The subtle art of pretending to be Tom Brady. In Eagles practice this week, the role of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be played by second-year pro Nate Sudfeld, who told me he'll keep his impersonation "pretty simple and classy." That means no spatted shoes, gloves or towel to look like Brady, nor adjustments to his mechanics (e.g., putting his left foot forward in the shotgun, as Brady does).
But Sudfeld will mimic Brady's checks and "gyrations" at the line of scrimmage to give the Eagles the best possible look -- always a challenge against the Patriots, in part because their passing game includes a lot of conversion rules on routes, so the cards drawn by defensive coaches based on tape don't always match the play design.
"Sometimes, the defensive coaches don't see it as offensive coaches," Sudfeld said, "so they'll draw the exact line that [the Patriots] did, which looks like what they did on the field, but then sometimes, the route is changed based on the coverage, so it'll be like an out-route versus Cover 3, but if it's Cover 2, it's going to look like a corner. Then (in practice) it'll be Cover 2, and it'll be an out-route -- I'll be like, 'There's no way they run that into Cover 2.' "
That leaves Sudfeld asking a question the Eagles' defense will be pondering all week: What would Brady do? He said he tries to adjust accordingly, at times, in practice. But Sudfeld also is clear in his role: "Do what Coach (Jim) Schwartz draws up as best we can."
* * * * *
Wait -- what's your first memory of Brady? Andrews was asked.
"The first few Super Bowls I remember -- I remember that Titans-Rams game, and then the Rams and Brady was one of the first Super Bowls I remember as a kid growing up," Andrews said, referencing Super Bowl XXXVI, which was played at the end of the 2001 season. (Super Bowl XXXV, which featured the Ravens and Giants, was the Super Bowl between Titans-Rams and Rams-Patriots).
-- Judy Battista
* * * * *
"It's hard to describe," Wentz said during a brief appearance to a small group of reporters at Super Bowl LII Opening Night. "It's a frustration, it's ticked off. I want to be out there so bad, but what I'm really feeling is excited for the guys. And I have a mindset of how bad I want to be out there for the next Super Bowl."
* * * * *
"I would have to say, throughout the offseason workouts and in training and whatnot, we started off not knowing each other well, and throughout the season, we kept building that rapport, and I think we have a lot more room to grow together as a tandem," he said.
Cooks provided a deep threat the Pats' offense lacked in recent seasons. No Patriots receiver in the Tom Brady era averaged more yards per reception in a season than Cooks' 16.6 in 2017 (with a minimum of 50 receptions). It's not just big-play receptions in which Cooks has made a difference. The 24-year-old receiver led all players in defensive-pass-interference yards drawn (accumulating 209 yards on the penalty, including playoffs).
Cooks' presence has led to more deep shots from Brady -- despite their relative inconsistency. The Pats QB has a 13.8 percent deep-target rate, his highest since at least 2006, per NFL Research.
"Really just me knowing what he wants and where he wants his guys to be," Cooks said of his production with Brady improving. "Just being at that spot at the right place at the right time and letting him know he can trust me being there even though he might not be looking at me right away."
Cooks became one of only three players with 1,000-plus receiving yards and five-plus receiving TDs in each of the last three seasons, joining Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald. Despite the production, the fourth-year pro said he's not satisfied with his 1,082-yard, seven-touchdown season.
"Not at all. Not at all," he said, when asked if he was happy with this year. "It's just not enough. It's an OK season. I wouldn't say it's a great season. If it was a great season, there would be a lot more production. And that's on me. I've got to be better."
* * * * *
New England focused on defending RPOs. You won't read anything this week about the Philadelphia Eagles offense without a discussion about the run-pass option -- or RPOs.
The New England Patriots defense knows Nick Foles has excelled at RPOs since taking over for Carson Wentz as the Eagles' quarterback. According to Pro Football Focus, Foles has completed 93.8 percent of his RPO passes, compared to a 61.5 percent completion rate on non-RPO passes, including playoffs. The Eagles incorporated more RPOs and quick passes because it's where Foles is most comfortable.
"The success they've had running the ball allows them to have those RPO plays where they've got the linebackers or defensive line kind of reading the run, and now they can pop a pass over them, and things like that," Flowers said Tuesday in Minneapolis. "Their success on that running game is definitely one of the things that sparked the RPO."
The Patriots have struggled versus RPOs this season, allowing 5.6 yards per play, fifth-most in the NFL, per PFF.
"You've definitely got to be disciplined, you've kind of got to go against your instinct as far as where you think the ball might go or try to anticipate where the ball might go," Flowers said of defending RPOs and read-option plays. "You've just got to be disciplined. Trust your eyes, trust your keys, and when the play presents itself, then you make it."
RPOs particularly take advantage of linebackers, putting them in a no-win position. For a lineman like Flowers, his goal is to plug his run-gap first, then play the pass.
"You definitely got to do your job first. Trust your keys and be disciplined," he said. "You don't want to be playing pass and give up your gap. You've got to do your job, and the back end will do their job, and it's going to take all 11 of us."
* * * * *
"In my opinion, that falls in the category of injustice itself," Smith said. "You're hiring guys from all over the place, pulling guys out of retirement and not even giving him a chance to try out. That's the one thing, with all these great things in terms of helping us with our platforms, that needs to be addressed."
* * * * *
Brady and family members have spoken to reporters the past week about a variety of Minnesota memories involving young "Tommy" -- fishing, milking cows, getting bitten by a family dog. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Brady offered another anecdote ripped straight from a scene in "The Sandlot."
"I remember my uncles gave me chewing tobacco for the first time when I was really young," the now famously health-conscious Brady said. "And they said -- we were fishing, it's a pretty good story -- we went sun fishing. And on the way home, I said, I want to try it. They said, 'Look, if we give it to you, then you can't spit it out until you get home.'
"It was like a 30-minute ride back from my grandpa's farm. So of course they give it to me, and within 5 minutes, I'm outside of the car throwing up all over the place. I don't think I've had much chewing tobacco since then."