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The Eagles Beat the Patriots With a Hyper-Modern Offense

Nick Foles and Philly’s success was not only surprising, it offered a glimpse at how the NFL’s offenses are evolving

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

One of the most surprising story lines from the NFL’s regular season was the big dip in overall offense, as average points per game leaguewide dropped a full point and scoring hit an eight-year low. For most of the postseason, that pendulum swing away from a near-decade-long explosion in offense continued, and the league’s final four featured just one superstar quarterback: Tom Brady, who was joined by Case Keenum, Blake Bortles, and Eagles backup Nick Foles. It was easy to envision a Super Bowl in which the Patriots struggled to move the ball against Philly’s stout defensive unit and for the Eagles to run the ball and hope to win without asking Foles to do all that much.

Instead, the NFL delivered one final plot twist that few expected: the most offense-heavy Super Bowl in league history. Hell, it was the most prolific offensive explosion of any game, ever.

In the Eagles’ incredible 41-33 Super Bowl LII victory on Sunday, the two teams ran a combined 143 plays, scored 74 points (second most for any Super Bowl), picked up 54 first downs, and set a Super Bowl record for a combined 8.0 yards per play. It was an offensive performance for the ages. Both teams spread the field, used personnel and formations to dictate the way defenses had to line up, and exploited one-on-one matchups in space. Neither defensive line factored until late in the game—there was just one sack all game—and for the most part, it looked an awful lot like a game of seven-on-seven. While this NFL season represented a reversal of the offense-weighted trend we’ve seen in the league over the past 10-plus years, this Super Bowl was a strong reminder of the direction the league is going. It offered a glimpse into the future of football at the pro level; that is to say, it looked and felt a hell of a lot like a college game.

For nearly the entire night, Philly beat the Pats at their own game, with Foles zeroing in on New England’s defensive weaknesses with ruthless efficiency. But the Eagles’ inability to get a stop against Brady nearly ruined the team’s astounding offensive performance. Until defensive lineman Brandon Graham’s crucial strip sack on Brady with 2:09 left in the game, the Patriots had done just about whatever they wanted against an uncharacteristically inept Philly defensive unit. In fact …

Brady destroyed a Super Bowl passing record he’d set last year (466 passing yards), completing 28 of 48 passes for 505 yards and three scores. He threw two touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski in the second half and another to Chris Hogan—then nearly found Gronk a third time with a desperation Hail Mary throw that bounced off the big tight end’s hands and to the turf as time ran out. He coolly led the Patriots back from a 10-point second-half deficit to help give New England the lead early in the final frame. But that performance—which probably should’ve won the future Hall of Famer his sixth Super Bowl ring and fifth Super Bowl MVP award—was all for naught, ruined by a backup quarterback who started just three regular-season games this year.

It was Foles who garnered MVP honors instead, throwing for 373 yards, three touchdowns, and one fluky pick while adding a touchdown reception on the team’s ballsy fourth-down conversion in the second quarter. Foles re-created his NFC championship game magic, again looking nothing like the limited backup to Carson Wentz that we saw in the final two weeks of the regular season. He distributed the ball to his playmakers with a bevy of tight-window throws into traffic, and when protection broke down up front, he often escaped out of the pocket and made throws out of the play’s design. And on third down, the sixth-year pro was as cold as ice, helping Philly to a 10-of-16 conversion rate. Foles got plenty of help, too: Rookie running back Corey Clement blurred the lines between running back and receiver, reeling in four passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles offensive line allowed zero sacks in the game, and helped pave the way for a rushing attack that gained 164 yards and a touchdown on 27 totes.

Philly’s balanced, unrelenting offensive attack dominated a discombobulated Patriots defense with a bevy of run-pass options, option run plays, and play-action fakes meant to stress defenses both vertically and horizontally, getting the team’s athletes into space. The NFL, for the most part, has been far too slow to incorporate college spread concepts into pro-style schemes. But the NFL is a copycat league at its heart, too, and 31 teams just watched Eagles head coach Doug Pederson’s scheme—which marries the West Coast offense with college-style spread-offense concepts—turn Foles into a Super Bowl MVP and help deliver Philadelphia its first Super Bowl championship.