Every Wednesday, Dan Hanzus combs through the expert findings of the NFL Media Research Department to share nuggets (also known as "nugs") that fascinate, frighten or change him on a fundamental level. This is the Super Bowl LII edition of High-Flying Adventures In The Research Notes.
THE PATRIOTS NOW OPERATE IN THEIR OWN HISTORICAL ORBIT
You can point to countless stats that help to explain the Patriots' relentless assault on the football world for nearly two decades, but "Bill Belichick and Tom Brady being one win on Sunday from doubling up Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw in postseason victories" might be at the top of the list for me.
After all, you could argue that the Steelers of the '70s represented the NFL's greatest dynasty in the Super Bowl era. Led by the Steel Curtain defense and the Blonde Bomber (yes, this is how Terry Bradshaw was once popularly identified), Pittsburgh captured four Super Bowl titles in six years. And now the Patriots have come along and made that stretch of greatness look quaint in comparison -- at least in terms of duration.
#RPO #RPO #RPO #RPO #RPO #RPO #RPO #RPO #RPO #RPO (#RPO)
As I wrote in my Super Bowl LII Glossary of Terms, "RPO" owes its boom in the cultural lexicon to Troy Aikman, who used the acronym constantly during the Eagles' Divisional Round win over the Falcons. To Aikman's credit, the FOX color man astutely observed how an RPO scheme helped to get Foles into a rhythm after a shaky start against Atlanta. Of course, Bill Belichick knows that as well -- and one could surmise that the greatest coach in NFL history has spent two weeks (and probably more) scheming ways to shut this attack down.
That said, I thought the same thing two weeks ago about Mike Zimmer and the Vikings' top-rated defense ... and Foles carved up Minnesota in stunningly easy fashion. And the scheming of Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia may be useless if New England simply doesn't have the right personnel to neutralize the RPO. The numbers suggest they don't.
Speaking of Foles, it will be fascinating to see if he can approach the crazy success he had with the deep ball against Minnesota. In the NFC Championship Game, he went 4-of-5 with two touchdowns on throws of 20 or more yards through the air. He completed one such pass in 13 attempts in his first four starts after the Carson Wentz injury. Which Foles shows up on Sunday?
THERE WAS A TIME, IN A GALAXY FAR AWAY, WHEN THE PATRIOTS WERE MORTALS
"I haven't always been like this ..."
I quote the ample matriarch from the 1993 Johnny Depp vehicle What's Eating Gilbert Grape? for two reasons.
1) I'm weird.
2) You young whippersnappers would max out your fidget spinners if you knew how the Patriots were perceived by the football cognoscenti before Tom Brady took flight in 2001. The Pats were an afterthought. Even when New England made a pair of Super Bowls in the 1985 and 1996 seasons, they were distant supporting characters to the Ditka Bears and Golden Age Brett Favre Packers, respectively.
In all other seasons, they were just kind of ... there. You could look at them as brothers with the post-Namath Jets. Conference flotsam. That's why it's always funny when Patriots fans come after me on Twitter with mocking commentary about my Jets fandom. You were once us ... and there's a good chance you will be again. Sit down. Be Humble. Cherish your good fortune.
EAGLES MUST SUCCESSFULLY FOLLOW 'THE MODEL'
And there it is. That's how you beat Tom Brady. To beat Tom Brady, you need to beatTom Brady. The Giants did it twice in the Super Bowl. The Broncos pounded the quarterback hellaciously in the 2015 AFC title game. Rex Ryan's Jets made Brady's life hell in the 2010 AFC Divisional Playoffs -- still New England's most recent home playoff loss.
Brady's unreal work ethic has kept him healthy and limber in his 18th season, but he's still a slow-footed 40-year-old quarterback who looks like most any other passer when the pocket collapses around him. Remember how Brady saw those ghosts before Dante Fowler dropped him in the first half of the AFC title game?
If guys like Brandon Graham, Chris Long, Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry play their game, the Eagles can summon the spirits around TB12 once more.