Superior Play Calling
Were there any imaginative and unpredictable play calls made by the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles? You think? Doug Pederson and Josh McDaniels are among the most gifted play callers in the league. They fared well on Sunday.
Both offensive play callers had their offenses utterly dominating the opposing defenses from start to finish. The offenses totaled 1151 yards (613, Patriots and 538, Eagles), shattering all kinds of Super Bowl records. The only punt in the game was by the Eagles in the second quarter.
On Sunday we saw the league’s two top teams, two of the best play callers, and record-setting offensive displays. Maybe creative play calling does have something to do with offensive productiveness – then again it could just be coincidence, right?
Head Hunting Wins Again
It happened again. With 13:11 to go in the second quarter, Tom Brady hit a wide-open Brandin Cooks for a 23-yard gain. The play itself didn’t lead to a score, though it was a pivotal moment in the game nonetheless.
After Cooks caught the ball, and as he was maneuvering around and looking upfield, safety Malcolm Jenkins gave the undersized receiver a vicious hit. The helmet-to-helmet hit was apparent, if only by the way Cooks hit the ground and stayed there. The slow motion views confirmed it was classic headhunting by Jenkins. Before Cooks was hauled off the field, we all knew his season was over.
As the announcers explained, you can’t go head-to-head against a defenseless receiver, but once the receiver becomes a runner, it’s okay to – let’s be honest – try to give the guy a concussion.
How many times can I, and many others, say it: the rule needs to be changed. Any intentional helmet-to-helmet hit (other than of a lineman in the box) should be deemed unnecessary roughness. Such hits must result in an immediate ejection AND in a post-game league review by the NFL. Anything less doesn’t act as a sufficient deterrent, and won’t make a difference.
The further review should take into account several factors (was the player blind-sided, how much force/violence occurred, did an injury result, and if so how extensive was it, does the perp have a previous history of such hits). Further game suspensions should then be assessed if merited.
Cooks was New England’s leading wide receiver (65 catches, 1,082 yards, 16.6 average, seven TDs) and their only speedy one. You can argue this was the play that dictated the game’s winner.
Comparing the QBs
There’s a tendency to view NFL games as matchups of the opposing quarterbacks, but it’s really two matchups of quarterbacks against opposing defenses. Tom Brady finished with a passer rating of 115.4 – his best ever in a Super Bowl. Nick Foles was right behind him, with a 106.1 rating.
Philadelphia’s defense was uncharacteristically lousy. Before allowing 613 yards, the Eagles had only allowed more than 400 yards twice on the year. In their two prior playoff games, their total yardage yielded was only 281 against the Falcons and 333 against the Vikings.
More subjectively, I thought Foles clearly was the better passer on the day. More often than not, Brady’s receivers were wide open. Foles in contrast was constantly having to thread passes through narrow windows or while he was on the run. Credit his receivers with making some tremendous catches.
Both offenses were all but unstoppable in the second half. Brady led Patriots drives that ended TD, TD, and TD, before finishing his final drives with a lost fumble and a nine-play drive that netted only 40 yards. Foles, meanwhile, went TD, FG, TD, and FG.
Brady might have been fatigued on that final drive, as he had only three of eight completions (not counting the spiked ball), and the two-minute offense (58 seconds actually) was not well managed – remember, Brandin Cooks was gone. The sloppy lateraled kick return that left the Pats on their own 9-yard line was also a major mess-up.
The season ended with Foles having two of the finest passing performances – back to back – in NFL postseason history.