Heading into Super Bowl LII, is it possible that Tom Brady’s most difficult test is already in his rear view?
After all, the Jaguars’ defense, a young, brash bunch, which ranked second in the NFL in points allowed this season, boasted arguably the league’s best cornerback tandem in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, a pair of athletic, do-it-all linebackers in Myles Jack and Telvin Smith, and a pass rush that was so effective, it earned the nickname Sacksonville.
On top of that, Brady was, of course, dealing with an injured right thumb and the Patriots lost Rob Gronkowski to a concussion in the first half of the AFC Championship.
However, even without his top target, Brady knew how to attack Jacksonville’s cover-3 defense, and New England’s offensive line gave him the time and space in the pocket he needed to repeatedly stretch the Jaguars’ defense and mount yet another improbable come from behind victory.
Looking ahead to Super Bowl LII, the Patriots will face a Philadelphia defense that ranks fourth in points allowed per game this season, according to pro-football-reference.com. After holding the Falcons to 10 points in the divisional round, the Eagles yielded just seven points to a Vikings offense that ranked in the top-10 in scoring this season.
The trio of Derek Barnett, Fletcher Cox, and former Patriot, Chris Long, help the Eagles generate pressure off the edge as well as from the interior. How New England’s offensive line performs against these three could decide which team hoists the Lombardi Trophy.
Like the Jaguars, the Eagles boast a pair of swiss army knife linebackers in Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks, who both possess the size, strength, and athleticism to make an impact rushing the passer, stopping the run and covering the Patriots running backs; they can even hold their own against Gronkowski.
Philadelphia also boasts a pair of terrific safeties in Rodney McLeod and pro bowler Malcolm Jenkins, who is like the Brian Dawkins of this rendition of the Eagles. Philadelphia primarily plays zone, so Jenkins and McLeod, particularly, the former, figure to have a heavy hand in how the Eagles attempt to combat Gronkowski, provided he is cleared to play.
At cornerback, you can expect to see Patrick Robinson matched up primarily with New England’s other hero from the AFC Championship game, Danny Amendola. Robinson is enjoying a breakout season, matching his career-highs in both interceptions and passes defensed, per ESPN.com.
Brandin Cooks is likely to draw Philadelphia’s best outside corner, Ronald Darby, while Chris Hogan can expect to see a lot of Jalen Mills, who has made strides in his second NFL season, but can still be considered the “weak link” in the Eagles’ passing defense. There’s a good chance this is who Brady looks to pick on.
So, will Philadelphia’s defense give Brady a tougher time than the Jaguars’ defense did? At this point in time, answering yes or no would ring hollow; just know that even with the stitches in Brady’s thumb being removed this week, which will likely make his injury a thing of the past, and the expectation that Gronkowski will return for the Super Bowl, the answer might still be yes.