rushing team, the Atlanta Falcons, to 99 yards on the ground after the Falcons had averaged 167 yards per game in the regular season.
And, like the Patriots, the Eagles have a talented, aggressive defense. In McNabb, they have a quarterback who is cool under pressure, has excellent skills and protects the ball well. They also have a clutch kicker in David Akers, who would love to play the executioner's role that Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri has filled in two of the last three Super Bowls.
The Eagles dominated the NFC playoffs without the help of Terrell Owens, their Pro Bowl receiver who caught 77 passes this year for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns. Owens expects to play on Sunday.
Strange things happen in football. Consider what surprising feats the Patriots have achieved recently. On Jan. 16, they silenced the unstoppable Peyton Manning. On Jan. 23, they ran up 41 points on the Steelers' top-rated defense.
And yet, on Dec. 20, they lost a game to the 2-11 Miami Dolphins.
If the lowly Dolphins can knock off the Patriots, surely the Eagles can too. The Eagles have won 59 of their last 80 regular-season games, and here are five scenarios that could result in the Eagles bringing the Vince Lombardi Trophy home with them on Monday.
1. The Eagles bring their 'A' game and the Patriots don't. There's a football game to be played Sunday evening, and the team that plays better will win. The Eagles are sure to be hungry. This is the first Super Bowl for most of the Eagles, and we can expect them to give it their all.
Can we expect the same from the Patriots? Bill Belichick's players have experienced more success in the last three years than the vast majority of NFL players will enjoy in their entire careers. We can count on Belichick to not let down. Most of his players will probably be ready to rock too.
But what if a few of them get suckered by the hype and take the field expecting to win without putting out maximum effort? It would take only a few subpar individual performances to sabotage the game plan, no matter how well Belichick and his assistants have prepared.
2. The real Terrell Owens shows up. Owens' doctor has refused to endorse Owens' decision to play, leading most observers to believe that the Eagles will have nothing more than a shadow of their ace receiver on the field on Sunday evening. Maybe it's a ruse. Or maybe Owens has healed well ahead of schedule, with or without divine intervention.
If the 6'3", 226-pound Owens can run and jump and cut on Sunday night, the Eagles could be positively lethal on offense, as they have been often this season. This is a team that twice has scored 28 points in a single quarter. They scored 49 points against the Cowboys and 47 points against the Packers. They scored 27 or more points 10 times during the regular season. They scored 27 points in each of their playoff games.
A healthy Owens changes everything. If the Patriots find they need double coverage to stop Owens, they will expose themselves elsewhere, and they could get burned by McNabb and Brian Westbrook, the Eagles' ace tailback.
3. The Patriots fall behind and start abandoning the run. The Patriots manhandled both the Colts and Steelers by taking early leads and controlling the ball with a balanced attack. But what happens if the Eagles get off to a hot start and force the Patriots to play from behind?
The Patriots should be able to move the ball effectively as long as they're running a balanced attack. Philadelphia's run defense allowed 118.9 yards per game (16th in the NFL) during the regular season, and New England is likely planning to favor the run and limit the damage the Eagles can cause with their three Pro Bowl defensive backs.
But if Philadelphia takes a 10-0 lead and shows signs of stopping Patriots RB Corey Dillon, New England could be forced to pass too often, and Brady might struggle to find open receivers. If the Eagles scheme well, Safeties Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis and cornerback Lito Sheppard could shut down Deion Branch, David Givens and the other New England receivers.
4. The Eagles take care of the ball. Turnovers are an important part of New England's game plan. Against the Colts, the Patriots recovered two fumbles and intercepted one pass. Against the Steelers, they picked off three passes and recovered one fumble.
It's unrealistic to expect the Eagles to make mistakes like those. In their two playoff games so far, the Eagles committed just one turnover (a Freddie Mitchell fumble against the Minnesota Vikings.) During 16 regular-season games, the Eagles committed only 16 turnovers (eight interceptions, eight lost fumbles). If they continue to guard the ball well, the Patriots won't enjoy the bonus possessions that proved so advantageous against the Colts and Steelers. McNabb threw no interceptions in six of his last 10 starts.
5. The Eagles get after Brady. The Eagles were second in the NFL with 47 sacks. In six of their last eight games, the Eagles have nailed opposing quarterbacks three times or more, including back-to-back five-sack games against the Giants and the Packers.
Brady is very good at avoiding the blitz, but he is not immune to pressure. Six starters on the Philadelphia defense had three or more sacks this year, led by DE Jevon Kearse with 7.5. If they manage even to crowd Brady, the Eagles pass rushers could disrupt the Patriots' passing attack, particularly if any of the New England receivers has an off-day.
Brady was sacked only 26 times during the regular season, but New England's pass protection was spotty at times, and the offensive line is not above having a bad day.
John is a regular contributor to the Patriots Insider. You can reach him in the forums under the name: oldnslow. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by searching for "John MacKenna" or send him an email here
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