Eagles have followed SB XXXIX template, but will result be different?

The Philadelphia Eagles have returned to the big game for the first time since Super Bowl XXXIX and will meet the same, or at least a similar, opponent in the New England Patriots.

While the Patriots are still fronted by quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, the Eagles have unsurprisingly faced significantly more turnover in the past 13 years. The faces and names may be all completely new, but the Eagles’ roster composition and playing style that have brought them to Super Bowl LII in Minnesota are similar to those that took them to Jacksonville in early February, 2005.

Cruise through NFC

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

The Eagles cruised to a record of 13-3 this season, winning both the NFC East division and No. 1 seed in the conference.

Backup quarterback Nick Foles, once believed to be the impending downfall of the Eagles following Carson Wentz’ season-ending Week 14 injury, led them to a 2-1 record to close the regular season, and the two necessary playoff wins.

The 2004 Eagles also cruised through their conference, not losing consecutive games until the final two of the regular season, when many starters were rested as a result of the top seed already being obtained.

Oddly enough, the Eagles beat the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs that year, too, though the order was reversed in 2017.

Lean on D, O-line

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

The ’04 Eagles were composed of 10 Pro Bowlers, five of those coming from the defense and one from the offensive line.

This year’s team has six players named to last Sunday’s Pro Bowl: two from the offensive line and two from the defensive unit. Additionally, center Jason Kelce was named First-Team All-Pro, but was not chosen for the exhibition game.

The Eagles ranked in the middle third of the league in both seasons in terms of pass protection, giving up an identical 36 sacks in both 2004 and 2017. But an athletic, mobile offensive line ranked among the top five teams in both second-level rank and open-field rank in both seasons, courtesy Football Outsiders, showing an excellent ability to block downfield.

That ability led to a league-leading 19 rushes of 20-plus yards this season. They ranked T8 with 11 such plays in 2004.

Here’s a look at some key pass defense stats from both seasons:

INT SCK YDS/G
2004 17 47 200.8
2017 19 38 227.3

The ’04 team had a significantly better sack total, but both sides were among the top 10 in passer rating allowed, while amassing a number of interceptions. They also ranked significantly better in passing yards and touchdowns allowed.

And the rush defense ranks:

TD FUM YDS/G
2004 13 7 118.9
2017 7 3 79.2

The 2017 team has excelled in shutting down the opponents’ rushing attack, while the ’04 team focused on eliminating the passing game. The edge goes to this year’s Eagles for being more balanced.

Brady will be able to exploit any weakness in that pass defense, a unit that’s struggled most against tight ends and pass-catching running backs, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA, two clear strengths of the Pats’ offense.

No Terrell Owens-like recovery for Wentz

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

As with Wentz this season, the 04′ Eagles lost their most dangerous offensive weapon in the final weeks of the campaign, when Owens suffered a serious leg injury expected to keep him out for the remainder of the season.

As legend has it, Owens would miraculously return for Super Bowl XXXIX to catch nine of 14 targets for 122 yards.

Wentz won’t be suiting up in Super Bowl LII, leaving Foles in charge to go head-to-head with Brady.

Prediction

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

As admirably as Foles has performed through two playoff games, particularly while throwing for 352 yards and three touchdowns against the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense in the NFC Championship Game, he’ll come up short against the Patriots.

New England showed in their AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars they can shut down the rushing attack, as they limited Leonard Fournette to just 3.2 yards per carry and forced Blake Bortles to carry the load.

By effectively shutting down Foles’ top aides and security blankets in the backfield, the Patriots will be able to stifle Philadelphia’s offense and win a low-scoring affair.